I love to make my grandpa Ralph laugh. When he is really tickled with something that's been said, he has a signature way of tilting his head and letting out a little laugh that seems to come right from his soul. And when he laughs his eyes sparkle.
I've always felt a special connection with my grandpa, but have been blessed with an extra special bond this year. You see, my grandpa is an identical twin. I guess life has a way of coming full circle sometimes, and as I sat in for an ultrasound earlier this year and heard that we were having identical twins (which don't run genetically), thinking of my grandpa helped me know that God was in control.
My grandpa hasn't had an easy life. In the last 95 years he has served in WWII, survived the Great Depression, literally saw businesses burn to the ground, and cared for my grandma, “his Lena”, for fourteen years after a stroke left her unable to care for herself. I well remember watching him as he would help my grandma get ready, make her meals, and help her up and down from her recliner chair where she would watch baseball with him. But only years later do I appreciate what caring for someone day in and day out for 14 years must have been like—while in his 80’s no less.
My grandpa is a man of faith—the type of dogged, determined and dedicated faith that seems to define the men and women of the “greatest generation.” He didn't just practice faith on his knees, but lived it at home, at work, and literally on the battlefield.
To my grandpa, faith is black and white. He didn't spend his time doubting or questioning, but used his belief in God and God's plan for him to sustain him through some of the hardest things life has to offer.
When asked about his belief and faith, his answers can usually be boiled down to a few things—in fact it’s difficult to get him to talk about anything else. First, that God lives and that God's church has been restored. Second, that God loves us and will see us through anything. Third, that faith blesses families. And lastly (and what I think means the most to him) that someday he will be with his Lena again. Oh, how he loves his Lena.
He attributes learning how to live by faith to his parents, who had 5 sons serving through much of the war. Again from my grandpa, “My father and mother, my gosh, they had to have a lot of faith to have 5 of us in the service and know we could get killed. I don’t know how they did it, I really don’t. They worried every day that one of us would get killed. I know their faith helped them through that.” His parents also used their faith to help them face financial struggles, even losing their home at one point, but never giving up. Later when he went through his own financial struggles he said it was that same faith that helped him never look back and question, but to work until things worked out.His faith got him through WWII. In his words, “I really don’t know how I got through the war. So many times I was upheld, just waiting to feel the shrapnel kill me, but it never did. You just can’t understand how many times I got pinned down, I lost two jeeps in the war to shelling, and I was right next to them. It was trouble all that time in those 2 ½ years, but I just thanked my father in heaven for protecting me to go home to Lena.”
His faith blessed his family and marriage. It helped him and Lena to stay true to each other though they were apart for 2 ½ years during the war, a time where he saw many others in the army go out with women on weekends, with their wives at home. While he was still serving they decided they should get married, and planned it for when his army convoy was making a short stop in Pocatello Idaho where Lena lived. My grandpa called her right before they arrived, and in his brief stay they were married in a relative's living room. My grandpa only had time to "kiss her twice”, and then he hurried to get back on the truck as his convoy moved on. He told me that when he got back on the truck he “curled up in a ball, and bawled like a baby.” He didn't know the next time he would see her, if ever. He also knew that it also took faith from my grandma to be faithful at home. “It was hard on her and I know that" he said, "with so many that wanted to date her and be with her, but she wanted to be faithful and to someday have a family. I was very fortunate.” He knew that the happiness in their marriage came from what they believed about marriage and the purpose of this life.
Volumes couldn't hold the stories my grandpa could tell, nor could it capture what he's done and become through his faith. But I can say that his faith has blessed me and my family in so many ways. His example of steadfastness is something I can only hope to emulate. I can't wait to tell my identical twin girls about my identical twin grandpa. I hope I can pass on his grit and belief, and most importantly his faith. I can't think of a better inheritance, because I know that if my children get even a portion of their great-grandpa’s faith, they will be able to get through anything. Because he has. And that would be enough to make his eyes sparkle.