New Balance

When I was a boy, we’d go to Butte, Montana for Christmas every year and spend 3 or 4 days there. It’s where my Grandpa and Grandma lived. There was a middle school a block away from their house. It featured an outside ice skating rink, playground equipment, and basketball hoops. It didn’t matter how cold it was, my sister and I were out there a few times a day, bundled up, playing on one of those three things. My grandparents really enjoyed watching and having us there.

My mom still has several thick binders full of pictures of my sister and I from that time. Some of them all you can see is our eyes and noses, as we’re both all puffed up in snowsuits, hats, boots, and gloves covering every other skin surface. We were so puffed up, it felt like we could roll off the roof of the grandparent’s house, Griswold style, and not feel a thing when we landed.

My Grandpa and Grandma had a fairly simple house, but there was plenty of room for everyone. A ping pong table in the basement, monopoly, a Rubik’s cube, and plenty of bicycle playing cards. All that a family really needs for a few days.

Grandma had her own reclining chair. Grandpa did too. They shared the ‘clicker’, took naps, went to bed early, and got up early in the morning. Grandpa always cooked breakfast, and Grandma cooked dinner…After we were all seated, she’d tell us where she purchased every single ingredient in everything on the table. 90% of the time it came from SAFEWAY. That didn’t stop her from going down the line, item by item, and saying ‘these are peas…from SAFEWAY, this is corn…from SAFEWAY’, etc. My sister and I always laughed at that.

Grandpa would always go on walks. Everyone around the neighborhood knew him. ‘Heeeeyyyy Jimmy!’ I’d hear a lot when I went with him. He liked to say “how about that,” in a monotone voice after explaining something or hearing a story from someone else. He always knew who my friends back home were and would ask about them. I’d sit next to him during my sister’s softball games, he’d clap and say ‘ducks on the pond’. He loved the Boston Celtics and playing cards. He played a lot of cards back in his day, and I’m told he was pretty in tune to what other players were holding.

But the best thing about him was his shoes and pants. He wore dockers. I always admired the way he wore them. He wore those things differently than anyone else ever has. I can’t explain it. It was like the way Jordan wore his basketball shorts…everyone tried to copy it, (except for Stockton) but no one was able pull it off quite the same. In this case I was everyone and he was Jordan, and it was dockers instead of shorts. They always fit perfectly around his shoes…which were always old school New Balance…a shoe still made today.

They were the only shoes he ever wore. Always in the grey or tan colors. After he died in 2008, I haven’t worn any other brand of shoes. I wear crocs and sandals around a lot, but whenever I wear sneakers, or buy shoes, they are always New Balance. It’s been my little silent tribute to him. It’s for that reason I’m writing this post today. I Just got done ordering some new New Balance shoes online and thought of him.

He was a gunner in WWII. His plane shot at other planes as they flew over ‘the hump’ between India and China. After he returned from the war he worked for Montana Power Company. He started in 1946 as a lineman and eventually retired as a district manager in 1981. He married my Grandma in 1946 and started a family 2 years later. He successfully raised his two little girls into strong women, sending them into adulthood with their own independent ideals, values, and visions, while still possessing his strength and core of his foundation.

Legend has it, my Grandpa had only met my dad 2 or 3 times, and barely knew him, when he pulled up in a 1966 Volkswagen bus ready to take his daughter on long road trip down the west coast. My dad had extremely long hair. His beard and facial hair were ridiculous. All the pictures I’ve seen of him from that era show hair so long and abundant that you can’t even see his face. I joke with my mom all the time when I see those pictures. I ask her how the heck she even knew she was attracted to him. When my dad started loading up my mom’s bags and asking if she’s ready to go, my grandpa silently and politely went out to the car with his notepad and wrote the license plate number down. Didn’t ask any questions. There were no ‘are you sure about this’ type of inquires. Just a hug and a kiss goodbye.

That’s how he was. A man confident in the way he raised his girls. He was always around when they needed him, but he allowed his daughters to make their own choices and decisions in life without interfering. (I know this for a fact because as adults the two sisters could not be more beautifully different .) You do the best you can, then trust their judgment. That was his mentality. I strive to be like him everyday when raising my kids. Especially now that I’m at home full time. I believe a good parent doesn’t force what they like on their children. As parents we should help our kids find what their passion in life is and go out of our way to encourage them, and provide any resources they need, to engage in it.

I wish he was still around to meet his great grandkids, and hear me tell him how much of an influence he was on me without even knowing it. One of my first childhood memories…I slapped my mom when she told me no about something. Grandpa saw it, drug me down to his basement workshop room and told me how it was. You don’t hit women. Especially his daughter. Do it again and I’m out of his house. I think I was maybe 5 years old, but I believed him. His last moments on earth were spent in that same room. He died in his own house, on his terms, doing what he wanted to do.

At his funeral, one of his best friends spoke of a man who liked to ‘work hard and play hard, because that’s just how it was back then’. The man telling the story worked for my Grandpa. He told another story about when he got a better job offer that required relocation. My Grandpa had heard about the offer, and he and my grandma were waiting for this man on his door step with a case of beer when he got home that night. By the time the beer was gone my Grandpa had convinced his friend to stay put. Convincing him it’s not all about the money, it’s about family.

My Aunt spoke of a man who was the family rock. Could count of him 100% of the time. There was never a doubt.

My mom sent me a text, May 25th of this year, telling me on that day that this would’ve been his 100th birthday. She said “He was a man that didn’t waste his time complaining. He wasn’t into the ‘accuse and blame’ game like so many today.”

With everything going on in the world, with systematic racism and social injustice, I guess I’m just lucky. So So Lucky. I’m lucky I was born into a family that has my grandpa’s values. A mother that has never taught me anything about race except that all human beings are equal, no matter the race, sex, or religion. That was that. No further discussion needed. I had a father who everyone has the utmost respect for, largely because he lives his life the way all humans should. And an overall upbringing any child/kid would be lucky to have.

My wife has gone out of her way this week to tell me my mother is the example of how a white person should think and act on this subject. I’ve done a lot of listening to my wife this week, learning even more than I already knew about her background and what she and people she knows have been through. Last night, after we talked for about an hour, I rolled over and asked her, ‘What did Floyd first get arrested for anyway?’ It dawned on me that after all this time I didn’t even know. She told me why and then she gave me the biggest compliment she could give me. She told me that’s why she loved me…because I didn’t care.

It was then we both sort of realized simultaneously…this whole time I haven’t cared why he was arrested. It didn’t matter to me. There’s nothing he could’ve possibly done that warrants being treated that way. And she was so happy I instinctively think/thought that way. It was a good moment for us, especially since a few of our conversations have been a little awkward for me this week.

I give all the credit for that moment to the way I was raised. Which wouldn’t have been possible without my Grandpa. I wrote a post awhile back that spoke a little about fathering black children, and racism, and how I’ve never really been tested in this realm, in many areas. Even though it had nothing directly to do with my kids, I feel like I passed the first test.

Now all the pressure is on me for the future, to carry on that tradition of the many generations of great fathers and mothers in my family before me…Like my mother and Grandpa. To give my kids all the tools they need to succeed, be safe, and then allow them to do it on their own.