Gramps was a force of nature: an entrepreneur, a tinkerer, a devoted husband, a family man, a role model, a doctor, a wannabe musician, a builder, an amazing storyteller, and so much more. He was vulgar and hilarious, and was an all-around goofy sonofabitch. He taught me the word “sonofabitch”.
He was almost always doing something, whether that was mowing the fields, taking care of the swimming pool, fixing his tractor, inventing some contraption, or jimmy-rigging some contraption to fix the other contraption he dreamed up. It was rare to see him with empty hands, especially since he’d frequently carry around a cellar-cold Genesee Light and chewing tobacco.
His devotion to his family was incredible, and he was always doing stuff to make sure his wife, their 7 kids, foster kids, and the rest of the extended family were able to have a good time. He built an in-ground swimming pool, redirecting a cold spring that ran through the woods in the back yard. He built a goddamn tennis court. That all may sound super luxurious, but in reality it was all totally DIY, scrappy, and awesome. That back yard gave me more fond memories than I can count.
His was an optimist and he was always down to have a good time.
My grandparents instilled in me a love for music. The piano was a focal point of both sets of grandparents, and both of my grandmas commanded their respective living rooms with their music. Gramps had a “bass fiddle” that he’d bust out at family barbecues, where him, my uncles and their cousins would play a bunch of Johnny Cash and traditional country songs. They’d do their best to remember the lyrics and keep up with the chord changes. It was all a lot of fun.
Gramps was a doctor, but not a doctor as you’d think of one today. He was a farm doctor who made house calls and serviced all the first-generation immigrants that came over from the Old Country (just as his family did). Boy, did he have some incredible stories. Like the time he delivered a baby on a farm, then came back the next only to find the father rocking the baby on the front porch while the mother was out plowing the fields! Or the time he had to surgically remove the long johns from these farm-boy twins who refused to take showers and therefore got their long underwear glued to their skin. Or that his payment for delivering babies was sometimes just a bushel of apples. And he’d deliver these so-crazy-they-have-to-be-true stories with hilarious dialogue and Slovak accents.
He was quick to dole out life lessons and moral advice. “Never go to bed angry,” he’d say to all of us and our spouses. Those words will be embedded in my neurons forever. His love for my grandma inspires me to this day.
I often joke around that I take more after Gramps than I do anyone else in my family; I see so much of him in my own personality. He’s had such an enormous impact on my life, and there’s no way I would be where I am today without him. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have had him in my life for as long as I did. Rest easy, Gramps.