“Why are you always so happy?” his coworkers would ask. And always, nonchalantly, he’d reply, “What is there to not be happy about?” My father, looking to the sky, reminisces fondly of his father—my grandfather—who passed away long before I was born. Although I was never fortunate enough to meet him, I feel a unique connection between us; one that starts with a continuing but not so typical family tradition.
My grandfather, George, worked as plant manager at a chemical factory in St. Louis, Missouri. Life’s pleasures were never handed to him freely; rather, he worked incredibly hard for what he earned, however little or great that may have been. Though his life was never easy, he always found something to smile about, especially when the seasons changed—he always loved that. By whistling while he worked, singing along to the radio, and always greeting people with a warm and welcoming smile, he unknowingly taught my own father an important life lesson. If he ever complained as a child, Grandpa George would immediately remind his son that he was far better off than many, and that he should take each day with gratitude.
As he matured, my father adopted this very attitude and held onto it in even the toughest of times. Grandpa George died unexpectedly of an aneurysm when my dad was only 18, leaving him to face new problems and situations without the guidance of his role model. Instead of letting the pain and grief run my father’s life, he turned his hurt into something positive and set goals for the future. Without the help of others, my father paid his way through college, successfully completed nursing school, and eventually became a flight nurse. He and my mom had been together since they were only sixteen, and were already living well-planned, positive lives. My mom had endured many of the same problems in her own childhood, struggling with an often broken family and financial problems, as well. But by taking her bad experiences and pledging to pave a happier path, she worked towards her goals and always remained cheerful and full of life. For many years, my mom was a successful cosmetologist and my father was a trusted and respected nurse. Both incorporated friendly attitudes into their everyday lives: my mother treated everyone she met as her own best friend, and my father always made sure he was taking care of patients as he would have taken care of his own family.
A couple of years down the road came the next big test: my father was in a helicopter crash. He suffered a broken back along with some other minor injuries, but with the help of my mother and support from friends and caretakers, he recovered quickly. Over the next ten years, he went to school to earn higher degrees, and is now a healthcare administrator.
Since my earliest years, my family has taught me how to look at life. My mom sings as she cleans and greets me with a smile and hugs every morning; my father whistles around the house and always tells some corny joke that inevitably makes me laugh. Because of my dad’s work, I have had to move many times during my life. Though it’s never easy, I always try to make the best of it, and thus far, have always ended up well-adjusted and happy within a couple of months. I now appreciate the little adventure and also have friends in many different cities and states.
One of my most rewarding experiences, however, was volunteering, as cliché as it may sound. During my 10th grade summer, I volunteered at the local hospital (the one my dad works for). Working interchangeably between a nursing floor and the hospital gift shop, I learned just how important it is to, no matter my own disposition, strive to make another person feel important and cared about. New mothers excluded, a person in a hospital is generally going through a tough time, and a friendly face could be just what that person needs. How hard is it to smile and say, “How are you?”
Though my life has been very fortunate so far, through the experiences and examples set by my family members, I know just how to confront future trials. In school, in friendships and relationships, in activities, work, and pressures, I have always kept the family tradition in mind, though now it not only stays in my mind, but embodies my heart and soul, as well. We all go through problems and difficult situations, but just as my grandfather, father, and mother have done, I will continue this outlook and always smile as I embrace the changing seasons.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.