What Made Grandpa So 'Together'?

By Jeremy Bangs

When I think of people who made a real impact on me, I think about them as a collection of stories.

I can picture their little eccentricities. I can still hear the truisms they leaned on like verbal tics.

I guess it’s no accident then, as I work to add some order to my life, that I think of my grandfather. He lived to be 93 and he didn’t spend much of that time wrestling with ambiguity. He was organized. He didn’t have an accent or an overtly ethnic name, but his love of details and his allergic reaction to “winging it” was proof enough of his German upbringing.  

The man was a filing cabinet in tennis shoes. He had notes and records spilling out of every pocket. One hip pocket stored a checkbook with an up-to-date check registry in it (old school, baby). The other one held his wallet, the kind that, if dropped, would leave a divot on whatever it struck.

But it was the breast pocket on his shirts that were truly remarkable. In that one pocket lay every useful thing a smartphone could hope to offer – grocery lists, coupons, prescriptions, doctor’s phone numbers, insurance company phone numbers, a notebook, glasses, a pen and who knows what else.

He had a good memory, but he only used it for telling stories. Everything else was written down.

“Write it down!” he’d say as grandma brainstormed about what to make for dinner tomorrow.

“Get it in writing!” was his command for many things, but especially when dealing with his arch rivals in the auto repair and health insurance businesses.

“Read the fine print!” is a phrase still echoing off the walls of my family’s collective consciousness. Ever wonder who reads all that stuff at the bottom of an insurance statement? My grandfather did. With cataracts, macular degeneration, a magnifying glass and a flashlight, he read every word.

I can tell you dozens of stories about going through the grocery store with my grandparents, but I can’t tell you many about going back to the store to get something they forgot.

The hardware store – he’d make one trip with a list AND a drawing.

I actually remember hearing the man on the phone with insurance companies and winning the argument.

The point is- the man knew what he was doing, where he was going and what he needed to get when he got there. I very often … don’t.

I’m one of those guys who thinks, “I’ve got it in my head.”

One of the key take-aways I’ve gotten from the orderliness conversation, whether it’s about family meetings or setting goals for doing chores around the house, is that I need to “Write it down!” as my grandfather would say.

Tonight, I talked to my 9-year-old daughter, Livvy, about doing chores. Understand that these are not one-way conversations. I am not on the short list to win the Nobel Prize for Housekeeping. Anyway, we’ve had these conversations before. We’ve talked about things we ought to do more and why they’d make things easier for both of us. And these conversations have disappeared into the ether like the small-talk they are.

But tonight, I took some notes. This stunned Livvy. She took it a step further and immediately started making a chore poster to hang on the wall. This stunned me. Then, in stunned silence, we beheld our to-do list hanging on the kitchen wall. We will both clean our rooms. She will clean her desk daily. I will clean the kitchen nightly. She will [continue to] clean her hamster cage. I will vacuum the human cage weekly.

It changed the entire exercise. Suddenly a conversation we’ve had countless times feels real. I actually cleaned the kitchen just so I could check the “clean the kitchen” box on our poster and show it off to her in the morning.

I wrote it down. And I got it in writing. There is even small print that reads, “The rewards of completing these chores will be self-evident and, therefore, shall not result in financial compensation for either party.”

Grandpa would be proud.

Jeremy Bangs is a single father of a 9-year-old daughter, Olivia. He spent more than 17 years as a writer, photographer and managing editor for community newspapers along Colorado’s Front Range.