I was telling him about how my favorite "grandpa story" is about how he was out mowing the lawn five days after his quintuple bypass, which involved open-heart surgery. Five days. This just boggles me, but when I chased him back inside, he said, "Lawn doesn't mow itself." He didn't think much of it, but to me it was perfectly illustrative of how he's just cut from a different mold than I am. Even under the best of circumstances,I don't want to mow the lawn - if it's beautiful out, I'd rather be riding my bike or something. If it's crappy weather, it's crappy weather and I don't want to be outside mowing the lawn. Not my grandfather though.
So he told me a story about his father, my great-grandfather. Great-Grandpa was a pattern-maker, a math teacher, and a salesman for a bunch of government contractors. He was also a choir director, and apparently a spectacular tenor. Grandpa worshipped him. Last night, as he was telling me this story, he actually got choked up and emotional. This is the third time in my life I've seen my grandfather get emotional; the other two were about my grandmother, who recently passed away. His story:
"Sometimes I used to catch the 11:03 bus home from Philadelphia when I was in school at Drexel, maybe staying late at the chess club, or working on homework at the library. It took me back to Riverton from Philadelphia, but I had to catch the cross-town bus to get the 11:03, which was the last bus out of town. Sometimes the cross-town would be running late, or there'd be traffic or weather that would delay it. When that happened, I'd walk over to the drug store that was right by the bus stop, and I'd call home for a ride. Father never argued, or complained. He just said, "I'll be there in twenty-seven minutes." And so he would, every time, right on the minute. You could start your stop watch from the moment he said it; exactly twenty-seven minutes later, he'd be there. He didn't complain about having to get up, or get dressed or the late hour, or anything like that. He just said he'd be there, and he was."
Thinking back on the look in Grandpa's eyes when he said this, the catch in h is voice - even now I find myself tearing over a little. He also told me about his grandfather, my great-great-grandfather, who was another pattern-maker who owned a successful shop in Philadelphia. He was even a member of the Union League. He liked to leave his house at the same time every day. The neighbors planned their mornings around the time he'd back the car out of the driveway. He also liked being at particular intersections at exactly the right time every day, like a railroad train. He would slow down if he was ahead of schedule, so that he was right on time, every day, at every spot along the way.
I picture the locals waving as he drove by, in an old-fashioned convertible, perhaps - with the top down, a driving cap and goggles on, and a white scarf whipping in the wind. Inwardly he'd smile as the people waved, but outwardly I'm sure he was utterly stoic, carved from stone. He was neither pleased nor displeased; he was simply consistent.
These are the men from whom I am descended. They were carved from stone. They didn't know the notion of complaint. They worked, and they did their best at everything they did. They diligently took care of their families, who they loved fiercely, and were very devoted to. When trouble arose, they did their duty to their nation with great skill and zeal, and without complaint. These are the men who built the Republic.
These are my ancestors. Of this I am very proud, and proud also that I bear their name. I hope that I have lived up to it.