“I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

My grandfather and brother, Nick


It’s my personal belief that my grandfather was the nicest person I’ve ever met in real life. I’m biased I’m sure, but most people not related to me who knew him say things like “I loved your grandfather,”  or “he was the nicest guy I’ve ever met.” My father’s parents loved him. My paternal grandmother was fastidious, picky, and quick to share opinions about others shortcomings, but every time a get together with him was about to take place or his name came up, her eyes lit up and she’d say, “Jim is such a NICE man.”

He and my grandmother, who passed away when I was only 3, had eight kids. EIGHT! Immigrants from Canada, I’m not sure either even completed high school, but they were smart, resourceful, loving, and ran a tight ship. My mother recently told me they all had to line up in order according to age, and everyone better be sure he finished his or her chores. They had no money, but my grandmother was a seamstress, so she bought material and made everyone clothes, and my grandfather grew up on a farm on Prince Edward Island, so he grew the majority of their food in his enormous garden. They had little, but everybody was taken care of.  My uncle David- my mother’s second youngest brother- is a dentist, and his nickname in his office is “MacGyver,” he can rebuild an iPhone, make a zipline from an old tricycle, and drink a beer and talk to you about sports. It’s not hard to see where it stems from.

Papa had a quick wit and dry sense of humor and one day I asked him, “Why don’t you have a dishwasher?” His reply: “What the heck did I need one of those for? I had eight.” He would watch me at his house after school in grade school and teach me ryhmes and riddles (I still refer to the “30 days has September” rhyme to figure out how many days in each month), card games, songs, and impart valubable life lessons that wouldn’t quite resonate until adulthood. One afternoon near Christmas, when I was about 7, Papa said, “Doria, let’s go get a Christmas tree,” I went into his den, where I’d hung my coat, expecting us to drive to a lot somewhere to buy one, and walked out into the kitchen to him yielding an axe. “Ready?,” he asked. (There’s that resourceful part kicking in).

Always patient, gracious, and calm, I’m not sure I ever saw him lose his temper or utter an unkind word about anyone. I remember saying to my cousin once “Papa’s arm could be on fire, and he’d look at it and say, calmly, “Well- would you look at that- let’s put it out.” He never complained, never felt sorry for himself, always remained positive and calm. It wasn’t until years later I was able to relfect on this time we’d spent together in my childhood and realize what a gift it was, that when things in my immediate family became tumultuous and scary I’d be able to look back and be thankful for this solid force, an example of qualities and characteristics to emulate.

Papa had a running repetoire of riddles and rhymes and limericks. One of these that in retrospect, I realized he’d say often, was “I once was felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” As a seven year old this seemed far-fetched. Come on, who doesn’t have any feet? But in recent years, and the last few in particular, I’ve found a new appreciation for these valuable lessons and those words.

Near the end of his life- he lived to 92-Papa was in a nursing home. He’d fallen and broken his hip and was mostly confined to a wheelchair the last year of his life. My uncle went to visit him one day and asked “Dad, are you listening to the physical therapist and doing your exercies?” He’d become a bit stubborn in his old age. “Of course I am,” he said. Digging a little deeper, as he’d heard my grandfather had been non-compliant, my uncle asked, “Well, what kind of exercises are you doing?” He looked at him without cracking a smile and quipped, “I jump rope.”

A friend recently told me I’m one of the strongest people she knows, and somone else “I can’t believe how well you’ve handled yourself over the past year or so.” If there’s even a sliver of truth of either of these statements, or a kind or resilient bone in my body, it’s because I’m related to him.


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