Today would be my Welo’s 85th birthday. He was a great man, one of my favorites – he was gregarious, hardworking, loyal; he was a man of value.
His legacy continues. I see his presence sprinkled throughout my family in his work ethic, his friendliness, the devotion to his family, and in his style. Oh his style! The first few bowties I made were for his funeral in 2014. He was the original bowtie wearer in the family. Although truth be told, he didn’t wear a lot of bowties, rather he wore the same few often. I started making bowties as a way to honor him and I continue to make bowties as a way to keep his spirit alive.
I wouldn’t exactly describe him as a man of many words, yet he did leave messages in other ways. He left many pearls of wisdom in the way he lived his life, and here are some of the takeaways from a life well lived…
• The importance of working hard. If it was worth having, it is worth working for. This includes schooling, money, partners (relationships of all kinds, really). This philosophy may have stemmed from his being born during The Great Depression, but the lesson remains. He learned quickly that if you want it, you gotta work for it. He was one of the hardest working men I have ever come across, even years after his death. He instilled in me that the fruits of your labor are so much sweeter when you’ve earned them.
• Speak up. Maybe because in my lifetime he was always hard of hearing. Maybe because he grew up in a family of nine kids, all boys. If you want to be heard and you got something to say, you’ll need to speak up. A few things I’ve learned about speaking up are it forces you to speak clearly and consciously - so you can get to the point. Say what you have to say. And say it loudly. There is so much chatter out there and it’s really hard to cut through it sometimes. It’s also really easy to get lost in. If you want to be heard, speak up. If you want to be fed, speak up. If you want to play the game, speak up. If you want to do something or go somewhere, speak up. If something isn’t right, speak up. How is the world suppose to know you exist of you don’t say something?
I watched him stand up for himself and others. I watched him make friends, get extra treats at restaurants, start different hobbies, and silence a room when he had an announcement. He said what he wanted to say. And people listened.
• Do something already. One of my fondest memories of my family is playing cards with them, always at Christmastime, and sometimes at birthday parties, BBQs, baby showers, or any random occasion to get together. My Welo was a good card player. If it was someone else’s turn and they were thinking too long about their move, he would tap his hands on the table. This motion affectionately points out ‘Stubbs’ or the person the rest of the game is waiting on. It’s a slightly more gentle way of saying ‘make a move, will ya?’. Just like in cards, if you’re playing the game of life, you’re going to have to do something. He was not one to let grass grow under his feet. Neither should we.
• My Welo never met a stranger. For two and a half decades of going out to eat – going anywhere, really – with this man, he smiled at everyone, shook hands with at least three people, and had a conversation with at least one person. He had a gift of gab and a fondness for people. Everyone had a story and he certainly had stories to tell so he chatted, joked, and gently elbowed folks. When people told him to ‘Have a nice day’, he said ‘You have a better one.’ Life’s too short, be kind to one another.
• Move forward with grace. Just like your family, my family isn’t perfect, either. We’ve had a black sheep or two. It didn’t matter. You didn’t treat them differently. You didn’t complain. You didn’t have to hide it, but you didn’t talk about it. You just moved forward with the day. If you were angry, devastated, elated or anywhere in between in response to someone, you were allowed to be. He understood those emotions were a part of life. Even through sorrow, you still have to do what you have to do. Continue to move forward and do them.
• Take no shit. Stick up for people, but don’t let people walk on you. Help people out when you can, but not at the expense of your own time. Do whatever you want to do, and don’t feel guilty about it. Wear bowties. Collect train memorabilia. Act in plays. Move to a different city. It’s your life; don’t let others tell you how you should live it. Take no shit, but do no harm.
• Smile. Laugh. Life’s too short not to, and you might even feel better. You’ll definitely look better.