Written by Heather Johnson, RN
Resource Nurse, Empira
Last year, my oldest son, Nicholas Pete Johnson, graduated with a degree in Law Enforcement; a proud moment for me, my husband and our extended family and friends. Nick, from a very young age had shared his desire, to anyone that would listen, that he wanted to be a police officer. He accomplished this goal at the young age of 19. Unbeknownst to me, my mother not only came to observe and take in this moment with all of us, but she came carrying a gift in the form of a letter to hand deliver to Nicholas. It was a letter that her father (my Grandpa Paul/Nick’s great-grandfather) had penned in the days following Nick’s birth; a letter that was to be given to Nick later in life. Just a few short months after he’d written the letter, Grandpa Paul died suddenly of cardiac arrest.
In a quiet moment following the graduation ceremony and subsequent traditional hubbub, with tears in her eyes, a big hug (something my grandpa was famous for) and with extreme pride for having kept this letter preserved for close to 19 years, my mother presented the letter to my son. In his letter, addressed directly to Nicholas Pete, my grandfather shared information about his lineage, how extremely proud he is to have been able to meet and hold his great-grandson, and his specific hopes to see him graduate from college one day. Grandpa wrote about my strengths, and those of my mother, and how proud he was to be part of our lives. He wrote about his hopes for Nicholas as he grows and becomes a man and how he will one day take his place in this world and will do amazing things. True to Grandpa’s prediction of Nick’s responsible and respectful character, Nick, without reservation, silently and solemnly took in every word from Grandpa Paul. Needless to say, my heart was full and my eyes were more than misty as I witnessed this moment.
You see, in my eyes as a child, and then into adulthood, my grandfather was larger than life; not only in his tall and somewhat massive stature, but in his presence and how he lived life. His nickname to those that knew him well was the “Grizz.” He identified me as his “Little Blond Girl”, a nickname that I proudly wore. We had this connection, he and I. When he spoke at my wedding, he revealed that it was my words, as a child that convinced him to quit smoking after many years: “Grandpa, I want you to see me graduate, to be at my wedding, and to know my babies. Smoking is bad for you and I want you to stop.” It was with his encouragement and support, and being welcomed to temporarily live with him and Grandma, that I was able to have attended and graduated from college for nursing. He taught me to be brave, to work harder than those around me, to display integrity, and to always lead by example.
Grandpa Paul, Valedictorian of his class and the only son in his farm family, denied himself a full-ride scholarship for college to stay on the farm during the war. My grandfather was a husband, father to six, farmer, lumber yard manager, pilot, gardener, caregiver to his parents, avid reader, and also a very prolific and poignant writer. As a child, and as his houseguest during my college years, I can recall watching and hearing him plug away at a typewriter (never a computer) with his eye glasses on the tip of his nose and cup of coffee close by. Grandpa wrote personal and professional letters, letters to the editor, and a newsletter column that he called “The Old Filosopher” that served also as his personal journal. He was known for his ability to formulate and pen speeches that were informative and motivating. He often could be found speaking in front of large and small groups; a duty that he seriously enjoyed as the mayor of Clarks Grove, MN, the Minnesota State Elks President, and the unquestionable family spokesman. No matter the number of people in front of him, I, with others, learned to listen to the power of his messages.
While searching for advice from my grandfather, and, as I was trying to figure out my life’s plan as a young adult, I recall him telling me “Look, the best advice I can give you is this kiddo… when you are needing to make a very important decision in life and are questioning your path, go to the cemetery. Go there and look around you, it is there that you can truly see the opportunity that you have in front of you, seize that opportunity.” It was here that he admitted that he wished he would have said, “I loved you” more often.
Nick was too young to remember meeting Grandpa Paul. He has seen photos and heard stories. On his college graduation day, Nick personally experienced the power of Grandpa’s legacy, his wisdom, and the power of his words.
Grandpa closed his letter to Nicholas Pete with:
“I couldn’t be prouder that “Petey Johnson” will carry on and make his community proud of him in the future years- I just know it will happen and always know that no matter what, you will always carry your great grandfather’s love with you!”
Your Great Grandfather Paul E. Hanson (The Grizz)
Through his own words that surfaced at a pivotal point in Nick’s life, my Grandpa Paul was able to share his deep love of family and offer words of advice directly to my son, his great-grandson, through this letter. Since receiving the letter, we have shared this writing with family members and friends as a priceless gift to all that knew my grandfather and for those that may have wished they had. There are healing words contained in his writing, words of hope, and words of optimism, of a strong work ethic, and sharing of family traits and experiences. But most of all, words of pure love from a grandfather to his great- grandson. What better legacy can there be? Words are healing and stories are best told by those that have the wisdom and experience to draw from.
Grandpa’s Little Blond Girl