The Measure of a Man

Susan Cramer - Granville, Ohio
Entered on June 21, 2005
Susan Cramer
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: love, parenthood

For a few years after my stepfather died, I walked through life with the image of him saying good-bye to my young son, a beloved grandchild. It brought on unexpected bouts of tears, usually when it was least convenient and most embarrassing. I was shocked at how much I missed him.

He married my widowed mother long after I left home. In the beginning, I was grateful that she had found someone who would take over worrying about her, but I secretly thought of him as her intellectual inferior. I am a snob, not an idiot, so I eventually grew to love him as he deserved, but it wasn’t until after his death that I began to admire him as well.

His name was Kermit and he was completely comfortable sharing his name with the world’s most famous frog. An ex-Marine and opera buff, he was a man who defied stereotypes. His closest friends included a college professor, a tire salesman, a thoracic surgeon, and a maintenance man. He accepted people as they were, and was, in turn, exactly who he seemed to be. He was, according to his professor friend, “A man without an agenda.”

In his fifties, he became an instructor with what was then called the Disabled Skier Program. Winter afternoons would find him sporting his signature knickers and snowflake knee socks, guiding a blind girl down the slope or flying down the mountain in the wake of a one-legged skier, yodeling badly at maximum volume. When complimented on his service to others, he would say only that he loved to go fast. But I learned to admire the elegance with which he combined purpose and passion.

He came to Ohio to say good-bye the winter before he died. We pretended that it was a regular visit, although we all knew that he and my mother never left the mountain during ski season. Except for the added layers of clothing he wore because the radiation treatments made him constantly cold, he was as he’d always been, smacking his lips over a few bites of a candy bar and wrapping up the rest for later, and reading to the bottom of the menu even after ordering just to make sure he hadn’t missed anything wonderful. Together, we watched the news, visited a local museum, went out for dinner. The day they left, we had his favorite breakfast. He ate each one of his tiny pancakes with a different flavored dollop of syrup.

“Grandpa, how come you eat your pancakes like that? Don’t you have a favorite?”

“I got so many favorites I can never pick one. There’s alotta great stuff out there, chief.”

I have come to believe in my stepfather’s formula for a rich and happy life: be individual enough to wear clothing that will embarrass your children. Be open to experiencing everything life has to offer from six different flavors of pancake syrup to a paddle boat cruise on the Mississippi. And have the grace to help someone else fly down the mountainside.

It seems to me that the measure of a man is not the car in which he drives through life, but the size of the hole left behind when he leaves it. I believe that greatness can be accomplished through small as well as monumental deeds, and that average people—like my stepfather—can make a big difference in small ways.

Susan Cramer runs Power of the Pen, her middle school’s creative writing club. Following Kermit’s example, she has happily served as president of the Board of Trustees of the Granville Public Library for many years. Ms. Cramer lives in Ohio with her husband, and they have two almost perfect children.