By Heather Hamilton-Maude: The Difference of One
We laid grandpa George to rest last week. The last of, “The Greatest Generation,” in my immediate family is gone. There was a time following the funeral mass for friends and family to share memories and stories. This has become my favorite part of many funerals, and my grandfather’s was no exception.
There were stories of fishing on Texas Creek in Colorado, and of Baha-ing in his restored bug in Arizona. His days running what is now called Ski Cooper were mentioned.
His time spent in the Army, then the Air Force as a B-29 mechanic during WWII – to this day nobody knows exactly why he decked his commanding officer on the boat ride to Guam. How he worked fulltime as a hard rock miner for 18 years, while running more than one other venture on the side played into many tales.
One story told of my mom plowing snow at the family-owned trailer court in Leadville before school, and before she was old enough to get her driver’s license. Another of grandpa’s hatred of the bell at his Mobil gas station, stating a customer had arrived. In those days, gas stations were full service, and it didn’t take long for my uncle to assume the full-service duties so grandpa could focus on fixing cars and selling tires.
There was the day the mine siren went off, due to a fire. How my grandfather, upon getting out 12 hours after the fire started, was among the first who went back in for others. How the single life lost in that event was a good friend of his. About the look on my grandmother’s face when she finally saw him, alive and well.
My parents told about how he and my grandmother where there for every major improvement made to their ranch, from rebuilding their house, to major pipelines and fencing projects. When my sister came three-months before her due date, my grandparents were there within 24-hours.
Two separate people stood and tearfully stated they likely wouldn’t be here today if not for my grandfather. For the help he provided them during a particularly dark time in their life.
One story was about my great-grandfather. During the great depression everyone had enough money for a single pair of shoes. He was at his barber’s one day, when the KKK came in and told the Jewish barber he had 24 hours to get out of town. My great-grandfather looked down at the three men’s shoes, called them by name, and stated that if so much as a single hair was hurt on his barber’s head, they would answer to him personally. The barber never left town, or had any more trouble with the KKK. My great-grandfather being a sparring partner to the world champion welterweight boxer at the time may have helped back his statement. That story spoke to how my grandfather was raised.
In my case, Grandpa George was a vocal and known fan of all I did. One example is found in this very paper. When he and grandma went into assisted living, my mom got him a subscription to Tri-State, and would also send him copies of other articles I had written. He read every single one, regardless of knowing little to nothing about most of the topics. He would insist his nurses read my columns, and every time he would tell them it was his granddaughter who wrote that. When we talked, he would ask about the topics of my recent articles, and tell me how proud he was of me.
My grandfather was the furthest thing from an easy man, and many of the lessons he taught were difficult and backed with the expectation of fast understanding and perfection. He was fond of saying difficult situations build character. People repeatedly described him as a fair, honest, extremely hard-working man who made a big impact in a lot of people’s lives. A good impact.
In this era of so many people assuming a single person cannot make a difference, I encourage you to think of people like Grandpa George. Whoever they may be to you.
He made a difference in his lifetime, and we each will, too. The part that is up to each of us is what kind of difference that will be. Something his generation seemed to grasp, but so many in subsequent generations fail to see.
Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone.