During the summer of 1969, I received a letter in the mail from the president of the United States, Richard Nixon, that began with those infamous words, “Greetings, you are hereby inducted into the Armed Forces of the United States of America."
I was obviously upset and crumpled the letter into a ball, throwing it into the corner. My mother was lying in her bedroom in our small house. She was 42 years old, dying of cancer, and I was the eldest of five siblings. She called to me asking what it was that came in the mail. My reply was simply an attempt to avoid the whole thing. "It was nothing, Mom, just a bill for record club.” She was having none of that and asked me to please bring it in to her (she was bedridden at the time) ... so I proceeded to take it to her room, where she read it and began to cry, pulling me toward her and hugging me very tightly, sobbing. She had two brothers and a brother-in-law who fought in Word War II, injured and changed permanently by the experience. She knew the risks and dangers of war and didn’t want that for any of her children.
Meanwhile, my buddies were out front honking their horn for me. We had plans, and I was selfishly wanting to get out of there. "It will be OK, Mom. Lots of my buddies from high school have gone and even some of my cousins, and they made it back just fine. I’ll be OK, really.” She didn’t want to let go, but I insisted that I really needed to go, they’re out front waiting for me, and we can continue this talk again later.
My mother died shortly after that. I cannot tell you how many nights I cried myself to sleep on my pillow wishing so badly that I could relive that day, have an opportunity to see and hug and talk to my mother just one more time ... but that was gone forever!
If I can pass on a very hard-learned lesson for anyone willing to listen, it is to never, ever take your loved ones for granted. Never pass up an opportunity to hug them and tell them how much you love them, and appreciate them ... because it may be the last opportunity you have to do so.
My message to the younger generation:
Like most 76-year-olds, I have had many life experiences, both challenging and rewarding. My childhood years included the original neighborhood watch, my parents and neighbors sitting on their front porches. My value system was shaped by my parents, grandparents, and teachers, not social media. I have been thinking of what I want to share with my granddaughter who is graduating from college this year. Perhaps these words and advice are applicable to others in the younger generation.
I want her and other young people to understand that life is not about what we get but what we give; not about who we know but about how we treat those we know; not about possessions, but about possibilities; not about fame and fortune, but about the content of one's character.
I want her to understand that life is not often easy or fair, but each day affords us new opportunities to make a difference for others, no matter how small or significant that difference might be. I want her to know that all choices, however big or small, have consequences.
I want her to find her passion and be enthusiastic in what she does. I want her to understand that you cannot do things alone, to recognize what others can contribute and ask for help when needed.
I want her to know that she will make mistakes and have some regrets but be able to admit her mistakes and know that sometimes we get second chances to not make the same mistakes again. I want her to see the good in people and be able to forgive them, even when they disappoint her and let her know.
Above all, I want her to be her own person.
Take appropriate direction and advice from others, but let conscience be your guide. And remember, be good to yourself. There is only one you.
The past can't be changed, where the future can, but only in the present.
I enjoyed and agreed with Grandy’s Proverbs. Here are a few that I use with my kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids:
1. Always look for the "big picture." It will help you create better solutions.
2. Quickly volunteer for the tasks nobody else wants; it will make you indispensable.
3. Never stop learning, and avidly self-educate.
4. At your next work review, set a goal to make “go get (your name)” the first thing your managers think when they need something done well. Ask your boss to help you achieve that goal.
5. Write your own personal philosophy. The more aspects of your life that you evaluate will help you better define your beliefs. It is also important to write it down and update it at least annually. This helped my confidence and peace of mind over several decades.
Growing up in the '50s and '60s, we kids ate at a bar in the kitchen that faced a bulletin board. My mother, ever clever, posted up clippings on the board for us to read—Ann Landers, Dear Abby, et cetera. One that she left up has always stayed with me:
“Be glad for dirty dishes They have a tale to tell While other folks go hungry We’re eating very well With home and health and happiness We shouldn’t want to fuss As by this stack of evidence, God’s very good to us.”
And, yes, we hated washing and drying dishes before we got a dishwasher, and even after.
I truly believe the new generations don't have context for how lucky they are. They were brought up in the AYSO soccer world where everyone plays and everyone gets a trophy. That is not life. While this poem is about dishes, it’s also about responsibility and appreciation, not expecting the world given to you on a platter.
Dear Next Generation,
I may not be as old as some who share their sage advice through this column, but I believe much of the knowledge I have gleaned over the years is applicable to situations you will face.
Firstly, learn to love God, respect people, and work hard. These three pillars will see you through every situation you will ever face. Belief in God is essential for your life and beyond. Learn to trust him in all your ways, and He will make your paths straight.
Secondly, learn to respect people and hold them in high esteem, and learn to be tolerant of others whose beliefs and practices may not be like your own. Especially in regards to relationships and chivalry, being courteous to women (if you're a man) is essential. From early on in my life, I was taught this, and it paid off.
Thirdly, hard work is essential as well. You may have the opportunity to work in a wide range of areas, whether this is sitting at a computer from 9 in the morning to 5 in the evening, or getting dirty in a hands-on job, such as construction and contracting.
In all of these, seek to honor God with your hard work, even when it's tough. Abide by these pillars, and you will be the kind of person that other people will talk to their kids about and say, "Now, you could learn from them."