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Lessons from Grandpa Jim

My grandfather died unexpectedly when I was two.  I have no memories of him.  It’s seems odd that some of the ideas that often run through my head are the lessons that he passed down through his children.

Growing up, I simply accepted that I only had one grandparent on my father’s side of the family.  My grandfather was someone we rarely talked about, but I learned little bits about him over the years:  he was a Marine; he owned a ranch in Phoenix; and his favorite flavor of ice cream was vanilla.  I gathered that he was a fairly stoic man, and according to others, he would have been content to lead a boring life if it wasn’t for my grandmother.

My grandfather was only fifty-seven when he died of a heart attack.  I think it was easier for my family not to talk about him because when they did, they had to relive the pain of losing him.  About ten years ago, I got curious and started asking questions like, “What was grandpa like?”  From that came an outpouring of stories about this man and the lessons he passed on to his children.

  1. Life is Choices. This is probably the simplest and the most profound statements I carry with me.  It is absolutely true that a person’s existence is made up of the choices they make – where to go to school, what profession to enter, who to marry, what to do in frightening situations, etc.  Who I am is what I do and what I do depends on the choices I make.  This even applies to what I think about and where I put my energy.  The best part of this lesson is the fact that in every situation, there is always a choice.  Neither option may be desirable, but there is a choice nonetheless.
  2. Finish Strong. I practiced this lesson this weekend during a 5K race.  By the last quarter mile, I was hot, tired, and wondering why I ever thought running was fun.  Regardless of all this, I still dug deep and finished with as much speed as my legs could produce.  I hear this lesson when I get senioritis with school being almost over and when the end of a project in on the horizon and every fiber of my being wants to slack off.  This is the lesson I draw upon when I have to take a deep breath, ignore all fatigue and distractions, and tackle the task at hand.

When I think about the lessons from my grandfather, I feel like I am carrying part of him with me.  I literally carry a part of him with me too because I carry one of his handkerchiefs most of the time.  It’s comforting to think that I’m not going through the stress and challenge of law school alone, even on the days when I am completely isolated working on homework and projects.

Photo courtesy of the Carter family.


  1. In many ways we are the product of the friends and family we encounter as we grow. You may not have known him personally, but it sounds like he greatly influenced your whole family and obviously has a connection to you even today. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      You’re welcome. My Dad said he’d add two more lessons to the list.

      1. Always do your best. You may not win, but don’t dog it.
      2. Have fun.

  2. Darv DeShazer says:

    We are changed by the people we meet in life. Thanks for sharing his influence. My dad also passed in his late 50s and my kids never got to know him.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      There’s nothing like actually knowing the person but I think it’s very cool when a person has a lasting impact after they have died, especially on people they never knew. It’s Neat Stuff.

  3. Dan Ester says:

    Your Grandpa(My Uncle) was a great guy. I have lots of good memories of him and Lou. He was taken way to young. He made a big impact with so many. My parents always enjoyed making their yearly visit for a week or two at their home.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Thanks Cousin Dan! It’s always good to hear other people’s memories of my grandparents.

  4. Anne Carter says:

    Three more from the Dad of few words:

    To study is to prepare.

    After college, I was moving to Portland for my first job and I was scared and crying. Dad simplified everything and said, “You can do anything for 6 months.” He knew I would know if it was a good choice in that time. I was at that job 10 years!

    At the beach one year, I was in Room 29 with Mom and Dad having lunch. I made a comment that I would not be able to survive if something happened to either one of them. Dad immediately stated, “We gave you faith through your education and upbringing. When something happens, you will keep on living.”

    I appreciate your sensitivity Ruth. Love you, Anne

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Awh, thanks for sharing your thoughts Anne. They’re very sweet.

      “You can do anything for six months” has carried me through almost every semester of law school. It definitely makes the scary and painful times more bearable.

      1. Ted says:

        I wish I had known him. Only stories. Thank you to all our friends in medicine.

        1. Ruth Carter says:

          I wish I knew him too.

          1. Ted says:

            We are fortunate that our grandfather was a man worth admiring.

  5. Grant says:

    To me, eternal life doss not necessarily mean one flies out of Earth to either Heaven, Hell, Nirvana….where ever. What eternal life means to me is that a lesson or a thought that gets passed on another person, and that thought gets passed on…..some people are famous in history….Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the like. Some are infamous…Hitler, Manson, Stalin…..

    Your grandfather, even though you may not remember him, was obviously important because of the values he placed in your father who in turn passed those priceless lessons on to you. His legacy lives in your heart, where you will no doubt pass on to others.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      Yes, I’m grateful for the profound impact that my grandfather had on me and so many others.