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Seven Lessons From My Grandfather!

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Grandpa and Me 1953

Nine days ago, I celebrated my birthday. As it always does, this birthday carried with it memories of my Father’s Father, my Grandpa Sands. You see, we have the same birthday. I always thought that was THE coolest thing. I mean, what are the odds, right? Well, I don’t actually know the odds, but they must be less in the Sands family as my son, Matthew, has the same birthday as my Dad – his Grandfather.

My Grandfather, Ernest Sands, was a railroad guy. After World War I he began working for the railroad and pretty much never stopped until they kicked him out at retirement. I vaguely remember his retirement party. Mostly though, I remember him working. And the best memory was him working with me. Every Saturday morning, before normal people were awake, we would walk for four hours or more delivering handbills. Handbills, at least that’s what we called them, were a one piece door hanging advertisement for a local cleaners (where my Mom worked). I received $10 for my efforts, which seemed like a king’s ransom to an eleven year old.
It seemed to me that he knew everyone in Ecorse, Michigan and always had a kind word and a story. He was strong, smart and never got cold, no matter how much I shivered in those frigid January mornings near the Great Lakes.
In the big picture, I have no idea what this birthday thing means, but I do know that my Grandpa Sands taught me a ton of things about life that I still believe. I’d like to share them.
1. Work hard. That’s what they’re paying you to do. I never knew a man who worked harder and with more purpose than my Grandpa. Nothing stood between him and getting a job done. I like to think that some of that rubbed off.
2. Work hard. Even when no one is watching. “It’s not hard to look like you’re working when the boss is watching,” he would say. The good workers are working, and giving their all, when they have no idea if anyone is watching (and don’t care, either).
3. Get up early and get the job done. “Sleeping is for people with nothin’ to do.” We began EARLY. Most days between 5 and 6 am. For a kid, that was incredibly early. He never talked about being tired, never gave an inch when I said I was and showed me that you could get a bunch accomplished before everyone else wakes up. For that lesson, I am so grateful. I has been the cornerstone of my working life.
4. Tell a story. My Grandpa had a story for everything. Metaphors, similes, jokes… he could go on about places he’d been, things he’d done and his railroad bosses forever. He was at his best, however, when detailing the experiences of two railroad hobos, Old Man Fotey and Old Man Squat. If these two bums did exist, I hope they realize how much their antics made this young boy laugh and how their stories brought me closer to the storyteller.
5. There is a time for work and a time for play. While work was very important in his world, my Grandpa knew the value of having a good time. He loved family gatherings, played horseshoes like a champ and wasn’t above a good time at “the beer garden.”
6. Gathering the troops is good for the troops. My Grandparents house was the focal point of the family. I got to know my Aunts, Uncles and Cousins very well during these get-togethers. And while my Grandmother seemed to be in charge of what happened and when, my Grandfather was carefully working behind the scenes to insure that everyone had a god time. For me, these family gatherings gave me a valuable support network, long before networking was considered cool.
7. It’s not cold unless you think it is. We walked some extremely cold mornings in Michigan winters. I’d be bundled up from head to toe. Not Grandpa. He’s have a flannel shirt, a light hat and some thin gloves and take to the streets. “Mind over matter,” Grandpa used to say. “It’s not cold unless you think it is.” Today, I don’t get cold and it is very rare that I catch one either. I firmly believe that for me, it’s a matter of acceptance. Thanks for that one, Grandpa.

In fact, thanks for all of the lessons! You probably never knew everything you taught me in this journey of life (or whether any of it would stick). Then again, knowing you, you probably did. Thanks!