I will try to keep this short, but I always write too many words. I actually talked to Pete about this quite a number of times. He always claimed that he had no great talent as a writer, but I think that was Peter being self-deprecating. Regardless, through his years in advertising and his classes in journalism at Northwestern, he knew how to put sentences together. He’d tell me that there was a right word for everything, and that there was a great value to being concise.
I hope I can do that for him today, but I’m not sure.
Last week I was in the Czech Republic, working as a journalist at a large sporting event.
About the time that my grandfather Peter passed away, I was collecting my credentials from the media office. I handed over my passport and in return received a laminated name tag with my picture on it. And then a woman approached me with a box. “The gift,” she said.
It’s traditional for organizing committees to offer some item to journalists and athletes at events like these, but I was not expecting a heavy cardboard box. I’ve previously received coffee mugs and backpacks. As I carried it home, the handle cut into my fingers, and I wondered what could possibly be inside. When I opened it, I found six bottles of Czech wine.
Looking back, I think this was perfect. Peter would have been smiling. He knew how to combine hard work with fun, adventure, and mischief, and that attitude towards life is something that we should all aspire to.
As kids, we don’t understand that our grandparents had lives before becoming our grandparents. When we’re little, we see only a pair of old people, who alternately scold us and dote on us. Luckily, as we get older, these relationships become deeper and more complex.
Peter believed that any of us could become anything that we wanted to, and that we should have the opportunities to try to do so. Many of us are still figuring out what that thing is, but Peter has always been supportive of all of us all the way through.
I’m a biologist, and Peter was certainly not a scientist. But because of his love of fishes, of flowers, of the landscapes of the forests and lakes of the upper Midwest or of the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, we could always talk about the things that I was doing, and I find that amazing.
I feel like I am obligated to speak a little bit on behalf of all of my cousins. Abie and Peter both were devoted to the idea that we should be able to have the best educations, and they were proud of us no matter what we did. I don’t know too many other grandparents who attended each and every one of their grandchildren’s graduations, from New Hampshire to Texas. They did.
But it’s not until we are adults that we realize that our grandparents were truly remarkable long before we were even born. In the last few years I was lucky to begin to have some grownup conversations with Peter, even though I’m not a grownup.
After our last visit in particular, I was looking forward to the coming years when I could ask him more about his life, after receiving tantalizing stories about growing up on the Upper Peninsula. I’ve been lucky to travel there, so I feel like I can begin to understand his childhood – but not really, and I wanted to hear more from him. And stories about traveling in the peacetime navy, which he always described as a plumb gig. Starting in advertising, and traveling around the southeast in train cars. Parties with Abie and their friends that would leave any of us grandchildren reeling if we could time travel back fifty years and try to keep up. Fishing trips to remote and beautiful parts of the world that most of us can only dream of seeing.
But even though I feel a void where those future stories should be, I am left looking back on wonderful times with as sweet and loving a grandfather as anyone could ask for. My cousins and I prospered from Peter’s life twofold. We had him as a grandfather, and we had his sons as fathers and uncles. I look at my father, Geof, and know that he is the best dad. I look at Keith, Chris, and Todd, and know that they were the best uncles – I remember screaming with delight when we would play when I was growing up. Where did they learn all of this, if not from their own father?
So thank you, Peter, for all that we have gained from all five Little boys.
Peter, walking off into the garden forever.