This picture of my grandpa and me was taken well over 20 years ago. It was taken on one of my multiple weekly visits to “the farm.” The picture shows the happiness that always existed in my grandparents’ home, and it shows the love our family shared. But like so many pictures, this one is deceiving. There’s so much you can’t see.
It doesn’t show you the holes in the plaster walls in their house, the exposed studs and insulation, or the holes in the furniture, covered up by sheets and blankets. You can’t see the worn-out, 100-year-old wood floors that never had been refinished.
If you went outside, you’d think your eyes were playing tricks on you when you looked at the old barns, leaning over, exhausted with age. The photo doesn’t show you Grandpa’s rusted out, outdated, “antique” farm equipment littering the side yard, partially buried in the earth. You can’t see the old, broken-down truck parked in the barn, that in its retirement had become a home to miscellaneous farm equipment and every once in a while, a new litter of kittens. And the picture doesn’t show the way my grandpa could work miracles repairing tractors with electrical tape, trying to avoid replacing equipment and costly repairs.
This picture doesn’t show how my grandpa hardly had any material possessions to his name. And it certainly doesn’t show how he had everything he needed.
Because this photo doesn’t show a wild pack of grandkids running around the front yard, playing games, hiding in the wheel wells of the tractors, and chasing kittens. It doesn’t show you how we’d all gather together in the front yard, sitting in our lawn chairs during warm summer evenings in the shade of the big maple tree as the sun began its descent.
By looking at this picture, you can’t hear Grandpa bickering with Grandma in Polish so no one would know what they were saying, and you can’t see the smiles on their faces that signaled the end of their little disagreement. You can’t hear how bossy Grandpa would get playing cards when his opponents weren’t playing their hands the way he thought they should.
The photo doesn’t show you how on Sundays, Grandpa would turn on the polka station on the radio and he and Grandma would give Sunday afternoon Polka lessons.
You can’t see how every time they’d dance together, they were as happy as they ever were.
It doesn’t show you how on any given day of the week, the house would be full of their children and grandchildren or how on so many weekends extended family and friends would come out from the city to visit around the kitchen table.
What this picture does show you is a small snippet of what my grandpa did have. He had children and grandchildren who loved him and looked up to him. He had a wife who he loved and shared a life with for over 50 years. But most importantly, my grandfather had knowledge—the knowledge that the key to true happiness was surrounding yourself with family, friends, love, and laughter. And that knowledge made my grandfather a rich man.
We buried my grandpa over a year ago on a frigid winter day. My grandmother and so many of their family and friends had long since gone before him. He reached the age of 90, often wondering how he’d made it so long. He’d comment about how young his parents were when they passed, showing surprise that genetics hadn’t caught up to him. In his later years, he saw many of his great-grandchildren born, and he watched them play at his knee. He still farmed almost to the end and always listened to polkas on Sundays. He lived life as he always had, just at a slower pace.
Now that he’s gone, my family and I have work to do.
We are now the bridge between one generation to the next, charged with passing my grandfather’s wisdom down to his great-grandchildren.
If I had to choose one thing in the world I want most for my children, it wouldn’t be that they have the best of everything, that they have everything they want, or even that they become successful by today’s meaning of the word. I would choose for them to be like their great-grandfather—to find true happiness and contentment surrounded by family, friends, love, and laughter. If I can give my children that gift, then I’ve done my grandfather proud.