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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Frnka

Keep Sharing the Love!

I turned and looked toward the garage and saw it there on the ground. What was it I wondered? As, I bent down my eyes began to focus on it more. A tiny artificial poinsettia flower. How did that get there? I wondered. We were decorating for Christmas, so it must have fallen off of something, I guess.

In my closet that same day it came falling towards me. Grandma’s old walking stick. And, then it dawned on me --- oh how she loved poinsettias. Christmas was always one of her most favorite times. Christmas tree up and decorated just barely after the turkey left the table. The rocky road candy, the peanut M&M’s, the orange peanuts, and for a few years the orange slice cookies.

It’s been 11 years since she left this earth, but she still lets me know every now and again that she is still here with me. Most days I go about life, but these past few days she has been heavy on my heart.

Fortunately, there are people in my life to remind me that in times like this it is okay to cry and it is okay to miss the people who touched our lives so deeply, but equally as important to celebrate and remember the beautiful moments we spent with them.

My grandfather never exactly appeared to be a prayerful man, but I think my Grandmother probably prayed enough for both of them. So, he read while she prayed, and it worked out for them for over 60 years.

This next summer will mark 10 years since he joined my Grandma in our Heavenly Father’s home. I am certain they are sitting by the shoreline where grandma is fishing, and grandpa sits on the tailgate of the truck smoking a cigar and reading the paper. As I recall some of my fondest memories with him, even times we both got into trouble, sometimes with my grandma and sometimes with my Dad my heart leaps with joy and laughter. After the dust would settle, he had this kind of “Roscoe P. Coltrane” type laugh and he would joke about how “we’d really done it this time, Jane-ka.”

There was so much that he taught me in those moments:

1) Shake hands like you mean it

2) Look a person in the eyes

3) Be able to read and write well

4) Get an education

5) Be prepared

6) Chocolate dipped ice cream cones make a long drive go by faster

7) Speak up

8) Be Compassionate

9) Fried potatoes make everything better

10) Work for what you want

11) Reflect

12) Relax

13) Love

Shake Hands Like You Mean It

My goodness this one makes me smile and many times, especially with my students, I think

about my grandfather when I engage in a handshake. You see my grandfather was invested in the handshake. He believed you could understand much about a person’s character through their handshake and vice versa.

He would tell us “you shake hands with everybody you meet. They need to feel you in the palm of their hand.” I never really understood what he meant until I engaged in handshake after handshake and I think I might finally get it… connected. They need to feel connected. People feel an initial connection with eye contact and a handshake.

The art of shaking hands was so important to him that one time he made my cousin and I

practice shaking hands. I was probably 16 and she around 5 when he made us practice shaking hands for what seemed like forever. He watched our eye contact, watched us

approach one another and checked our grip. We would practice with each other, then try it out with him. He would make us repeat it again and again.

When I taught in a brick-and-mortar school, the handshake was one of my greatest assets. I would greet my students outside my door every day and on occasion if I was not at my door some of my students wait for me at my door just to shake my hand. What amazed me even more is when they would stand up in class as I entered the room to shake my hand. And, at times when I stood in the hall or they approached me at an event, many of them stopped to shake my hand. Talk about feeling connected! In those moments, I not only felt

incredibly connected but honored and blessed.

Look a person in the eyes

This lesson goes hand in hand with shaking hands. Holding his fingers in a v-shape and pointing at his eyes, then at mine, he would say “You gotta look a person in the eyes when you talk to them. Don’t be shifty. Look’em dead in the eyes and say what you need to say.”

Grandpa believed that if a person could look you in the eyes and talk to you, they were honest and you could trust them.

I never recognized the importance of this lesson until I became an adult and began interacting with professionals and students. Many times, I could tell when a student was holding back or not being completely truthful just because they would look away.

Eye- contact and eye gaze have also become critically important in how I am able to quickly assess how my husband is doing.

Be able to read and write well

I never knew a man who was so passionate about reading and writing, as my grandpa. Much of that passion was fueled by his not being educated beyond 8th grade, not from lack of

motivation, but from the need to go to work as early as possible to help his family.

Growing up in the 1920s many children did not finish school, especially the boys as they were needed to help on the family farm. Only once do I remember him saying that he regretted not finishing school, so maybe just the fact that he always seemed to be ahead of his time was the reason he continually instilled in his grandchildren that you need to be able to read and write well to be successful.

He never owned a computer, I am not sure he even looked at one, but he knew we

lived in an ever-changing world where business deals are conducted at record speed. He understood the importance of being able to communicate through reading and writing.

He was always caught up on current events and many times had solutions worked out far

ahead of any other person. Rarely would you find him without a newspaper, magazine, or some article in his hand when he was at home. He was constantly reading, constantly researching, constantly thinking and processing.

If someone was not feeling well or had an ache you could be sure that Grandpa would find an article that would offer some hope of relief or an answer to the medical mystery.

His Farmer’s Almanac was his trusted friend, especially when he still owned cattle. He always

let us know what the weather would be like well in advance of the meteorologist on the news.

For him, reading and writing were almost as essential as breathing. Some days breathing might have ranked second.

Get an Education

A big light blue recliner surrounded by newspapers and the latest Farmer’s Almanac marked the education territory for Grandpa.

He was constantly educating himself. He didn’t have a high school diploma but understood the importance of one. He would shake his head side to side and would point his finger at us and say in a commanding voice “Kids! You gotta get an education. They can take away your house. They can take away your car, but they can never take away your education!”

An education equaled success in his eyes and for him it would mean better job opportunities. It would mean we could experience freedom which would allow for a happier, healthier life.

He expected that we would earn good grades. He expected that we would read and write well. He expected that we would stay out of trouble. His expectations (coupled with our parents) caused us to work harder, to try harder, to dig in, to set goals for ourselves and achieve more than we ever thought we could.

When we earned a low grade, we hated discussing it because we knew it would involve some sort of reflection. We would have to look at where we failed admitting fault or owning up to not studying enough. My grandfather recognized our shortcomings and would insist we create a plan to improve our grades. He challenged us often and always wanted us to be better, to do better. He clearly believed in us, at times, more than we believed in ourselves.

Be prepared

Grandpa insisted that it was crucial to be prepared. You should always have more than a half tank of gas and at least one jug of water and a jug of oil inside your car just in case. And, Grandma insisted everyone have a St. Christopher medal in the glove box.

Grandpa knew well in advance if a hurricane was going to come our way. He would spend several days gathering supplies: Filling old milk jugs with water, tying down things at the barn, cutting and putting plyboard over the windows on the house, ensuring there was enough food in the pantry, batteries for the flashlights, hay for the cows, tractors in the barn and barn doors tightly secured.

Typically, we would run around like chickens with our head’s cutoff, but there would be Grandpa in his orange stocking cap, white t-shirt, brown pants, and a cigar in his mouth, slowly and methodically moving along, not really in a hurry. He had already prepared.

He always had a backup plan too – duct tape! I am now the proud owner of a walking cane that is duct taped from the handle down.

Chocolate Dipped Ice Cream Cones Make A Long Drive Better

My grandmother was an avid fisher woman and my grandfather an avid fan of keeping “Ol Red”as he would sometimes affectionately call her, happy. So, on her days off from work they would pack tomato and bologna sandwiches, Fritos, and cokes and head out to Matagorda Bay or Sergeant.

When they arrived Grandpa would get Grandma’s rod and reel ready. Then she would

usually wade into the water or head down the jetties. A few times I remember Grandpa fishing with her, but mostly I remember him sitting on the tailgate of their truck with a cigar, watching Grandma and waiting to help her with her catch.

The drive home was always long regardless, and I do not know if he stopped for ice cream when it was just, he and Grandma, I never asked. I do know though that he always stopped for a chocolate dipped ice cream cone when we were with them. Grandpa was great about

making sure we were always taken care of when it came to food (mostly because he loved to

eat. ;)). He would say “Mama, I think these kids need some ice cream.” Grandma would smile

and half smirk and say “Well, Daddy if you think they deserve ice cream you had better stop.”

Of course, we could not contain our excitement and shouts of joy and laughter would ensue from the backseat as we pulled into Dairy Queen. Grandpa would order everyone a chocolate dipped ice cream cone. We would get on the road and as he finished eating his cone he would usually say “See kids didn’t that make the drive faster?” And, of course we agreed.

Speak Up!

For as long as I can remember Grandpa could never really hear well. He frequently asked us to speak up. “People need to hear you. You don’t talk loud enough no one will know you are there and ain’t nobody going to speak up for you. You gotta tell it like it is.” Soon we learned to talk loud when we were visiting him, but more importantly he taught us that communication was important. He taught us to have confidence in ourselves, in our ideas and to be able engage in discussions that were sometimes difficult. He believed that if you didn’t share your thoughts and ideas little could be accomplished. He encouraged us to ask questions for more information, just not to question authority.

He also believed in bringing attention to or advocating for areas in his life where he saw or felt an injustice. I remember that he was active in his union for work. I don’t know exactly what he did or advocated for, but I do know that nearly anyone we ran into who knew him would affectionately refer to him as “Big Joe” and would usually nod their head in approval, as they let out a slight chuckle – “Oh Big Joe, you always know where he stands.”

There was never a question – Grandpa let us know, some days loud and clear, where he stood.


Grandpa always had compassion for people who went without, were hurting, or in need of care. He would tell us stories about how his Mom, our great-grandmother, would take care of the hobos. The fence pole at the corner of the property he grew up on was marked with a cross. The cross let the hobos know that they could jump off the train there and would find a place to eat and sleep.

Many times, when the hobos arrived, they would sit outside and play in the rocks with him while our great-grandmother would cook biscuits and a soup, usually something like a stew. If they were injured, she would help them bandage their wounds. And, they typically washed up at the pump. Very seldom did they stay long he said, but they were always appreciative of the meal and break from the railroad.

It seemed Grandpa continued his mother’s compassionate ways, as he seemed to care for

people as he aged. He would pick up people from the side of the road who ran out of gas and drive them to the gas station to buy gas. Once he stopped to pick up a hitchhiker, a man on his way to Wichita Falls, nearly six hours from our home. I remember when he crawled into the truck, I thought there was a good chance we might die either by the hands of this man or the smell. His clothes were filthy, and he had on a black beanie that covered oily dark hair. Reflecting on his appearance now, I am certain he had not bathed in several days and must have been walking for at least that many. As a young girl, I was terribly afraid of his appearance, now I think maybe I would be more concerned about his welfare, which is, I guess, exactly why Grandpa stopped to help him. We drove him to the freeway, only a few miles from our house. Sometimes, I wonder if he ever made it all the way to Wichita Falls.

Fried Potatoes make everything better

There were three things Grandma insisted Grandpa not do – eat fried potatoes or gravy and smoke cigars, but Grandpa was a sly-cat. He would make fried potatoes and gravy for us and there would always be leftovers, which he could not let go to waste, so he would eat them. I still get a good laugh at how he always managed to make that work in his favor. For him fried potatoes with syrup and bread covered in gravy were comfort food and we were certainly comfortable in eating with him.

And, the cigars, well he would smoke them at the barn. I still get chills when I smell a Swisher-Sweet… it’s like having Grandpa back home. And, at home, he would sit on the back porch and chew on them. That I will never understand, but it worked for him and it kept “Ol Red” happy.

Work for what you want

Grandpa worked the oilfields as a roughneck and brick mason until his retirement, but ran cattle for as long as I can remember. He worked extremely hard and many times we would find him in dirt and oil stained clothing from working on some piece of equipment or repairing something on the farm.

He told us often “if you want a promotion, if you want more money then you have to work. You must work hard. No one is going to give you anything.” He wanted us to understand that we needed to take responsibility for our lives and the choices that we made.


I often found Grandpa sitting on the back porch where I thought he was relaxing, as he

enjoyed a cigar, but as I grew older, I realized he was typically thinking and reflecting. Usually he was trying to work out a plan before he started working on something at the barn or sometimes, he was already knee deep in fixing something and things were not going according to the original plan, so he was stopping to mull it over.

I remember once he told me “Jane-ka, my tractor is really giving me the fits. I replaced the pump, but it’s still not working. I am thinking I might need a new carburetor.” I never had a clue what he was talking about, so I just nodded and smiled. I think he just needed to talk things out at times.


Grandpa and Grandma both believed in relaxation. They would usually take a nap in the afternoons after grandma arrived home from work. On grandma’s days off they could usually be found fishing and while grandpa did a ton of reflecting on the back porch, he did also do a ton of relaxing. You could usually find them eating a pear just picked from their tree or having a slice of watermelon or a bowl of ice cream. They were always more than happy to invite you to sit down and visit for a while.

And, every summer in June, they would pack up their camper and head to Garner State Park for a week of camping. They camped in the same spot for nearly 50 years.


Grandpa was a tough man and strict with the boys especially, but one thing he taught us was love. He never missed an opportunity to hug or hold us. And, let us know on more than one occasion that he loved us.

And, his love for “Ol Red” was amazing. As they aged, I remember him asking me once to help Grandma put on her lipstick because she had been upset that she could no longer put it on correctly. After, I put it on her. He got up with his walker, walked over to her chair, and gave her a kiss. He said, “Now honey, are you happy?” He was always doing what he could to make sure she was happy and felt cared for.

As Grandma would grow weaker and weaker, so many times he would lean over her bed railing and kiss her on the cheek to let her know that he was there and loved her.

Life was not always sunshine and rainbows for them, but they were surrounded by love and found sunshine and rainbows in every day.

It is the holiday season and sometimes that may mean that we find ourselves in a place where we remember our loved ones who have left this beautiful place, we call home.

I encourage you to take some time to sit with, to walk with, to be with them for a few moments. Cry if you need too, but also smile and laugh with them. And if you’re children walk in on you talking to yourself – just remind them that one day too, they will be just like you. 😉 Then consider sharing with them the memories. And, if they knew the person too, ask them to share with you their fondest memories.

Consider writing them a letter to let them know what you have been up to. Or journal some of your fondest moments with them.

Although, we move onto our heavenly home, the love we leave on this earth lives on through the lives of those we have touched. So, keep sharing the love!

Have a beautiful day ya'll!

All My Love,


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