It’s 5:45 in the morning and I’m up, looking out the window. The dawn is starting to break on the familiar hill above the farm. The sunlight is filtering through clouds and trees, onto a dew-covered pasture littered with cows and their calves.
The upstairs is a little cold, but I can smell the coffee and conversation coming from downstairs. I walk into the kitchen bleary-eyed to see my grandpa in his chair, drinking coffee while talking to grandma. She’s cooking eggs, bacon, and toast. I get brought into the conversation immediately, sitting on grandpa’s lap, telling him an important story about something only a seven year old (and, apparently, a 65 year old) would care about.
Days like that were made for my grandpa, Lawrence D. Shinn, who left this world at 90 years young just a week and a half ago. On any given day, there could be any number of things on the agenda with a few constants. Maybe moving the cows to a new field, or feeding them hay. Probably cutting wood for the winter, especially in the waning days of summer or early fall. Or working on any number of barns, outbuildings, or house projects. He loved working with his hands, on his 160 acre farm north of Portland for more than seven decades.
There were the constants of food at the farm: lunch at noon sharp, strawberry jam, fresh and canned homegrown vegetables, ice cream sandwiches in the freezer, finding hard candy in random shirt or jacket pockets, and slicing apples or eating oranges in the recliner in the living room.
There was a rotating cast of characters who came and went throughout the day. An uncle or aunt. Cousins — so many cousins. A neighbor dropping by. A friend, maybe from out of town. They were always welcome. Some of them were up for a farm adventure or just visiting, but it always came back to grandpa.
He was a man with a great sense of humor and a great laugh. He made quick friends with the people who met him. He was strong but had a soft heart for his wife of 56 years, his kids, and the rest of us. He was devoted to his family. He taught us that actions spoke louder than words and that the way we treated each other was important. He was honest, humble, and he gave back what he received from this life several times over.
He was stubborn and ornery at times, a trait many of us inherited. He made sure his family made it to church, even when the roads were covered in snow and the only vehicle that could hold the whole brood was a 1963, rear-wheel drive Cadillac that better resembled a sled than a vehicle intended for driving.
He was smart and could figure out any mechanical issue with ease. He never saw problems as unsolvable and came up with ingenious ways to accomplish the challenges that farm life presented. A little cabin built decades ago was expanded again and again, becoming one of the best built Frankenhouses ever. Its halls and basement put up with decades of kids running, yelling, and spilling. Somehow it stayed in pretty good shape.
He loved the outdoors and had an appreciation for the beautiful country he lived in. He also loved traveling, especially via the road. Many of our fondest memories involve traveling the west with him. Long trips were made easier with family and easy conversation, though he truly loved getting away with grandma.
He lived a full life, shared with the people he loved, doing work that he was good at and enjoyed. And in the end, he left with little else to accomplish. A life complete. We should all be so fortunate.
The farm is a little quieter these days but the legacy of my grandfather lives on — through seven kids, 14 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, two great-great-grandchildren, and dozens of people who married in, invited themselves over, and shared a hug with him.
When I look around the family, I see parts of my grandfather everywhere. We all have our own separate pieces of his personality and wisdom. But I worry about the family he leaves behind. I wonder what happens to us when we forget that despite our differences, we’re all connected to a man who wanted more than anything for us to love each other like he loved each of us. I hope his influence doesn’t wane in us.
It’s a sad day for me because I’ll miss him being a part of my daughter’s life like he was part of mine and that the lessons and example I’ll be able to pass on can’t compare. He wasn’t a perfect man, but he was perfect for us and our family.
Grandpa Shinn was one of a kind, and I’ll miss his stories, laughter, wisdom, and deep love he shared with our family and with me.
We all have a finite time here on this world and he made the most of each day in simple ways. It always started with that coffee and laugh in the morning, though. That’s what I’ll remember most.