When I was in college, my grandpa would call me once a week to check in. If I didn’t pick up, which sometimes happened because I would sleep in on the weekends and he would call at the crack of dawn, he’d leave a voicemail:
“Hey, Jon boy. I was just thinking this morning and you were on my mind and I says, well I should give him a call, and well, I’m calling you now to see how you’re doin’. I guess you might still be sleeping and that’s okay, we can talk soon. Your grandma and I are thinking of you. Call back soon and we’ll talk later. Okay, see ya.”
One of my favorite messages from him that I still have saved on my phone is when he called to let me know that a squirrel in his backyard came by to grab the peanuts we left out on the back deck a few days earlier.
“Yeah Jon I thought I’d let ya know the squirrel came by to get those three peanuts! Thought I’d just give you a jingle, you were on my mind, and I hope you’re having a good day.”
His tone would make it sound like it was such a spontaneous thing, that he just happened to think to call me that day, and not like it was a very regular thing that happened on a consistent basis, which it was. My grandpa has always been like that—doing things for others, giving his time and sharing gifts with everyone around him but never in a way that implied any obligation. His gifts always came from the heart, with minimal flare.
He is ninety-two years old, going on ninety-three in a few weeks. In the last few years alone he has survived multiple forms of cancer, a short bout with COVID-19, and the loneliness of losing his life partner, my grandma, after a lifetime together. He has survived; yet, over the last few years his health has declined. His mind is a little less sharp and his energy low. So I don’t get phone calls from Grandpa anymore. He still thinks of every member of his family, though, when he says his daily prayers, stopping to pray for each of his kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids by name.
I think about my grandpa a lot lately, especially when I’m at work and ready to call it quits. Tree work is challenging, and sometimes it makes me question if what I’m doing is worth the physical strain, if it’s what I should be doing with my degrees. But then I think of my grandpa growing up on an Iowa farm and the daily chores he did to feed his family. I think of his decades as a mechanic, how he dedicated himself to his trade and found value in doing a quality job from start to finish. He lived by hard work; it may not have been work on a world-changing scale, but it was work that he poured himself into to make a difference in the lives of others. Then again, in what other way does the world change?
I find inspiration in my grandpa’s influence in my life, and I still feel cherished by his attentiveness to the lives of his grandkids. Thinking about my grandpa gives me a boost and makes me want to give my work my all, to dedicate myself to doing a quality job, especially when I start feeling tired. Where that extra energy comes from, I don’t know. Maybe it’s his daily prayers floating up to heaven.
Years later, I’m glad I didn’t always pick up when Grandpa called. I’m glad I have those thirty-second voicemails saved on my phone so I can replay them and hear his voice, healthy and full of energy. I don’t think I’ll ever delete them.
Jon Gorter (‘17) graduated from Calvin with degrees in English and environmental studies and holds an MS in natural resources from the University of Michigan. He enjoys fly fishing, mushroom foraging, and waterfall scrambling near his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.