“It’s a great life, if you don’t weaken.”
— Ray Mittge
My grandpa has been gone for more than 15 years, but I’m lucky to have known him, and to have a wonderful collection of his “sayings” that his son, my dad, collected and gave me as a birthday gift a few years back. (“It sure beats buying an actual present,” my dad joked as he gave it to me, and while I laughed as always at his wit, it really is one of my most cherished possessions.)
My carpenter/dairyman/cowboy grandpa had a solid character, an easy smile and a way with words that endeared him to his neighbors in Tenino and Yelm.
“If I was any happier, I couldn’t stand it,” my grandpa was known to say, and “I’m as happy as if I had good sense.”
He passed many more great sayings on to his children. My dad would often use this one with me, and I’ve used it plenty of times with my own kids to encourage them to keep trying when a project was harder than expected: “Pull hard and she’ll come easy.”
My aunt Carolyn Olson, who still lives near the same Violet Prairie farm where she, my dad and their sisters were raised, shared a thought that I’ve also found useful when it comes to finding peace and happiness in life: “Don’t rob yourself of joy. You can always find something to be unhappy or upset about.”
I love these kinds of sayings, and during this Father’s Day weekend when so many students are graduating and entering into a new phase of life, it’s a great time to share hard-won words of wisdom. Last week I asked readers to send me their thoughts, and you folks came through with some great ones.
Carol Drummond, a pre-school teacher who lives in Salkum, sent in this suggestion: “Be the spark that makes life sparkle.”
And this, from her brother Tom, a financial planner and former baseball player in Los Altos Hills, California: “Never say you can’t until you’ve tried.”
Drummond also added an old favorite she’s heard along life’s way: “Today is God’s gift to me, what I do with it is my gift to God.”
Cindy Cavanagh of Rochester suggests, “Save 10 cents on every dollar earned, starting with your first job.”
Doug Gallagher, Chehalis, said that two old important old sayings actually give the exact same advice: “It’s who you know, not what you know” and “Never burn a bridge.”
Colleen Cruzan gave some practical advice: “Take care of your credit.”
Kay Morton of Napavine (my children’s piano teacher) sent me this: “When I was going out for the day, the evening, whatever, my Mom always said ‘Remember who you are.’ I never asked her exactly what she meant but I subconsciously knew it was ‘behave yourself, don’t embarrass the family.’ Something along that line. Perhaps she also meant, live like you love Jesus. But ... it grounded me nonetheless!”
Michael Croxton of Toledo, a retired telecom executive, told me that he has been very intentional about sharing his family’s remarkable story with his own son. Michael’s father was a chief petty officer aboard the USS Pennsylvania, the admiral’s flagship, when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. Michael’s mother was born in Ukraine, lived through the Revolution, traveled across Russia at age 12 to rejoin her mother in Shanghai, and married Michael’s father in 1932 while he was serving on the Yangtze Patrol.
“Her greatest pride was her five children and husband, but in second place was her Citizenship Certificate, which I still have,” Croxton wrote to me. “No one said anything critical of America in her presence without her vigorous response! She survived a famine (barely) that killed in the millions, she witnessed a thief run down by police in the marketplace in Shanghai, beheaded right in front of her, and she understood clearly just how fortunate we are to live in this beautiful land.”
Croxton and his wife, Leslie, were in their 40s when they had their only son, Jeff. They spoke often about what they wanted to teach him about life. They put up on his bedroom wall, “Your actions have consequences, and you are responsible.” They told him he could take it down when he moved out of their home.
When Jeff was in eighth grade, he had an assignment to write an “autobiography” that also required side essays from several friends and separate essays from his mother and father.
Croxton sent me a copy of the essay he wrote for his son. It is moving, and I kept thinking what a treasure it was for their child at a tender age.
Among the highlights of the essay, Croxton wrote: “We want him to understand the amazing complexity of the world, of the galaxy, of this Universe Without End, of relationships, of how fragile it all is, and how very precious...
“We have tried to teach him that the goal of each of us is to perfect ourselves, that we do that both with the quality of love in our relationships with others, and with the way we treat our self.
“Finally, we try to show Jeff that attitude is everything. Good attitude, good results. Bad attitude, bad results.”
Jeff went on to graduate from both Toledo High School and Centralia College on the same weekend, with Honor Society commendations from both. He then graduated from Western Washington University with a degree in political science.
“He loves it there, is happily employed, and he wears well the lessons he learned in his youth,” Croxton said with justifiable satisfaction.
My Father’s Day wish to all parents out there is that you would be intentional, unembarrassed and proud to share the lessons of your life and family with your own children.
Consider writing them an essay, or taking them on a journey and opening up with what you’ve always felt you should say, but didn’t quite know how, or when.
Tell them you’re proud of them and excited for the unique work they will do in the world.
Let them know where they’ve come from and be bold to give them any tools you have for whatever life might have in store.
And let them know that it’s OK sometimes when things are not going well to just do your best and get through it.
As my grandpa would say, “Cobble it up and let the rough side drag.”
Brian Mittge is a husband, father and son living in rural Chehalis. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.