Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My Grandpa, My Hero

To My Grandpa

On His 95th Birthday

Me and My Grandpa
(Click to enlarge)

My grandfather, Paul Joseph Wesseler, is my hero. I presume this is probably a relatively common occurrence for grandsons, but is somewhat surprising for me, because I've spent so little time with my grandfather. Until I was 13 years old, I lived a 10 hour drive away from Cincinnati, so only got to spend two or three vacation weeks a year with my grandparents. From age 13 to 25, I lived only one and a half hours away, but oddly this ended up being worse in terms of time with my grandfather. Despite visiting more often, it was always a quick weekend trip, usually when there were parties, so there was very little quality time to be spent together. And for the last 15 years, living on the other side of the country, I've seen my grandfather only a few times. This makes me very sad, but in spite of this lack of time, my grandfather has been one of the biggest influences in my life. My grandfather has accomplished so many things and done so much good for so many people, he is who I want to be.

Grandpa and Grandma with Carol (my Mom) and Gene
(Click to enlarge)
My grandfather was born September 30, 1915, in Pisgah, Ohio, northeast of Cincinnati. He spent his first 21 years working on his family's farm. In 1937, he began working as a machinist for Lunkenheimer, a manufacturer of a wide array of bronze and iron valves, and would continue working for the company for 35 years. After retirement from Lunkenheimer, he took a maintenance job for St. Margaret Hall, a Catholic nursing and residential care facility for Cincinnati's elderly. But in addition to his official jobs, whenever I spent time with my grandfather, he was always helping someone, like volunteering at St. Charles Catholic church, or at Longview, a state hospital for the mentally insane, bringing residents to church every Sunday, or building a greenhouse for Louis the Florist where his wife, my grandmother, worked. He also was always helping his kids with their homes, like finishing the basement in our Delaware house, or installing an attic fan, or building a desk for my mother in our Ohio house. I have never known my grandfather not to be doing something productive and useful for someone else.

Gene, Carol, Grandma, Grandpa, Rick, Jack, Mike, Pat
(Click to enlarge)
 I think the reason my grandfather means so much to me, is because whenever I was around, he always made time for me. He helped me build a number of lightening bug cages over the years, each one more elaborate than the rest. He has a lot of really great tools in his basement from his Lunkenheimer days, and he always had time to teach me to safely use the tools. My favorite was a huge belt-driven lathe, on which he taught me to turn wood and make.. well, interesting but useless things. Mostly I was just playing, but I think one of them might have ended up as a candle holder. The things I made were completely worthless, but Grandpa treated them like beautiful art, which made me feel wonderful. Whenever I was around, my grandfather always took me with him, whether it was just an amazing trip through his home's Little Kitchen and into the Attic of Incredible Things, or on a trip to his favorite lumber yard or hardware store. It made me proud to go with him down to the Napa Auto Parts store, where everyone knew his name. As I am a total introvert, for most of my life I felt like I should be seen and not heard, or better, not even seen, but with my grandfather, I always felt welcome at his side and with his friends.

Grandpa and Grandma's Wedding
(Click to enlarge.)
My grandfather was married June 1, 1940, to my grandmother, Mary Catherine Seiter. They were married 62 years, until my grandmother's death in 2003. Along the way, they raised six children. I have three children of my own, and can only assume my grandfather and grandmother were saints for achieving that accomplishment. With only an 8th grade education, my grandfather supported his family and launched his children into the successful lives they have today. Unfortunately, I don't know very much about the years when my mother was growing up in my grandfather's home, but every family gathering since I have been around is always full of love and laughter, so the years leading up to that must have set the stage in the same way.

I also admire my grandfather because he seems completely indestructible. Once when while working in the garage with my grandfather, I noticed his forearms when he was struggling with a tight bolt, and was astounded by the rippling muscles on such a gentle man. They didn't stick out like a body builder, but the strength was unmistakable, under the surface. It is unfortunate I don't follow in his footsteps in that regard! A few years later, my grandfather was helping another of his sons take down a tree, when a branch shifted, the ladder fell, and the chainsaw went where it shouldn't have. Life Flight was called but not available, so after a long trip in an ambulance, things looked really bad for my grandfather. Amazingly, he pulled through and as far as I can tell, there's not a bit of remaining damage. Incredible.

Me, Grandma, Grandpa, and my sister, Lisa
(Click to enlarge)
I do not know all the positions that my grandfather held during his 35 years at Lunkenheimer, but one that I was told about is near and dear to my heart. Supposedly my grandfather was employed as an efficiency expert in the Lunkenheimer factory, tasked with finding ways to improve quality and speed up production. Quality and efficiency are two things I look for in everything I do, probably far more than is healthy. In my first real job as a cartographer at Etak, I rose to the rank of Quality Control Technician within 9 months of starting the job. And as a Mask Designer at Intel, I lead my group of designers not because I am especially good, but because I figure out the quickest, most efficient ways to get the job done, and can pass that knowledge on to my co-workers. I truly believe I inherited those qualities from my grandfather, and it gives me no end of pleasure to think that I am following in his footsteps. I also love that my grandfather got his Efficiency Expert job at Lunkenheimer after being sent to night school, which is exactly how I got my job at Intel.

50th Wedding Anniversary
(Click to enlarge)
In my whole life, I have never heard my grandfather complain about anything or anyone. He seems to be at peace with his life and everything in it, despite any hardships that come along. I can only imagine the difficulties that came with working on a farm, living through the Great Depression, World War I and World War II, going to night school while working and raising children...  For me, I struggle daily with the comparatively minor stress of kids, homework, sports practices, instrument lessons, Bay Area traffic, money, job security, and a host of other things. One of my best remedies is to envision my grandfather and try to emulate his strength and serenity. His life is a testament to what a Good Man can accomplish in this difficult world.

Grandpa, you are my hero, and everything I want to be. I love you.

Grandpa and Me on his 95th Birthday
(Click to enlarge.)

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