Bidding Farewell to a Bad Year

Grandpa Bob with his first great-grandchild, Emma Grace.

December 31, 2016

Tonight, on this last night of 2016, one of the worst years I can recall, I'm thinking of my grandpa.

He was a gem.

Grandpa Bob was a cross between Jimmy Stewart and Mr. Rogers: a lanky-limbed World War II vet from Arkansas City, Kansas who always wore his shirt tucked in, usually with a cardigan sweater, and who always ate his french fries with a fork.

Grandpa oozed manners, gentility, and goodness. He was one of a kind. I miss him.

Another thing about Grandpa Bob is that he always addressed you by name. "Well, now, Peter... [insert Jimmy Stewart pause] are you?" Or, "Now, say there, Annie... [insert JS pause again] you sure do look purdy as a picture."

And as he aged, he may have used the names of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren interchangeably, but he always addressed them by name. It was his way. He was polite to the core.

A few years before Grandpa Bob passed away, our family did something unusual. We visited a homeless shelter. I'd like to say that this kind of goodwill gesture was typical for our Leave It to Beaver family, but if I did, I'd be lying. We, like most middle class suburban families, wrapped ourselves up in gift giving and receiving for each other without much thought about how we could make someone else's holidays any better. But, that holiday season back in 2006, we decided to do something unusual.We decided to lead a holiday sing-along at a homeless shelter downtown.

My two school-aged sons, my dad, my younger brother and his wife, Grandpa Bob - who was then about 80 - and I drove to a part of town we didn't know well.  Everyone was a little nervous; everyone except Grandpa Bob. Oblivious to our hesitation, he just smiled his Mr. Rogers-warm smile to each resident as they cautiously entered the room.

We gathered around the piano where my mom plucked out old standards like "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". Gradually, the residents joined in with us, reluctant at first, but eventually with smiles. I don't know how long we sang in that big, dark room, but I remember looking around at those strangers' faces and thinking that it may just be getting a little bit brighter in here.

When it was finally time to go, Grandpa Bob, turned to an older gentlemen who was seated by the piano. "Stanley," Grandpa said to the homeless man, "have a better year."

We still don't know if his name was really Stanley. And didn't wait around to find out. We hustled out to our car at a pretty good clip.

Have a better year? Of course, he should have better year. It'd be hard to have a worse year.

With the very best of intentions, Grandpa Bob wished Stanley a happy new year. And, although Stanley and perhaps his fellow residents may have misinterpreted Grandpa's intentions, I know what he really meant. I hope you do, too.

So, tonight, on New Year's Eve 2016, I bid this lousy year farewell just like Grandpa Bob would have:

May your 2017 be filled to the brim with Jimmy Stewart pauses, Mr. Rogers smiles, approximate first names and french fries with a fork.

Have a better year.

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