Today marks the one year anniversary of my Opa’s passing. Since then, not a day has gone by when we aren’t praying for him, reminding the boys to the customs and values he bestowed among us or missing his unconditional love.
At his funeral last winter, I had the humbling honor to speak on behalf of the family on his life and legacy:
When we were young, everything about Opa was impressive. He had the biggest house in the whole wide world, the most spacious car and the coolest tool sets (that’s sets with extra plurals). We were allowed to put as many sprinkles on our pancakes as we wanted to when we spent the night, and he magically always knew exactly how many batteries our brand new Christmas toys needed. He could take a shot of Jager faster than any of his sons and had a one of a kind pick-up-dump-truck. He had the best life story about coming to America with nothing except Oma and a dream, and how he made that life he imagined come true.
And he had the greatest sense of humor, even though none of us ever got the joke since he would inevitably deliver the punch line in German.
I remember going to the shop and sitting on his lap, watching the employees out the window and checking everyone’s time cards. That’s when I learned that 7:59 is late when you are expected to be working at 8. When Opa walked out of the office, everyone would stand up a little straighter and seem a little busier, except of course for Steve B—, who would be running away to hide because that knucklehead was likely in trouble.
As I kid, I remember the physical presence Opa commanded, whether standing in the middle of his uniquely designed shop or sitting at the head of the dining room table on Christmas Eve.
As an adult, I began to see not just the concrete aspects of Opa the grandfather, but started understand Opa the man. It turns out that he not only had the biggest house in the whole wide world, but the biggest heart as well. That he loved us being in his home and sleeping over more than we loved dumping buckets of sprinkles on our pancakes. That he could take a Jager shot faster than his adult grandchildren… That his dump truck wasn’t just a cool toy, but a symbol of his ingenuity.That he was a mentor and a friend.
And that he didn’t come to America with ‘just’ Oma, but that Oma on board was all he needed: so they could support each other, raise their sons and make their dreams come true.
His employees didn’t work harder out of fear, but out of respect. He gave every good man a chance, and often 5 or 6. And because of the chance Opa gave them, those good men were able to provide for their families and several of them even went on to become business owners themselves.
He believed in the goodness of people. He said the most important thing you can be is honest.
And it wasn’t just his physical presence that gave him command of the room, but his whole being: His sense of adventure, his constant curiosity about the world, the duty to his family, his pride in his grandchildren’s successes, and especially, his unwavering love for his wife.
And even though he is no longer with us, his best qualities live on. In the strength, physically and emotionally, of my dad Fritz, in the tireless hard work and dedication of Stefan, in the patience and ability to teach of Andreas. In the fact that all three of his sons will do anything for their families. And of course, through Oma’s love and sacrifice.
For the past several months, whenever we visited Opa, he often would watch my sons, his great grandchildren, playing and then look up with a twinkle in his eye and tell us that he wished people could be more excited like children.
But I really think it is the other way around: we all wish we could all be a little more like Opa.
We miss you so much.