Lessons from Grandpa
On Tuesday, the single most important man in my life passed away at 93 years old. My Grandpa, whom we call, "Potter," was the best man you'd ever want to meet.
Here's his obituary, which does his life very little justice.
I've been back in Iowa this week with my family doing all of the things you do when an elderly person dies; making funeral arrangements, spending time with family and friends, telling stories, and visiting places that are special to me.
Today, I'll go to the covered bridge in Rock Falls, which he built, twice, and spend a little time by myself talking to the old bugger. I would imagine that I'll spend more time at "Grandpa's Bridge" than anywhere else while I'm here.
Here's a great story about his efforts over 50 years to make sure that North Iowa's lone covered bridge survived.
As I drive the Cerro Gordo county roads this week, I keep going past places that make me think of lessons that he shared with me over the years. I thought that now would be a good time to make a list of some of his greatest lessons.
1.) Don't tell your Grandma
For over 70 years, Potter, his father Søren and his brother Dub, owned a small conglomerate that included a hardware store, a plumbing and heating service company and a propane plant. When I was in college in Cedar Falls I would go back to Plymouth during school breaks and help the brothers with things around the store. One particularly cold winter when I came to visit he would bring a small propane tank to me at the end of each day and tell me to take it to Kenny Gunderson's "house," which was actually a Burro trailer, so that he could have heat for the night. His parting words to me, "Don't tell your Grandma." He wanted his works of charity to go unspoken, and unjudged.
2.) "If you don't want to do it their way, then you'd best be damn good at doing it your way"
Potter is the reason that I'm an entrepreneur. The freedom and autonomy that he showed me was possibly what made me want nothing more than to work for myself. Even though it was rare that he didn't get called out on Christmas Eve to fix someone's livestock pump, or deliver propane to a family that ran out because the fire place was running a bit more and the family was visiting for the holiday — he always walked back into the house whistling a happy tune. My grandpa always said that he's rather work 80 hours for himself than 40 for anyone else.
3.) They'll pay when they can
When the business was sold in 2005, there was over $150K in account receivable. Many of the overdue accounts were over a decade old, and a few even older than me (30 years old at that time). I asked Potter about selling the accounts to a collection agency and he said “No. They’ll pay when they can” We sent one last statement to the past due accounts at the closing of the business and over 70% of the overdue accounts were made good within a few years. He was never worried about money, even though he never made more than $35K a year — he just knew it would all work out.
4.) Naps are not optional
Potter took a nap every single day of his life. It didn't matter what was going on, as soon as "dinner" (lunch in Iowa) was done, he was down for his nap. He always said that if he took a nap, he got "2 days" each day.
5.) Don't give too much praise
Potter was clear that expected behavior wasn't praiseworthy. Graduate High School? Of course, you did. Make $100K? Good, that's expected. Win a race? Others must have been slow that day. He saved praise for the actually important moments in life.
6.) Your way is just fine
When When World War II started, my grandfather wasn’t able to serve because of his scoliosis so he became the lone male volunteer in town. Because so many men had left, he didn’t have many mentors to teach him how to do thing…so he just figured it out. This mentality pervaded his life, and while he wasn’t opposed to reading the instructions, he also never shied away from going against the grain.
Potter was never afraid to take things apart, and while he didn't always get them put back together correctly, he always took the opportunity to try and learn how things worked. When I was a child, at Christmas, my parents had to tell my Grandpa that he could play with our toys AFTER we played with the because there was a 50/50 chance that he would take them apart.
8.) Building it is the best part
The other day someone said to us that “Your Grandpa loved flying his model airplanes” to which my grandmother said “no, but he loved BUILDING them.” I’m quite certain that in all of his 40+ years of building model airplanes that he never landed one intentionally…they all crashed. In fact, every time one crashed (which was every time) you could see a twinkle in his eye because that meant that he was going to get to rebuild it.
9.) Take the long way
It takes most people 12 hours to drive from Plymouth Iowa to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It took Potter 3 days. After all, there was pie at the Danish Windmill in Elkhorn, an Indian burial ground in Eastern Nebraska, a cowboy boot store in Cheyenne, and he had to stop for “more pie” in Walden, CO before he got to our house (where there is no pie). For Grandpa, the long way, which was often also the most expensive way was always the best way.
10.) Dance with all the girls
While some men will only dance with their own wives, my Grandpa would dance with all the girls. Of course my grandmother came first, but when she needed a break, he just went to the next table in the ballroom. When I asked him about that he told me, "Well, you never know what you can learn — and, it's good to smell some different perfume." Variety was the spice in Potter's life.
There are so many more lessons...
But, I think I'll stop there for now. So here's to you, Potter. Thanks for the lessons, the memories, and the laughs.