Teacher and student

Grandpa Reiter taught me how to cheat at cards and smoke Pall Malls but when it came to cussing, I had to learn that on my own. He rarely swore. In fact, Grandpa wasn‘t much of a talker, period. But oh, that man could listen.

Gene Reiter learned a lot by listening. In his very early years, he learned to speak Letzebuergesch by listening to his parents who were both from Luxembourg. Letzebuergesch is similar to German but it’s not German, as Grandpa often pointed out, regardless of what my grade school Social Studies teacher said.

He learned to be a good farmer and businessman by listening to his neighbors and the people he did business with. The more they knew, the more he knew. And if he knew more than they did about something, he’d tell them.

He learned to be a good husband and father by listening to what others were doing wrong, and not making the same mistakes. He learned to be a good person by helping others when he could and giving advice when he was asked for it. People talked to him about all kinds of things because, well, he listened.

For a man whose formal education ended with the 8th grade, Grandpa was incredibly smart. He told me if I listened more and talked less, I could be smart, too. Here’s a sampling of the things I learned by listening to Grandpa:

  • When playing cards, sit across from the person who sits in front of a reflective surface. If they’re dumb enough to hold their cards up so you can see them, you can’t be faulted for looking.
  • Lighting up a stolen cigarette behind the barn doesn’t make you a smoker. Sitting around the kitchen table and smoking enough of them to make you puke after you’ve been caught doesn‘t make you one, either.
  • People who say the same annoying thing over and over either get told to be quiet or they get a T-shirt that says it so they can save their breath. My T-shirt said, “The devil made me do it.” Grandpa gave it to me.
  • People who think telling jokes is the only way to be funny don’t know what funny is. If you can prank someone and they wind up laughing with you instead of yelling at you, that’s being funny.
  • If you’ve done something wrong, own up. Whether it’s “Grandpa, I’m wet because I fell in the creek you told me not to play in” or “Grandpa, I took the money you gave me and eloped with that loser you hate”, if you screwed up, admit it.

With all Grandpa knew from talking less and listening more, he would have made a great writer. Aside from farm publications, equipment manuals, and church bulletins, I don’t recall him reading much. And unless it was a business contract, financial ledger, or notes for something he was building, I don’t remember him writing much, either. But I know he wrote at least one letter. Because he wrote it to me nearly 20 years ago and according to him, it was the only one he ever penned to one of his grandkids. It’s barely three paragraphs long and in it he tells me not to feel bad that I didn’t get that job (there’ll be better jobs), to take my car to the dealership to get it fixed and not just any mechanic (some of them don’t know what they’re doing), and that it would be a lot easier to write if Grandma would stop talking (O.K., so he didn’t like to listen ALL the time).

I keep that letter with the eulogy I wrote and delivered at Grandpa Reiter’s funeral in 1997. I consider that eulogy to be one of the best stories I’ve ever written, about an ordinary guy who taught me an extraordinary lesson as important for writers as it is for anybody – sometimes in this life, you just have to talk less and listen more.

NOTE: Today I’m participating in a mass blogging day! WOW! Women on Writing has gathered a group of blogging buddies to write about Special People We Know and Love. Why? We’re celebrating the release of Joanne Lewis’ and Amy Lewis Faircloth’s debut novel. Wicked Good (Telemachus Press, LLC, 2011) is about the unconditional love between a mother and her adopted, special needs son and the adventure that brings them closer together. Visit The Muffin at http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/ to read what Joanne and Amy have to share about their special people and view the list of all my blogging buddies. Then be sure to visit http://www.amyandjoanne.com/ to learn more about the authors.

  1. jcnierad says:

    Sounds like you had a really special grandpa. I love all the lessons learned from listening, especially the T-shirt. Heart-warming post and what a fabulous photo! J.C.

    • He was an awesome Grandpa and he’s never far from my thoughts. Yeah, the t-shirt was pretty great; too bad I didn’t have it in a larger size for my college years! Thanks for stopping by to comment.

  2. Robyn says:

    Love This!! And what a wonderful lesson–to listen more. Thank you for sharing your story…

  3. Sandy Young says:

    Oh, how I love your reminiscences about your grandpa! I didn’t have a close relationship with either of my grandfathers, not because I didn’t want to, but because back in those days, people didn’t travel distances to see anyone . . . not even grandpas. Your memories are very special, and that many surely did know how to teach his granddaughter without a book! Thanks for writing!

    • It was a 30 mile trip one-way to see my Grandpa but well worth it; I was in the same boat as you with my other grandparents, who lived 1200 miles away. I’m very fortunate to have been able to spend the time I did with him. Thanks so much for stopping by to read and comment.

  4. Jo says:

    A truly wonderful, thought-provoking post. Thank you for allowing us to get to know your grandpa.

  5. Brenda says:

    I love your Grandpa. He reminds me of my Uncle (cheating at cards). I am new to him, but I suspect there is a greater story here. Thanks for the smile and the tear. Endearing memory. ‘If you’ve done something wrong, own up.’ Great lesson to pass on and pay forward. So many don’t. I never understand this.

  6. Renee Weatherbee says:

    I think I would have loved your Grandpa! Maybe, I’ll get together a poker game one of these days – LOL!

  7. I’ll take the seat across from the wall mirror, please!

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