There’s an old adage that says, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” We all come into this world powerless and innocent. One can only hope that the family in which we are born is one of unconditional love, good health, prosperity and happiness. According to internet calculations, the probability of me being born as the granddaughter of Bruce Warzala is 11 in 10 to the 2 million, 685,000th power. I think I won that lottery, because if I could have the choice of a grandfather, I’d definitely choose Grandpa.
My grandfather was a very positive man who always had a smile on his face. I admired his attitude towards life because even though life’s not always easy…he sure made it look so. He was a depression baby, born in August of 1928; graduating from Harding High School in St. Paul Minnesota and eventually college at the U of M. He met his future wife, my grandma Jeanne, through friends Ken and Maxine Russell. Their love was greater than the nearly 450 miles that separated them for 2 years of their courtship and they went on to say “I do” in 1950. Grandpa worked as a civil engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation in order to support their quickly growing family. By the time 1964 rolled around grandma and grandpa had quite the handful…my dad and 4 uncles.
According to my dad and uncles, Grandpa was a great father. He was very involved in coaching his sons’ hockey and baseball teams in addition to heading the Maplewood Athletics Association. My uncles recalled memories to me…from my grandpa teaching them how to water ski at Lake Levitte during the summers of their youth to dredging the woods for black bears who’d make their way into campsites and hoard trash.
And then there’s Grandpa from my perspective. The granddaughter perspective. My grandfather was a fun-loving man whose sense of humor and positivity could make anyone feel at ease. Anyone, that is, who wasn’t dating one of his four beloved granddaughters. As one of those granddaughters I got to witness, firsthand, my husband Kevin as he nervously tried to answer my Grandpa’s infamous “What are your intentions here?” question. I think having five sons allowed him an excuse to be overprotective of his granddaughters. It’s like the protectiveness trait within him grew exponentially in my generation after not being utilized as much in my dad’s.
I admire my grandpa’s commitment to building and fixing things. It seemed like every time my parents went on vacation and Grandpa came to stay with us he’d find something that was “broken” and in need of a little love. To say my grandpa had ingenuity might somehow be an understatement. For example, I remember a time in which the door to our basement wouldn’t shut. I don’t think business cards would have been my first idea as a solution to this problem, but it’s true he found a way to use my dad’s business cards as a shim in the hinges. Fixing the door and putting my dad’s business cards to use, now that’s ingenuity.
Another thing I remember about grandpa is his persistence. And specifically, his persistence with bananas. Breakfast at Balsam just wasn’t complete without a banana. “Would you like a banana Danielle?”
“No thanks grandpa.” I would answer.
“Are you sure you don’t want a banana?”
“Yes I’m sure grandpa.” I would say.
“What about half a banana?” He would ask.
“No thanks grandpa.”
“What if I cut it up and put a few slices on your cereal?”
……..“Alright.” (When it wasn’t a banana it was milk.) But Grandpa’s persistence was always in direct connection to his concern for the health and wellbeing of our family, and for that I love him.
In recent years, grandpa had become persistent in his emails. Albeit, all of his emails were Forwards, one entitled “Bananas…READ THIS…Some good things to know” caught my attention. That, among “3D Ping Pong” and “Cat on a Roof”. Funny thing, I got a call from Grandpa one time asking for my email address after realizing that my name had mysteriously disappeared from his contacts list. That phone call made me realize the importance of these forwarded emails in addition to wasp spray, colonoscopies, the boogie woogie, and every other email subject I received from then on.
Big B was grandpa’s nickname. And Big B symbolized, to me and many others, his big and powerful heart. It was amazing… the amount of space in his heart for family and friendships. It’s as if his heart was always full of love but at the same time capable and ready to love more. Part of me thought that heart would never stop beating. And although it did physically, Grandpa’s heart has transcended himself. There’s his heart within each and everyone one of us here today, and his legacy of love and family will never ever die. It will live on through our children, our children’s children and our children’s grandchildren. Even if the world ends tomorrow it is my belief that that love will still be floating around somewhere, ready and waiting to cling to whatever form of life it finds.
You never forget the family member who dressed up as Santa, delivering presents on Christmas in an attempt to foster their grandchildren’s growing spirit and belief in magic. I know I never will. As children, the stepping stones of life are bridged by those of whom we have no choice…family. And to that, it’s amazing…how unbelievably fortunate I am to have been born the granddaughter of a man named Bruce Warzala.
The one and only picture I have of Grandpa and Dakota. I will cherish it forever. Love and miss you, Grandpa.