Today, your grandparents, my parents, celebrate 50 years together. So much of the man I am today, the teacher I am today, comes from them. There were times I wondered how these two ever got together. They were so different.
Your grandmother grew up the second of five children in the city of Elizabeth and moving out to the suburbs when she was in high school. She was a National Honor Society student.
Her gift to me was her creativity.
The other day, a parent of one of my students complimented me on my back to school night presentation. She said it was engaging, filled with information, and entertaining, and it was no wonder to her now why her child enjoyed my class. That was your grandmother's influence in me. She could see beauty and fun in the ordinary. When I was a kid, every night it seemed she would be crocheting, knitting, gluing, doing something creative. Halloween was always great, because she would come up with great costumes. Your mother was a banana one year, Cleopatra another. I was a revolutionary militiaman and robot. All homemade costumes. One year she made me an astronaut outfit. Her added touch to the costume was created by taking a plastic milk carton, cutting a 1/4 of it off to make it into a holder for my "moon rocks", which were plastic eggs spray painted gold with sparkles. She figured out a way to make pillow footballs for me and my cousins with the color of our favorite teams. I always had the best school projects because her creative mind always develop a presentation of top notch quality. (Yes, I was one of those kids whose parents did their projects)
Your grandfather grew up an only child in a rural area of NJ. He was a motor head who enjoyed playing baseball and causing trouble.
His gift to me was analytical thinking and fairness.
A part of being a history teacher is explaining cause and effect to allow your students to understand why things happen. Your grandfather was not a great student, but he is a smart man. It was hard doing anything wrong or justifying what you did because he would win the argument, always showing the flaws of any argument. He is one of the guys who know a little bit about everything. He can fix a car engine and can discuss world events. He is both mechanical and well read.
He also taught me that you need to be fair to everyone and that your character counts more than your place in life. When I bowled, your grandfather always said if the rack would knock down a pin he would always give a kid the pin that fell, but would not give it to me so no one would accuse him of playing favorites. When started playing baseball, I was awful and always played the outfield. My Dad would help out the team whenever he worked days. One game, our starting second baseman was out so the coach told my Dad he wanted to put me at second. You grandfather let me know that he told my coach, "Don't put him there because of me."
The coach assured him it was because he believed I had played better over the past few games. Your grandfather always believed something is more precious to you if you earned it rather than be given it. And in terms of baseball, it was so true as I often point to that day as what began my love and devotion for a game that I played through college and still coach today.
The thing that both of them gave me is the value that you do things because it is the right thing to do, not because you gain some advantage or receive some compensation. Your grandmother always traveled over to her parents house helping them with everyday things even when all her brothers and sisters (and all of my cousins lived) within blocks of their house. It wasn't easy, but it was right.
I saw your grandfather aid two elderly aunts in their 90's because they had no children of their own to care for them (even though they had other nieces and nephews). One of those aunts did not include him in her will. A lesser man would have stopped providing aid at the point of realizing that he wouldn't be receiving any benefit for their time and effort. Your grandfather is a better man who assisted his aunt until her dying day.
Your grandparents, from such different backgrounds, and at times you could wonder what keeps them together. It is a mutual love and respect. My father was your grandmother's strength, my mother was your grandfather's stability.
Your grandparents will never be in the pages of a history textbook from which I teach. However, their influence is more widespread than they could have ever imagined, as students in CT and NJ over the past 20 years have benefited from the daily lessons they instilled in me growing up.
Without realizing it, they have built a legacy that will continue for another 50 years.
I love you Mom and Dad!