My granddaughter, Grace, gave me an unusual gift for Christmas this year. It was a book titled “Your Grandfather’s Story.” To my surprise, when I opened it, there was nothing but blank pages except for a heading on each page with a single question. Questions like “Who was the biggest influence in your life?” or “What’s the best advice you got from your mom or dad?” There are more than a hundred pages with questions and I have begun the journey to finish it by next Christmas. Then I’ll return it to Grace.
What I have discovered while working on this project is that it has caused me to reflect on my life; both happy times and sad. For the next few weeks, I will share some of these thoughts in the hopes it will stir up some memories for you.
Today’s question. “What’s the best advice you got from your mom or dad?” That sounds easy enough. As I tried to remember something, though, I couldn’t think of anything. It wasn’t what they said, but rather how they lived their lives. Let me share just a few memories.
My parents ran a paint store on Main Street when I was a young teenager. Every day my dad would go across the street to the restaurant to get his morning coffee. One day when I was in the restaurant the waitress said, “your dad is the kindest person I know.” “Why do you say that?” I asked. She replied that an old man had been in there when your dad came in. He was hitchhiking his way to Cincinnati to see his dying mother. He only had enough money for a cup of coffee and a doughnut before he would be back out trying to catch a ride. Your dad paid his bill and then said, “Come with me, I will take you to the bus station and get you a ticket for the rest of your trip.” Yes, he taught me kindness and I have never forgotten that unspoken advice.
As a young college student, I spent the summers helping my dad in his paint contracting business. I would often go with him when he made a bid on painting someone’s house. “Dad you need to start getting written contracts when you agree to do this work,” I said. You see, I was a young student know-it-all. His reply: “I don’t need a contract. I am going to do what is right. If they don’t, then that is their problem.” After my dad passed away, I followed him in his footsteps in the painting business, painting hundreds of houses in Georgetown. I never had a written contract and I never lost a penny or had a misunderstanding with any client. He taught me to be trustworthy and to trust others. He never gave me a lecture; he just set the example.
My mother never handed out any spoken advice either. I do remember she took all of us children to church every Sunday, and made sure we went to Vacation Bible School in the summer. That was many years ago, but it is a habit I still follow. That is probably the most important thing that happened in my life. She never said “You kids are going to church.” It was always “We are going.” Just another example of unspoken advice.
I remember another time when my dad was in the intensive care unit of the hospital in Lexington and Mother knew he wasn’t going to make it home. One morning, as we sat in the waiting room, an elderly lady came in and sat in a corner. She was by herself and had her head bowed, trying to hold back tears. As she sat there, my mother quietly slipped over and put her arm around this lonesome person and spoke gently to her. Her tears slowly dried up and a slight smile crossed her face. I never knew what words were exchanged, but I believe it probably had something to do with all those trips to church.
No, I can’t remember any words I can pass on that my parents gave me. But I can say, without a doubt, the best advice they ever gave me was the way they lived their lives. I can only wish I could be like them and pass that on to my grandchildren. I do have one spoken piece of advice: How you live your life tells your story far better than anything you say.
George Lusby is the former Scott County judge-executive. “The Best of Crawfish and Minnows,” is available at the News-Graphic office.