My paternal grandfather farmed for nearly four decades until 1957 when he had an auction and moved into town. Though he had been using tractors for years, he kept his last team of work horses Spot and Daisy until the day of his farm auction.
It appeared that Opa, as we called him, just couldn't get rid of his draft horses. Spot and Daisy had the easiest job this side of the glue factory eat, sleep and hang around the barn yard.
The last time I saw Opa put Spot and Daisy to work was on a summer afternoon in the mid '50s when he hitched the team to a sickle bar mower and headed for the hay field. Opa was wearing his trademark hickory-striped bib overalls, long sleeved blue chambray shirt and a straw hat. He looked content as he bounced along on the spring steel seat.
Sometime in the late '40s, about the time I was born, someone shot a photograph of Opa with Spot and Daisy just outside the barn. In the photo my grandfather is standing proudly between his two "peerd," as horses are called in his native Low German. His overalls are farm stained and his familiar striped engineer's cap sits atop his head. I recall that whenever I saw Opa with Spot and Daisy he looked contented as he did in this photo.
For nearly two decades a copy of that photograph has been prominently displayed in my office.
When people ask about the photo, I tell them I keep it there to remind me that this good man lived a successful and fulfilled life without a pocket calendar, a Day Planner, a Palm Pilot, a pocket calculator, a cell phone or a smart phone.
In addition to his row crops, Opa raised hogs and chickens and milked a herd of Holstein cows. He worked long, hard hours. Other than Sunday afternoons there was little time for leisure.
But he never had to juggle his calendar to coordinate multiple meetings, sit through boring committee and staff meetings or sweat over an unrealistic budget goal set by a corporate bean-counter who had never actually done his job.
The photograph of Opa with Spot and Daisy reminds me that there is more to life than telephones, faxes, voice mails and emails. Or iPads and smart phones. I am reminded that my grandfather left a powerful impact on the lives of his descendants without once leading a Chamber of Commerce, holding a political office or serving as a Rotary Club president.
The look of contentment on my grandfather's face reminds me daily that happiness comes from within not from outside circumstances.
The memories I recall when I look at this photograph remind me how much I loved and respected Opa. Not because he was famous or because he was a "mover and shaker," but because he showed me respect and loved me. Though he wasn't perfect, my grandfather was a big man with a tender heart and a positive attitude.
When I look at the photo of Opa with Spot and Daisy, I wonder how he handled the difficult people who came into his life. One of his favorite Low German phrases translates, "Kiss my (backside,)" so I suspect he didn't let nasty folks mess up his day too much.
Opa's dirty overalls in the photo remind me that the quality of a man is not measured by his daily work uniform, be it barnyard-stained bibs or an expensive business suit, but by the heart and mind within the man. Though he only had an eighth grade education, Opa was wiser than many college graduates. Much wiser.
Opa was already middle-aged when I was born. In today's hectic, stress-filled world he stands out as a reminder of a life well lived without all the things the world deems necessary to be a success today.
And that's why I keep that old 1940s sepia-toned photograph on display. To remember a dear man whose life was much different than mine but, despite leaving this life nearly 43 years ago, continues to influence me daily.
I miss Opa and Spot and Daisy.