10 Aug 9 Life Lessons in 9 Days with My 82-Year-Old Grandpa

1. grand selife with butch gates and ddIn May of 1998, I received a really awesome high school graduation gift from my grandpa, Clarence “Butch” Gates. He presented to me a one-week Canadian fly-in fishing trip, on a private lake in Armstrong, Ontario. We had to push our vacation off for a year when my grandma became ill, but we did eventually take the trip together. We had a blast on the trip, while we created priceless memories.

“Just One More Time”

Ever since that moment, my grandpa has been talking about going “just one more time.” Last year, it finally hit me what “just one more time” meant. Taking a trip out into the middle of nowhere requires someone to be well, and to have a sizable amount of energy. Regardless of your age, there is only the Creator who knows how long you’ll have your health. So, I’m so thankful to say that we scheduled and took that one last fishing trip. I’ve always admired grandpa Gates, but this was a chance for me to really soak in everything that I possibly could. I don’t know how we managed it, but we actually had more fun on this second trip, perhaps because 17 years later, we were both much more present in the moment.

The School of Hard Knocks

Throughout the week, we talked about his time in the Navy during the 1950s, as an aircraft mechanic in the Korean War, as well as a security guard at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. We reminisced about my late grandma, whom we both loved dearly. [Grandma, our first “grand-selfie” together is for you.] We recalled the times that I used to cut his lawn, and then I’d refuse to leave until I had eaten all of his Hershey Bars. We talked about his long career at Weyerhaeuser. We compared and contrasted my time in grade school, high school, and college versus the only school that he remembered: The School of Hard Knocks. There is so much to learn from older people who have lived full and rich lives.

9 Life Lessons in 9 Days with My 82-Year-Old Grandpa

  1. Be curious. During our 16-hour drive to Canada, Grandpa asked our group more questions than any of us… How many lakes do you think are in Canada? Can moose swim? Do you think there is a point at which the deepest part of water gets warmer? He never stops learning.
  2. Be resolute. If we didn’t know the answer to one of his questions, Grandpa would often say to us, “Use that device that you always have in your hand.” He was ever steadfast in finding the answers.
  3. Be grateful. When we arrived on our private lake, I whined a bit about having an outhouse instead of a toilet. Grandpa immediately told me about the school that he went to every day as a kid… which had an outhouse… and the Sears Catalog pages for toilet paper.
  4. Be prepared. A month before our trip, grandpa gave me a copy of the checklist that he saved from our trip in 1999. A week before our trip, he called me and said that I should follow his checklist and bring the candy to make up for all of the Hershey Bars that I took from him back in the day. Well, I followed his checklist and didn’t forget anything. The Boy Scouts would love my grandpa.
  5. Take care of your belongings. Grandpa treats everything like gold. The fishing reels that he brought were from the mid-1970s because he stores them in a safe place and has special protective covers for them. Grandpa doesn’t waste money replacing things because of carelessness, as he would rather spend that money on other people.
  6. Take care of yourself. During the trip, grandpa moved firewood, helped fix a door, took walks to the dock and back, ate and drank in moderation, and took time to sleep. It comes as no surprise that he has been enjoying retirement for nearly 20 years. We started calling him the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, especially after he sat in the back seat of a truck for 16 hours, and didn’t complain about being stiff once. 
  7. Follow the rules. Grandpa lives by the philosophy that when you follow the rules, policies, procedures, and regulations that you encounter, life is much easier. He would constantly make sure that we stayed within our fish limit, that we carried our licenses and life vests, and he let us know exactly what we could and could not bring across the border.
  8. Share with others. Even though grandpa is very particular about his belongings, he let me use his fishing gear for the entire trip. He was also the guy kind enough and organized enough to bring along the breading and tartar sauce for the fish that we caught. Most importantly, he shared his rolls of toilet paper with us so that we wouldn’t have to use the fishing magazines. (We were most grateful, see #3.)
  9. Let others lead. Grandpa taught me that it’s ok to let others lead sometimes. He trusted us to drive the boat and the truck. When he was not taking charge, grandpa sat back and let the rest of us do our jobs.


Grandpa, I have great respect for you. You’ve made a positive difference on more lives than you’ll ever know. Thank you for teaching me how to fish, and I mean that literally and figuratively. Thank you for working so hard early in your life, so that we can enjoy our time spent with you today. Thank you for making me laugh so much during our 9 days together. Thank you for always putting family first by being so present in the lives of your grandkids and now the great-grandkids. I hope to make you proud as I strive to live my life in the same way that you have lived yours.

ACTION: In the next month, schedule an hour with a person one or two generations older than you. Buy them breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, or a drink. You won’t need the internet. Instead, simply ask this one powerful question: What do you know that I should know? Sit back, listen, and take notes. They’ll love to share their knowledge with you.

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