What my grandfather taught me

This Monday was my grandfather’s memorial service, a full military service complete with 21-gun salute and American Legion lunch. I had thought I was prepared for it, but I found that no one can truly be prepared to say goodbye until they finally have.

My grandmother asked me to write something that I could read at the service, a eulogy of sorts. I did, but I found I could hardly bring myself to read it. I was a wreck coming into the service. As much as I prepared myself, and as much as I knew I could do it, it was the hardest thing I ever did.

I felt immensely better after I had read it though. I gained strength as I read, and though I choked up a few times I made it through with my head held up, feeling every word, trying to make my grandfather as proud of me as possible. I got a good response; I was told that my grandfather would have been very proud of me, and that it was very beautiful. Kerrie paid me an enormous compliment in saying that I reminded her of when Paul Wellstone’s son, David, read a remembrance at the Wellstone memorial. That made me feel pretty damn good.

Most importantly, however, I felt good with myself.

I needed the closure for myself, and by pouring out my feelings on my grandfather, I was able to close the book on his terrestrial life and prepare to have him live in my heart for the rest of mine.

My grandfather’s life may be behind us now, but his memory never will be.

Donald Wayne Boyer
Memorial 01.23.06
By Corey Wayne Vilhauer

My grandfather, Donald Boyer, was more than just a military man, a businessman, a father, a brother, a grandfather, a friend, a husband, and a confidant. He was more than the man that built his own house at the age of 65, or the man that was a master at shooting, or an avid fisherman, hunter, and wildlife buff. No, aside from all of this, my grandfather was a teacher. A teacher in the most basic sense of the word. He had no lesson plans, and he didn’t watch us all at recess and monitor us while eating lunch, but a teacher none the less.

Above everything, my grandfather appreciated and respected education. He knew that we all had things to learn in life, regardless of how old we were, regardless of where or how well we had been educated. He was a man full of life experiences, and his goal was to pass them along, one by one, like a schoolmaster assigning homework to a fifth grade class. We all learned something when we talked to Donald Boyer. He taught us everything he knew, on purpose or unintentionally, because he was a man that valued the idea of bettering ourselves every day.

My grandfather taught me that there’s nothing more sacred than Mother Nature, that there’s nothing that can’t be solved by taking advantage of the outdoors. He taught me that the wilderness was something to be respected. He taught me that everything we do has consequences, and that because of this we’re better off doing things right the first time, every time.

He taught me that respect is earned. He taught me that laughter is healthy. He taught me the spirit of sportsmanship. He taught me that you shouldn’t hold your aces if someone’s going to go out on you during a card game, and he taught me that years of inactivity do nothing to wane a cribbage shark’s ability to beat his grandson.

My grandfather taught me that there’s nothing that can’t be fixed. He taught me that history is a thing to be revered, to be studied and understood so that we wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes. He taught me that a person’s heritage is something to embrace, to be proud of. He taught me that owning a business can actually seem like a hobby instead of a career.

He taught me how to cut wood, though I never warmed up to actually using the chainsaw, and how to split, load, and stack wood. He taught me the labor I did up at the woodpile was going to build a necessary supply of character. I thought I had built enough of it to last a lifetime, but he later taught me that there’s no such thing as too much character.

My grandfather taught me that if a movie doesn’t have Charles Bronson, John Wayne, or Clint Eastwood, it’s probably not worth watching. He taught me that baseball was a real sport, and that the crap I listened to on MTV wasn’t real music. He taught me to appreciate everything I experienced, because you never know when the opportunity might come up again. He taught me that even a gruff and burly military vet can cry, and that it’s okay to do so.

My grandfather taught me to appreciate hard work. He taught me to keep the desire to learn, and to believe in myself regardless of what I do. He taught me to be happy first, and to worry about personal status last. He taught me to have dreams, to do what it takes to make them come true, and to never take for granted what we have achieved. He taught me that there’s no point in others being proud for you if you aren’t proud for yourself.

He taught me that my heroes shouldn’t be in the movies, or sports stars, but real life people who have made an impact in my life. He taught me that regardless of how old I get I’ll always be in a position to take something on, to push my boundaries a little each day and have the confidence to stand up to any barriers I face.

My grandfather taught me that, regardless of what my assumptions were when I was six years old, no one lives forever. He taught me that there’s nothing that isn’t worth fighting for because you’ll never succeed if you don’t try. He taught me that there can be peace in dying, though he also taught me that even peace doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

Of all the things that he taught me, though, the one that sticks out the most is that there is nothing more valuable than family. He taught me that the most important thing a person can do in their life is be a devoted husband, a caring father, a proud grandfather, a loving brother, and a trusting friend. He taught this to all of us, actually, and this might have been the most subtle lesson yet. Still, it’s probably the most important one. We all have a lot to learn from my grandfather. We all have the ability to be as sensitive, yet still be as confident; to take life and live it, yet still make time for those closest to us.

It’s this lesson that makes me the most proud of my grandfather. It’s this lesson that, for all of us, ensures that my grandfather will always be around in everything we do, for as long as we live.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 25th, 2006