Gramps 101


Monday November 18th, 2013 – Fox Lake, IL

Anyone who knows me well knows how immense an influence my grandfather was and still is in my life. Gramps was my father figure, first mentor and number one fan. If it weren’t for all of his well placed wisdom and patience, I have no doubt I’d be dead or in prison. He was my hero.

For as long as I am alive, November 18th will be a personal holiday because it was his birthday. He was born in 1912, and I was able to obtain a Mayoral Proclamation in Milwaukee last year on the 100th anniversary of his birth. He was proud to be a Milwaukeean, and I know he would have been blown away if he knew his personal centennial would be an official day in his home town.

I doubt if it meant anything to anyone but me, but I’m really glad I went through the procedure to make it happen. I have the document in my possession, and it means a lot just like having one created for my comedy mentor C. Cardell Willis. If anyone has ever earned kudos, those two did.

Gramps and Cardell were a lot alike in that they were both students of the game of life and they both had the teaching gene. They went out of their way to acquire knowledge, but then would not be satisfied unless they could pass it on to someone else. I am lucky to have had them both as my mentor precisely at the time I needed them most. It was important to me to honor their memories.

Gramps and Cardell also shared the trait of not sugarcoating anything. They called it like it was and I appreciate them both for that. They are two of the few people I have ever met that were not afraid of stepping on toes. They weren’t looking to offend, but they wouldn’t back down either.

I remember taking long walks with Gramps and getting into these long involved conversations about anything and everything. I could ask him anything, and he’d give me an answer. He would always tell me to think for myself, and not just go along with something because it was popular.

He had some ideas that would be unorthodox today to say the least, but I can’t deny they make perfect sense even now. What I owe Gramps – and anyone smart enough to want to acquire true wisdom – is to compile a book of lessons he taught me. I didn’t realize it then, but he wrote it on my heart all through my childhood. Those long walks were when he etched his lessons into me.

I can’t believe how far ahead of his time Gramps was. He took me on my own personal ‘Scared Straight’ adventure when I was maybe 12. He arranged a personal tour of the Ethan Allen School for Boys juvenile detention center in Delafield, WI. It scared me far more than any lecture could.

“This is about the age your father started acting up,” he said between puffs of his non-filter Pall Mall cigarette. “I could tell you about this place, or I could show it to you. I’m showing it to you so when you think about doing something stupid THIS is where they’ll send you. And if you do get sent here – don’t call me. You’re on your own.” Gramps had a flair for the dramatic, and it worked.

I’ve been without Gramps longer than I had him, and I can’t think of one thing I wouldn’t give to have a single hour with him now. I know he’d have valid insight, and would throw out his raw thoughts on everything. Wow, would I love that right now. I can’t have it, so the best way to pay him back is to put out a book of our experiences together. He dictated it to me years ago.

My grandfather got his college degree at age 52 after years of night school. He taught me far more than any college ever could.

My grandfather got his college degree at age 52 after years of night school. He taught me far more than any college ever could.

Mentor and mentee - aka me.

Mentor and mentee – aka me.

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