A few nights ago, I had one of those dreams. You know the ones that I am talking about. A dream so vivid, so poignant that it seems more than real. A dream that wakes you up at 4 AM with a smile on your face and thoughts rushing so fast that you can barely keep up as you type on your cell phone in the bathroom with door shut so as not to disturb your wife. A dream of important messages heaven sent to shape your life and to pass on to others.
In this dream, I was again in my Grandpop’s house on Melrose Avenue in Trenton, NJ. And there was my Grandpop rocking on the porch. The picture below is of that very same house that my sister Lori texted me today while she was visiting Jersey, reinforcing the dream’s importance! As we walked together and talked in each of the rooms, the memories of times shared together came flooding back. And there was an underlying message tying all those memories together. My Grandpop – John William Henry – was a good man.
I say a good man, not great man for a reason. The best men are good men not great men. They dole out love instead of striving for power or money. They love their country and their God. They care more about friends and less about prestige. They take time for fun, the Phillies, and to sing Irish songs. They look like Fred McMurray on My Three Sons and remind you of Jimmy Stewart on It’s A Wonderful Life. That was my Grandpop! And here are the four lessons that I learned from that dream, his life and my Grandpop’s home and heart.
Take time for Family and Friends (The Porch) – Grandpop loved to rock on his porch and look out on Melrose Avenue. Two memories came back to me as I again sat on the porch. I remembered how he would spend hours on the porch during the evening and weekends talking to and visiting with his neighbors down the street. Some 50 years later, I can remember their names, their faces and believe it or not their homes. During that dream, I visited with them again. Mrs. Curr a widower who gave us tea and cookies in her home as she talked about her garden. Mrs. Heipel who lived on the end house on Melrose talking about her daughter who had recently moved. The Toronto’s telling stories of my mother when they were young. I was happy for the friendship again and a little sad since my porch faces the back yard and I so seldom visit with my neighbors (or remember their names).
The other thing I remember is how gentle and good my Grandpop was. He was no wimp having boxed when he was younger. But he knew how to calm his Grandkids when they were cranky and tired. I again saw him rocking my brother David as he sang “Little Man Your Crying” in a voice not as resonant as Bing’s but close to perfect due to its love. And as I saw this image again in my mind’s eye, I thought back that although I spent quality time with my kids, I was not as calm or soothing as that gentle man who rocked my brother asleep
Love Others Unconditionally and For Eternity (the Living Room) – We came in from the porch and into the living room with its furniture entrenched in the fifties. We sat on the couch watching the Phillies like so many times before. We both loved the Phillies, especially Mike Schmidt (Schmidty as we called him). In walked my Uncle who had gone missing for several months on another binge as he had done so many times before. He was the ultimate prodigal son. He asked to come back to the home and Grandpop with tears in his eyes took him back. And I thought to the times when I turned my back on others in need because I was too busy and vowed to do better.
The dream changed again to a different moment. This one happened outside my other Uncle’s house in Morrisville, PA but in the dream, it was in the living room. My family was visiting, and my Grandpop walked in with a bag of donuts as he did on most Sundays. But this time it was different. It was several weeks after my Grand mom’s passing and Grandpop had returned to the donut tradition for the first time without Grand mom. I again saw the tear from my Grandpop’s eye when my brother asked where is Grand mom? I was again a bit mad at my younger brother since I was older. And I thought on how my Grandpop who was still a young man of 50 when Grand mom passed, yet he never dated seriously or married again. He would visit his wife’s grave several times a week keeping the love of her in his heart for the rest of life. And I imagined them again holding hands throughout eternity and I vowed to love my wife like Grandpop.
Be Frugal with Yourself, Lavish with Others (the Phone room). I wanted to stay with both my Grandparents again, but my dream switched to the phone room. I was not sure if the room was a formal dining room or a second living room, but I remember it as the phone room due to the rotary phone that rested at the end of a long hutch. Another thing that rested on the long hutch was hundreds of coupons. Having lived in the Depression, my Grandpop and his brothers were frugal in saving money. I again saw my Grandpop and Great Uncle Don talking about the latest coupon that they found for Acme. My Grandpop would drive to 5 or 6 stores to use the coupons to save a few bucks. Besides being frugal on the groceries, he did not spend much on himself. He seldom traveled or bought expensive clothes or items but reveled in the simple pleasures such as the occasional Phillies games. He was frugal with himself but lavish with others. As my dream progressed, I thought back on the time he bought my brothers and I a complete Lionel Train set on Christmas. And how happy he was when our eyes lighted up. Then I thought back on the many times I had splurged on the latest iPhone or Uber Eats instead of focusing on the ones around me. I seldom use a coupon even though they are digital now and can easily be obtained on the cell phone I have. I vowed to spend less on myself and more on others.
Be Thankful for the Simple Pleasures and Family (the Kitchen). The dream now moved into the kitchen and I saw the big yellow wooden kitchen table where we often sat. As I sat down at the table, I looked across to a little stand when my Grandpop kept one of his prized possessions – a Hot Dog Zapper! I do not know if they have them anymore, but my Grandpop sure did take pleasure in it. He would invite us to sit down and put each of the six hot dogs on two prongs at either end of the hot dog. He would turn on the machine and after a few minutes of zapping they were cooked (and most often split open a bit!). He again laughed as he took them off and gave one to each of us around the table.
As we ate, more of my extended family gathered around and I realized the time had shifted to St. Patrick’s Day. I again saw my Great Uncles (both cops), my Uncle John and his family, Uncle Gary and my family. Each of the men had a Schlitz beer or two (I told you Henrys are frugal!) as we went through a chorus of Irish Songs – Mrs. Murphy’s Chowder, Come Meet a Donovan, The Same Old Shillelagh, and of course When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. And I thought. We often take for granted the simple pleasure of singing with family and friends. We forget the expensive items we bought after a few years. But I can sing verbatim every one of those songs to this day and see the hot dog zapper in my mind’s eye. Just before I left this part of the dream, one more simple, glorious pleasure occurred. My Dad did not know the Irish songs of his wife’s family but wanted to participate. I again heard him sing “The Old Rugged Cross”, his favorite song and the one we played at his funeral. As I wept, I vowed to spend more time with family and the simple pleasure of life.
And as I woke, one thought ran through my head. Be good, not great! Strive for friendship not fame. Make memories not money to live on through eternity.
In closing here is a poem that also came to me as part of this dream https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/08/01/be-good-not-great-poem/