A large tree guarded the freshly-mowed lawn of a light green house, paint slightly bleached by the sun, on the corner of a perfectly unnoticeable street in my hometown. That seemingly mundane house, home to John Nebel, my late grandpa, was less than a mile from where I lived, and it played a significant role in my childhood – as did my grandpa. From birthday parties in his partially above-ground pool, to opening presents on Christmas morning, to venturing into the dark, damp cellar (it was much more ominous when I was seven), some of the most significant memories of my early years were made in that house.
However, when I think back on my grandpa and the legacy that he has left, it’s not the house that was important. Quite honestly, it’s not even the tremendous amounts of laughter, joy, or memories that his presence invoked. It’s the man himself and the qualities that he possessed that made an impact on both myself and countless others.
In particular, there are three qualities that I admired most about him. In fact, they are the three qualities that I value most in any person.
My grandpa was the epitome of hard work. Whether it be moving across the country to raise a family of six kids, adopting a child, becoming a successful accountant and administrator, or enduring a tremendously long battle with cancer, my grandpa never gave up. Quitting didn’t apply to him; and that “can do” approach to life leaked into his relationships with others. He would often come over to help me with math homework that was a struggle for me. He’d encourage me to work hard at everything; it has fostered a love of many topics in my life and school, from business to chemistry. It was in this way that I developed my work ethic and learned the value of hard work. Not through force-fed lectures or unreasonable expectations, but through example, the most powerful mode of instruction of all.
One of my favorite memories of my grandpa was when I was roughly ten years old. On a brisk December morning, he took me to our church, where he was a part of a service group. Not knowing what to expect, I walked into a room full of cardboard boxes and non-perishable food. Over the course of the next couple of hours, we helped to organize hundreds of holiday meals for families and individuals in need in our community. It was another way that my Grandpa demonstrated the value of service to the world around him. In an environment that is becoming more impersonal by the day, it can be overly simple to send a check to a charity. It’s something else to sacrifice time and involve oneself in a manner that directly affects people in a given community. Whether volunteering at food banks, assisting migrant immigrant families, or speaking up for my sister, who has Down syndrome, my grandpa never passed up a chance to advocate. He was proof to me that actions not only speak louder than words, but they also have more value than any monetary donation.
My grandpa wasn’t famous or a multi-millionaire. He didn’t own investment property or dress in fancy clothes; that just wasn’t him. He wasn’t out to change or run the world with a bang. Instead, he chose to live modestly and infiltrate the lives of many on a personal level. Slowly but surely, he seeped into the crevices of his colleagues’ and loved ones’ personalities. Some inherited his love for ice cream (I unquestionably did). Others caught on to his habit for making cheesy jokes. Everyone benefited from his smiling, easy going lifestyle. It’s something that I hope to carry on, being an influencing person – not through unrivaled fame or fortune, but by emulating those small, irreplaceable actions. My grandpa has always been larger-than-life to me. Like many children in America, I saw my grandpa as a real superhero as a child. He was someone who would push me around in wheelbarrows, throw me in the air, and, standing at over 6 feet tall, serve as an unrealistic goal of height (I seem to have inherited the shorter gene).
Nowadays, I still think of him as a superhero: someone who serves as an example of the uncommon but beautiful. Someone who bikes to work. Someone who takes value in the little things. Someone who is not afraid to stand up against hate and injustice, regardless of its form.
Overwhelmingly, I think of my grandpa as proof that superheroes don’t need to wear capes or live in some high-tech cave or on a far-away planet. In fact, maybe wearing a short-sleeved button-up shirt and enjoying life in the sun bleached green house on the corner is even better.
Submitted for use by The Grandpa Project by Xavier Martinez, Wenatchee, WA.
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