Black, White or Gray. Which would you choose?

Throughout my life I have always been worried when I don’t know what’s coming next. However, in raising the two of you I have become more comfortable with that because kids are about the most unpredictable things in the world.

And puppies…puppies are unpredictable too.  Your new puppy Remi has reminded me of that. You go 16 years without a puppy and you completely forget how hard they are to deal with. Thankfully your mom is about as good as they get when it comes to dog whisperers.

People refer to things being black and white when they are clear. People, including me, love clarity. A clear direction, clear steps on how to get where you’re going, clear plans to how to overcome obstacles that might come up and a clear finishing point. However, life only has one ultimate finish, death. Even death to some is just another journey’s beginning.

When things are not black and white, people refer to them being gray. The definition of gray is a color between black and white. While I enjoy black and white I know that things truly move forward and I have been happiest in my life in the gray.

The two of you make me happier than anything else in this world. You are the grayest of the gray. I have no idea what you are going to do next much less in your lives. What I know you have is potential.

Gray while uncomfortable is where all potential lies. This is true in almost every aspect of life. I not only hope for you that you become comfortable with the gray, but learn to embrace it and seek it out. Expand your horizons and never embrace clarity.

Seek adventure. Seek to always be better. Be better than you are today, tomorrow and ever day.


 

 

 

Balance

“At the end of your life no one that matters will care how well you managed a balance sheet, but the balance you managed to maintain in your life will have mattered to them.”

My Silent Teacher

When I wanted to start playing football there was one big issue. My home town of Eden, WI; did not have a team and even know a coach had invited me to play on a team in Fond du Lac, WI. I still had the issue of, how to I get there every day for practice.

By this time my mom and dad were divorced, Dad was running his business and mom was working full time too.

However, Grandma Feyen was coming to clean our house once a week and after listening to me complain about not being able to play because I couldn’t get to practice she said, “Ray will take care of it.”

Ray Feyen, was my Grandpa Feyen and for my whole first year of football he drove the 10 miles from Fond du Lac to pick me up and drive me the 10 miles back to Fond du Lac and some days when dad could not make it from work to pick me up he would make the round trip again.

We spent about 3 months doing that trip together and honestly, I don’t remember a single conversation. I just remember how he listened to talk radio every day and how annoying I thought it was. I’m guessing that is what you will think some day about my talk radio habit.

And even though I lived with Grandma and Grandpa Feyen for a few years later in life, I can honestly only remember two things that came out of Grandpa Feyen’s mouth. One, the fact that he used to call us grandkids, snicklefritzes and the infamous, “Can I get my drink yet?,” when he knew family was coming to visit. Grandma only let him drink when people were visiting in the later years.

I think that it is kind of strange that I remember how much Grandpa B told me, possibly because of the number of times he repeated the same story, but almost nothing about what Grandpa Feyen said.

Even though I don’t remember what he said, I remember several things that he taught me.

I remember being at the farm in the morning and watching him walk to to the barn to start the day.  I remember his striped overalls and hankerchief.  I remember not remembering him ever complaining or looking like he didn’t want to do it.  My memory may be different from others on that last statement but I really think it had an effect on my work ethic.

Although I may complain more than I remember Grandpa complaining, I know that I am responsible to get my work done.

I also remember how Grandpa realized that our regular trips to the Golden Goat to recylce cans were loosing us money and that we should be taking our cans to the recycling center where they paid more per pound of cans.  The only difference is that the cans taken to the recycling center had to be crushed.

He would take our full bags of uncrushed cans from our house in Eden to the farm house and he would crush the cans one by one with a sledge hammer on his work bench.  I swear that each can was crushed to the exact same measurement.

I learned two things from this.  The first is the value of money, your mother may argue that that value alludes me at times, but the fact that Grandpa was willing to invest the time to help us make a few extra dollars meant a lot.  The second is no matter what you are doing that you should take pride in it, even if it means a perfect crush on a can that is bound for a recycling center.

That wasn’t the last lesson I learned from Grandpa around the cans. When we got to the recycling center I realized the bags were put on a scale, weighed and then we threw them into a bin.  The more the bag weighed the more money we made and no one really inspected the bags so why not add some weight to the bags and bingo, more money.

I decided that I was going to add sand to the bags, and then the first bag I added the sand to was gone from Grandpa’s garage with all the other bags the next morning because Grandpa decided to take the cans in for us.

When he got back all I remember is him carrying one bag out of the back of the car, dropping it in the garage, telling us to clean out the sand and that was it. He didn’t get mad at us and never asked why or how it got there.

Then at lunch that day he pointed out the milkhose hanging in the mudroom like the one that he used to smack the cows with to get them to do what he wanted them to do. I don’t remember what he said as much as I knew that from that point forward I would never put sand in our aluminum cans ever again and that I never wanted to find out how a cow felt when it gets hit by that hose.

The lesson; if you make a mistake you are going to fix it yourself and there are consequences for big mistakes.  Not always a milkhose to the backside, but consequences just the same.

The final lesson I learned from Grandpa was the hardest lesson.  Grandma and Grandpa left their farm to move into the city when they were in relatively good health, but what I percieved once they moved was that Grandpa had lost a big part of who he was.  I saw him try to find things to keep himself busy, but he never was quite the same or quite as happy as I remembered him being on the farm.

Grandpa seemed to loose a little bit more of himself every day and I remember watching him struggle to get the bread he always dunked into his coffee into his mouth before it fell apart.  I saw him fail more times than I would like to remember.

I don’t know if Grandpa would have lived longer or had more quality of life if they never left the farm, but I do think he would have been happier.  He never said that to me, at least that I can remember, but that is what I think.

What I do know is that I will always seek to ensure my life is full and I will hold on tight to those things that keep me happy.

I will also endeavor to lead as much by example as well as my Grandpa Feyen did.

 

In My Humble Opinion

So another thing that my Grandpa B once told me, but not nearly as often as his lesson on learning, is, “Anyone who gives you a humble opinion is full of shit.”

I didn’t quite understand that until one day I got a three page message from an engineer stating that he disagreed with a direction that we were taking a product and ended the message IMHO followed by his name.

IMHO = In My Humble Opinion

At that point I got it.

My opinion is that everyone is entitled to their opinion.

I also have the opinion that everyone should be required to hear everyone else’s opinion out.

Finally, I hold the opinion that every heard opinion does not necessarily get qualified as having value.

In conclusion, I firmly believe (an internally held opinion) anyone who has an opinion by definition is not humble.

At least that was Grandpa’s opinion and I share it with him. No humility involved.

The Freeze, The Fall, The Reflection

I have two very vivid memories of my grandfathers. They are vivid because of how much they scared me at the time. But over time I have come to treasure them as much as I feared them and I will never forget them.

When I was fourteen years old I got a babysitting gig from my Grandma B. She had just been hospitalized for pneumonia and she called and asked if I could stay with Grandpa.

I really knew my Grandpa B in part for his World War II stories; how he waded through water filled with what he thought was brush but was actually snakes, how he sat on a mountain top and could make out a flash from one of the nuclear bombs that hit Japan, how he traded spots with someone in line when they were being assigned to Europe or the Pacific, how he did a USO show with a group of guys in black socks and tutus (I actually have that picture, because it was given to me after Grandma passed).

I also knew Grandpa B as a guy who loved writing, making art, buying silly stuffed animals, watching the weather channel and watching movies about world war II primarily to point out how inaccurate and falsely full of bravado they were.

But that winter when I watched him I had one of my most vivid memories of him. He told me he was taking the dog for a walk and he left the house. I watched him as he got out the door and went to the end of the driveway and he stopped.

After a minute I was wondering if he was second guessing whether he had the energy, after five the background noise of the TV faded for me and he still had not moved, after ten and still no movement I decided to go fill up my coffee mug (Coffee was like water in Grandma and Grandpa B’s House), after twenty my coffee cup was empty but now I was frozen to the window shade still watching and waiting for him to make a move.

His dog sat there the whole time too, it was amazing show of obedience. Grandpa maybe turned his head a few times, the expression on his face never changed. He seemed in awe of the world around him, and at the same time unaware. After exactly one hour, I opened the door and asked him how his walk was, never admitting that I was watching him the whole time. He simply responded, “Good.”

Over the next few days he would leave for the walk almost at the same time, and about half the time he walked. The other half he stood there the same as he did that day. I would watch him on the days he “froze” from the window and about an hour in each day I would open the door to ask him how his walk was and he would respond, “Good.” On the days he actually walked I worried too and I would wait for him by the window the same as if he were standing at the end of the driveway.

Fast forward five years and after my departure from my football career, I moved in with my Grandma and Grandpa Feyen. When I left for school my mom had become a foster parent and when I dropped out of college there really wasn’t room for me in her house.

I tried a couple of different living arrangments but one day got a call from Grandma Feyen asking if I could come help her out and she would only charge me $150 a month for rent. Really the only thing I did to help for the most part on a consistent basis was mow the lawn and shovel the driveway. In retrospect I got a lot more from her because she taught me immeasureable amounts about responsibility, love and what it meant to be married. She also darned my socks (a lost art).

Grandma was essentially taking care of Grandpa full time. It was amazing the amount of work that she did, cooking three meals a day (not much instant ingredients in her bag of tricks), making sure Grandpa had his medecine, helping him bathe and on and on and on. Her only solice is that for the most part he could be content in front of the television when he was awake and they both enjoyed watching the Wheel of Fortune and she could sit a play solitare forever.

Grandma would also be happy when I would share late night ice cream sundaes with her, late night because I could only go get them once Grandpa was in bed because he couldn’t have them. Banana Splits with no nuts was her sundae of choice.

On the day I got my Grandpa Feyen scare, I won’t forget the tone Grandma used when she yelled down to me in the basement to come and help and I came as quickly as I could. I had no idea what she was calling for and when I got up there I was not prepared to see Grandpa laying on his bedroom floor unable to help himself up in any way. He hadn’t lost his voice though and was pretty adamant that someone needed to get him back to bed. I reached down to lift him up and followed Grandma’s instructions explicitly, he felt so weak and fragile. We got him back into bed and he laid there breathing hard, staring at the cieling and he didn’t say a word once he got into bed.

Both of these moments scared me so much because they were so contrary to what I knew my Grandfathers to be. Grandpa B was full of energy, stories and always on the go. Seeing him frozen in time was scary.

Grandpa Feyen on the other hand was always someone that I saw as a strong farmer who killed chickens with a hatchet, swatted cows with rubber tubing and didn’t hesitate to do the same to a kid that got out of line. As I helped him into bed it was like all that strength was gone.

In retrospect though, I like to think that both of them were doing the same thing. Thanking their lucky stars for the full lives they lived in those exact moments, Grandpa B standing at the end of the driveway and Grandpa Feyen lying comfortably back in bed.

I picture them thinking about all the fun times they had, all the kids and grandkids they played with, the fantastic women in their lives, the contributions they made to the world and maybe what they meant to me.

So what, if in reality Grandpa B actually thought he was on a walk, like Grandma B later told me, and he had idea that he was actually just standing there.

So what, if Grandpa Feyen was going through a diatribe of four letter words and probably pissed that Grandma couldn’t get him up without my help or get himself up.

Hopefully they have the same memory up in heaven that I have of those events today, the fear mostly melted away.

With that said, this is my last post of 2011. Bring on the New Year I have contributions to make!!!!

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