Lessons from Max


A jar full of coins sat perched on the top shelf.  Shiny dimes and nickles, pennies and quarters danced in the afternoon California sun that peaked through the glass patio door.  My grandpa was so proud of his jar of coins, and I, his youngest grandchild, was always in awe of him and his collection placed far above my reach.  Over a lifetime, my grandpa Max experienced more than I can ever imagine…the Great Depression, World Wars, growth of labor unions and negotiations, lasting love, presidential elections and assassinations, birth of children and grandchildren, terrorist attacks, and all of the small, personal moments in between.  He was a man who valued hard work and honest ethics.  He possessed a stoic and strong determination to succeed for the betterment of those around him and his family.

A pioneer in the U.S. labor movement, Max became an integral part of our nation’s history during a time when protecting workers’ rights wasn’t popular.  His work wasn’t always met with the same level of enthusiasm and regard that he believed it deserved, but he understood his mission and he pushed through the barriers.  He was a laborer, supervisor, organizer, and elected official during his 66 years of service.  Even when his brain wasn’t as sharp as it used to be, or his body felt weak and fragile from rounds of chemotherapy, he still woke up everyday to walk his dog, put on his slacks, button down, and loafers, drive to the office, and sit proudly behind his desk, ready to work.

I always loved listening to his stories, even when I had heard them over and over again.  He never completely lost his Arkansas twang, despite spending the majority of his life in Arizona and California.  I loved his voice and missed it when he was gone.  So  much so, that after he passed I called his Arizona apartment from time to time just to get the answering machine and feel a tiny bit closer to him.  “You’ve reached ###-####, we’re not here to take your call right now but if you’d leave your name and number we’ll get back to you…Goodbye!”  Although I haven’t heard that in about 6 or 7 years, I can still hear his twang.  Thank God.

During the 27 years that I had with him, I carefully watched his routine and learned some important lessons that I carry very close to my heart today, and hopefully forever.  These lessons, timeless and true, thankfully sneak into my everyday routine like a dog sneaking up onto the couch or bed to be close to his owner.  The end result is comforting and calming, and I’d surely miss it if those lessons failed to appear.  Not all of Max’s lessons were learned from watching him do something, but rather what I didn’t see him do.  And these lessons were formed from a granddaughter’s perspective, young and naive at times, but boy did I love my grandpa.  I am sure my father, his son, may have seen his father in a different light, and if we sat down and compared “notes” they may reveal a few discrepancies.  But, that’s okay.  We learn from our own experience, and surely I have learned lessons from my dad that were passed down from Max as well.

Lesson #1: Work hard and take pride in what you do – Max grew up during a time when putting in long, hard days on the job was just what you did.  He arrived to work on time, prepared, and ready.  He took pride in how he presented himself, both in his dress and attitude.  He worked hard because he wanted to keep his job, show his loyalty, and take care of his family.  Back then, this level of respect for work was the norm.  Max valued his 66 years of service so much that he wrote a memoir of his life, most of which was his union work.

Lesson #2: Save your pennies for a rainy day – When Max would take his dog Puff on walks in the morning, he would drive down to the grocery store and walk through the parking lot looking for dropped coins.  The money he found on his walks, coupled with loose change in his pockets was placed in the jar on the top shelf.  However, Max’s jar of coins wasn’t for decoration.  Once it was full, he’d roll the coins (before there were automatic coin rollers..which took a WHILE!) and bring them to the bank to either cash them in or put the money in savings.  He was a master investor and saver, but still managed to live a very comfortable life full of nice amenities.  I think this is because while he worked hard to provide for his family, he also valued the smallest unit of currency, the penny, as a very important part of his saving strategy.  This is why to this day, if I see a penny on the ground, I think of him and pick it up for my “jar on the shelf.”

Lesson #3: Reward yourself – A long, hard day at work deserves a reward don’t you think?  Max surely did.  Each night at 5 pm, my grandma Sweetie would fix up two cocktails, a martini for Max and Jack Daniels and ginger ale for herself.  They would have their very own happy hour at home!  Even Puff the dog got a little treat during happy hour (or yappy hour for him!).  If you spend your life waiting for someone else to reward your hard work, you may be waiting for a while.  So take time out of your day to reward yourself and relax.  I love this lesson!

Lesson #4: Keep your mind and body moving – A rolling stone gathers no moss, correct?  Well this goes for people too.  Max stayed physically and mentally active up until the last few months of his life.  He went to work everyday until he was 82 years old.  And even in the later years of working, though he was given less and less responsibilities, every one of his employees and co-workers VALUED his presence in the office and recognized his role in the organization.  He served as a vast resource of information and experience, and was able to use that to stay involved in his work.  Physically, he took time out of his morning and evening to take Puff for walks or perhaps spend 15 minutes riding the stationary bicycle.  Whatever it was, Max made an effort each day to keep a sharp mind and an able body, and that is something admirable.

Lesson #5: Love your family and make sure they know it! – My grandparents raised my dad and aunt during a time when overt emotional expression wasn’t customary.  Family roles were well-defined and for the most part emotions were kept to a minimum.  To show love and respect for your family, you served your role and provided them with things like food, shelter, clothing, education, etc.  While there are surely exceptions to this rule, Max and Sweetie definitely did not show their love as openly and freely as many people do today.  However, as Max approached his last few years of life, I witnessed a change in him.  He began being more affectionate, saying “I love you” before hanging up the phone, and joking around more than he had in the past.  It made me think that he was trying to get caught up on all of those times he didn’t express himself, and I appreciated that about him.  In his golden years, he was able to make a change that made his family very happy.  It’s never too late to let your family know how much you love and appreciate them.  Never.

While the list could be much longer, I think these 5 are the most important lessons that I take away from my grandpa Max.  Even though cultures shift and family roles get redefined, I hope to always keep these simple lessons in the forefront of my thoughts and actions.  He deserves to have his legacy honored and passed on.


June 25, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Emotion, Life.

One Comment

  1. Mitch replied:

    That was spot on Kelz. Left me with a tear or two as proof positive you captured the man and his life in a way that only a granddaughter could. I too learned from the things my Father did and didn’t do. Working hard was a given, but having a life away from work was gleaned from missing him at dinner, ball games, etc. Truth is, he loved his job and his family and often in that order. Expressing love was not his long suit, but showing it in the ways you described was another life lesson. It was his generation I guess. I hope I’ve been a little better at stating the way I feel as a result. Thank you Pink. Love ya!

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