11.18.2011

Happy Birthday, Grandpa Andy!

It's an interesting thing to be named for someone.  I'm named for three someones:  my Grandpa Andy, my Grandpa Ed and my Uncle Andy.  Uncle Andy actually bore my name precisely -- Andrew Edward.  I presume that his untimely death (long before I was born) only cemented the idea that I would be named for my two grandfathers.

So while my name has always felt like it bore a great deal of meaning, the most apparent meaning to me has always been that I shared a name -- Andy -- with my grandfather.

My grandfather is a remarkable man.  In many ways he embodies the American Dream.  The course of his life parallels (so closely) the Horatio Alger formula, that it's almost eerie.  The son of a greek immigrant, who died young, my grandfather was forced to drop out of school and support his family by working after 8th grade.  He kept up the family business of a fruit and vegetable distributor on the south side of Chicago and then eventually diverged from fruit sales and ran a construction company and a cement company.

He was recruited by a minor league baseball team.  Fought in the South Pacific, and then returned and wooed a farm girl from the Upper Peninsula who played piano at the local USO.   When they returned to Chicago he stayed in the sidewalk business, but also got into the print business.  When they moved back to the Upper Peninsula to raise their kids away from the urban sprawl they got into the motel business.  And in the meantime, he bought and sold at flea markets his whole life.  He built all kinds of structures.  Was a boater, a fisherman, a golfer.  Joined a church, raised three children and lived through the death of his teenage son.  Moved to Florida, bought a motorhome travelled the continent, took up painting, survived heart attacks and multiple bypasses and -- though I've just related an epic tale -- I've also managed to not even tell any of the most interesting stories.

My grandfather loves people.  He's a trickster.  He loves to laugh and to smile.  He loves a good joke and time with family.  He makes a great fish batter and at ninety he repairs old fishing poles and resells them at a flea market.  He's a remarkable man.

As a child, he haunted me like a ghost.  Anytime I was doing a chore, my mother spoke in his voice. She evoked her work in the motel and said:  My daddy always said:

"A job worth doing is worth doing well."

and

"First we work, then we play."

In some ways a person with a tremendous work ethic and a tremendous heart for laughter is the best imaginable kind of Grandfather to have.

When I was a boy visiting him in the Sault Ste Marie my favorite thing in the world was the opportunity to "go on a run" with him.  We would run errands all over town.  Trade things, pick up things, fix things, barter things, collect things.  There was a universe in the back of his red pinto station wagon, and there was nothing better than to be a part of that universe.

Our families invite us to be a part of a unique world, don't they?  Sometimes those invitations work well for us and other times they don't, but the world that my Grandpa Andy bequeathed to me has been a great one.  One that I'm happy to have inherited.

Happy 93rd Birthday, Grandpa Andy!


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