My birthday won’t come around for another six months, give or take, so I have no idea what it’s like to have a birthday that falls on or near Christmas.
My grandfather celebrated his birthday — his 85th birthday — last Sunday. It reminded me of an old family tradition we had when I was young.
Grandpa gets to have his birthday, then we can decorate for Christmas. Then, the decorations tended to stay up a little extra long, usually until mid-January.
Now that I have my own family, we’ve created our own tradition, putting the decorations up sometime around Thanksgiving. I don’t think we’ve lost anything along the way; it’s just something my family does differently now.
And I know he’s OK with it.
My grandfather grew up in eastern Nebraska during the Dirt Bowl years. It was a tough life; a few of his siblings didn’t survive their first year of life and his mother passed away when he was still fairly young.
He graduated from high school, though, having already completed his freshman year at the University of Nebraska. And, when he completed college, he immediately went to work as a civil engineer and land surveyor.
He’s still licensed as both in Iowa, and he actively uses those licenses on a fairly regular basis.
“Some of those projects aren’t straightforward. Some of them make you think. I think that’s good for the brain,” he told me the other day. “And, it lets me get out of the house every once in a while.”
My grandfather was the city engineer in my hometown, Boone, for more than 50 years. The town changed a lot — the technology even more so — over that time, and I’m proud to say he had a hand in all of it.
Both my uncle and my father joined him in the family business. My father eventually started his own firm, which provides land surveying services all across the Midwest.
I got my start at the age of 4, bringing my Tonka construction toys with me to play in the aggregate piles while my dad was doing the materials testing for road construction projects. Before I had a license to drive a car, I was inspecting road construction projects, as well.
I only discovered later — probably after I broke my grandfather’s heart — that the family business was intended to be handed down to me one day. I obviously went in a different direction — first to the Navy (following another grandfather’s footsteps), then to journalism.
When I returned home from the Navy, and before I started the path that eventually led me to where I am today, I briefly went back to work for the the family business.
A college student working for my grandfather was having trouble getting a tripod to set up level on an incline. Trying to manhandle the tripod while holding the plumb-bob over his point of reference, he looked overwhelmed.
I asked if I could help. Just like my grandfather had shown me when I was younger, I took over the tripod, picked up a rock, and in about three drops of the rock and four twists of the leveler dials, I had the instrument set up.
That’s far from the most important thing he taught me, though. From my grandfather, I developed a strong work ethic and an appreciation for hard work, I learned how to lead without dictating and I gained an appreciation for service to others.
I wouldn’t be who and what I am today without my grandfather. That’s why I’m so glad to still have him around.
Happy belated birthday, Grandpa!
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If you’re reading this, thank a teacher. If you’re reading this in English, thank a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.