Everyday I’m beyond thankful for my grandpa McEwan, and the wisdom he passed down to me during my youth. He was an amazing man who lived through the Depression and served in World War II.
My grandpa McEwan was never one to lecture, scold, or posture about anything. He always had a smile on his face and that glowing smile made you smile too. The first major life lesson he taught me is the one that has stuck out and stayed with me my whole life, and here is that story…
I was 4 years old and spending part of my summer with my grandma and grandpa McEwan in upstate New York. Everyday my grandpa and I would go for a walk to the post office and library. If I was lucky we would take a little detour into the local pharmacy and get some candy. Lucky for me my grandpa had a huge sweet tooth, so these detours would happen more often than not. However, grandma couldn’t know about them, or we would get lectured about ruining our appetite, and something about me getting hyper from all the sugar.
One day we took a detour to the pharmacy to get candy. This time my grandpa handed me one of the bulk bags to fill with candy, rather than just picking out a few pieces. Oh man! I was in heaven when he told me to fill that bag up with my favorite candies. I’m sure my eyes had to be as big as saucers, and my heart rate went up in anticipation of all that sugar that was about to send me into the biggest sugar high of my life. I went to town filling that huge bag up with all the best candy and chocolates in the store all while contemplating how to hide the candy from grandma when we got back to the house.
After our purchase we walked, I skipped, back to my grandparents’ home. Instead of going inside, my grandpa led me to the car and told me we were going to go for a quick ride before we went into the house for lunch. He told me to bring the mammoth bag of candy with me, so I was beyond content. While we went on our quick drive, my grandpa told me a story about his time in World War II.
My grandpa was stationed in China, I don’t know what part. However, I do know it was a mountainous area, because he talked about how pretty the mountains were. He began by telling me he was stationed near an orphanage, and would always take trips to the orphanage with his translator in order to bring whatever food and little toys he could for the children. Then, he began telling me about his first Christmas spent in China, and it became a story that I would have him tell me over and over again for the rest of his life. I’ll tell it to you like he told it to me.
“Things were really hard for everyone in China during the war. There was no food, China was going through many problems of its own, and the war did not help. Sadly, many children were sent to orphanages, because their parents could no longer afford to feed them. They wore the same clothes each day, didn’t have toys like you do, and scarcely had enough to eat. For Christmas I wanted to do something extra special for them to make them smile and be happy. I sent letters home to your grandma, friends, and family. I asked them to mail me any clothing, toys, or items a child might need or like. And boy did everyone send as much as they could! So, now all I had to do was deliver these gifts to the children. Steve (my grandpa’s translator) and I decided that I should play Santa for the children on Christmas. So, Steve went out and found me a reindeer, which was a donkey, and a sled, which was a very battered cart. When I arrived and handed out the gifts, food, and clothes the children were so excited, and their smiles lasted for days to come.”
After my grandpa told me this story I had a ton of questions about all the little children in the orphanage, but I didn’t get to ask them, because we had arrived at our destination, and there were a bunch of kids running around the house we had just pulled up in front of.
My grandpa told me we were going to go visit with the family and to bring the candy with me. So, I got out of the car with the candy, and started heading with my grandpa across the yard full of children to the house. The mom and dad came out of the house to greet us. My grandpa introduced me, and the mom told me how she used to have my grandma as her teacher in high school, and my grandpa was the principal.
At this point all the children came circling around me and started eying me and my candy. I won’t lie; I hugged that bag of candy to my body like it was my very own baby I had to protect. My grandpa gave me a nudge and asked me to give them some candy. I figured this was no problem, I could give each of the children a piece of candy and have a ton of it left over for myself. So, I started handing each kid a piece of candy. Boy did their eyes light up when I did this. After giving each kid a piece of candy, my grandpa told me to give the oldest child the whole bag of candy! I’m pretty sure my jaw hit the ground at that point. All my precious candy was gone! I had been robbed of the greatest sugar high of all time! I turned my head to look up at my grandpa, and I was about to ask him why he wanted me to do this, but he gently took the bag from me and gave it to the oldest child. We then said our good-byes and walked back to the car to head home.
When we got into the car I asked my grandpa why we had to give them all the candy. His response was to have me look at the children in their front yard. He said, “Do you see them? Look at their smiles! They are a family without enough money to buy candy, and you get candy every day. This is a very special treat for these kids. Now, would you rather eat that candy yourself, or would you like to make multiple people smile and feel happy by giving them your candy?” I was only 4 years old, but that lesson sunk into my little brain and stayed there for life. After looking at the children smiling, and showing their parents and each other all the different candies, and realizing I helped make them happy, and gave them something special, I decided I didn’t want the candy for myself at all. I actually asked my grandpa each time I visited them if we could go take candy to the children again.
Later in life I learned that the couple who lived in that house could not have children of their own. Instead, they chose to foster children in their home.
In that lesson and many other examples my grandpa set for me as a child, I learned that if you can help someone in any way, or if you can just make them smile that you should do it, and I always have.
Sadly, I was fired from teaching at the YMCA in Minot recently for teaching free classes in another community.
I teach free classes to people in my community, which is over an hour drive from the Y in Minot. I started teaching these classes for free, because people in my community do not have the ability to join a gym over an hour away, take classes, and I needed fitness volunteer hours for some of my certifications. Once I completed my yearly volunteer hours, I kept going with the free classes. I teach them for free, because I don’t need the money, I love seeing everyone feel good about themselves after class, and hear them talking about how much fitter and stronger they feel.
I was told by my superior at the YMCA that I had to quit teaching free classes in my little town, or they would have to fire me. She explained that they saw my classes (in a town over an hour away) as competition to their classes at the YMCA. I didn’t and still don’t understand this. Especially since the YMCA is a nonprofit organization. If anything I would think they would want to help people in the community. Especially since I’m helping those in a community where there is no access to fitness.
My grandpa’s voice and teachings came right into my head as I sat there in the office being given this ultimatum. I told her that I would not quit volunteering my time and helping others. I was taught better than that from my grandpa. Plus, I really believe that in order to make the world a better place you need to be generous, kind, and helpful whenever you can.
So, I’m no longer teaching my classes at the YMCA in Minot. I’m beyond sad about this, but I’m going to keep my head up, and be proud of my morals and values.
To all my wonderful friends and regulars in class…I love ya all, and I feel like I’m abandoning you. Each one of you has become so much stronger both inside and out since the first time you wandered your way into class. As a group we have seen each other through cancer, infertility, loss of loved ones and pets, terrible horrible no good very bad days, weddings, births, and so much more. Please keep supporting each other, cheering each other on, and most of all…Keep making each other SMILE and LAUGH! Your smiles will always stay with me!