You Are What You Do

You are what you do.

Many years ago, actually, late April of my Senior year of high school my Grandfather - Osvil Elston told me something that I would never forget while we were working on my old Ford Torino out in his garage.

He worked as a body and fender man at the garage in Pittsfield (at the bottom of the big hill) and he painted cars on the side at home. So I had conned him into painting my banged-up Torino so that Dad could sell it after I left for Coast Guard Boot Camp in June.

We had finished the Bondo and sanding parts of the prep work and were in the process of taping to get ready to paint the old beast. We're talking a bit about everything while were getting it all taped up. I was in a hurry because I had someplace that I wanted to be later that afternoon.

I had just taped up the rear fender and he walked by and told me to re-do it because the overspray from the paint gun was going to get under the newspaper and get on the chrome. I did the cheesy complaint thing and how it was my car and I didn't really care.

Gramp looked at me and started taking off his painting stuff and said, we need to take a break.

We went inside and sat in the living room for a few minutes - the same one as in the photo. I was going in the Coast Guard as soon as I graduated. As a result, I was getting a bad case of "I am too good for this place, plus a lot of senioritis in my attitude (looking back, I was just being a jerk).

As we were sitting there Gramp told me a few stories he had about serving in the Navy during WWII and how he had become a golden gloves boxer while stationed in Brooklyn and that he had surprised a couple of professional fighters who were training him and how he thought he was getting to be pretty good and was bragging about it a bit. He was invited to a spar a couple of rounds with the better fighter and he did pretty good in round 1, but when he woke up after starting round 2, Gramp chuckled and told me he had changed his attitude about how good he was pretty quickly.

I didn't quite get the message he was sending out.

At times I was pretty thick-headed and while I sort of listened, I wasn't all that great at hearing what I was being told.

I now put it off to being young, but sometimes I wonder if it really doesn't matter how old we are and that it is more that we too often just listen to what we want to hear and ignore anything that doesn't match up with how we think things should be?

We sat there talking for about an hour and I finally asked Gramp if we were going to finish taping my car and get it painted that day?

He said probably not.

When I asked why not, his answer was straightforward and simple. While my memory might not get the exact words my Grandfather said to me that day, it does convey what I did hear.

"Since you do not respect me enough to do the taping correctly so that when I paint, it is going to look like I screwed up, not you. People will see that back bumper and know that I painted your vehicle and wonder if I am worth going to anymore. So instead of doing a crappy job on your Torino, I am not going to paint it at all."

He looked at me took his glasses off and said.

 "One thing you have to remember is that people judge you by what you do every damn day. You can talk a good game, think about great you are and all that, but what it finally comes down to is the things that you actually do in your life."

At that point, I got up without saying another word and went in and fixed the taping job on the fender and also ALL of the other places that I had hurried through and done a half-assed job on.

About a half-hour later, Gramp came back in and looked over the taping job, put his painting stuff back on and fired up the compressor. I finished taping up the Torino correctly and he smiled that smile of his and picked up the paint gun.

He got the Torino painted and it looked pretty darn good after he got done - a nice custom paint job - Iceberg Blue with the black leatherette (tauno?) top. Also, it didn't have any paint overspray areas, that a certain young fella taped correctly after our little talk.

The reality is that

It is pretty amazing the little things that stay with you and how something that was said to me by my Grandfather back in 1975, is something that I still remember as if it was yesterday. I would like to think that the balance sheet on my life shows that I have done a LOT more good things than bad and that I pretty much followed the advice that I was given that day.

When I look back on my life, it was always doing the small things right daily, which made it much easier to keep doing the right things for the right reasons when other choices to do stuff came around. It was when I stopped doing the little things right, that it became too easy to make poor choices

Although I do know that I have made mistakes and probably will again in the future.

However, the older I get the more I am careful about the things that I do and realize that my actions and even the words I use when I am doing something, often have unforeseen (good and bad) impacts and ripple effects on more people than just myself.

All I can do is continue doing the best that I can.

One thing that has not changed over the years is that people still judge us on what we do or have done and those things (good and bad) will be a part of who we are until we are gone.

My Grandfather's advice was good advice for a young man who needed the lesson badly back in the mid-'70s and is still good advice for him almost 45 years later.

Is there any advice that you were given when you were younger that you still remember when and where you were when you got it and what was said that day is still an important part of your life?

What are you doing?

Yes, you are what you do.

Originally posted on Aging - My Thoughts and written by Harold L. Shaw.


Unknown said…
Cheers Harold. This post came at the right time for me. It is amazing how long some things stay with you, but those are the life-lessons that our parents and grandparents certainly are good for. My advice wasn't given to me that long ago, but my parents are right about what they've told me at various points over the years: our relationships are the most important things we have, and time is the greatest gift you can give someone.
Hshawjr207 said…
Thank you for commenting and that you found the post timely. The older generations which I have suddenly become a part of have a lot of "sand in our pants" (experience) and accumulated knowledge from generations that had a lot of practical experience in life. Today's world moves so fast that sometimes we need a nudge to remember a lesson learned in the past. Both of your points are spot on and I have a feeling that a post or two will talk about them in the future here. :-)
My Grandpa Wilbur taught me a heck of a lot of good stuff along the "do it right" and "be a real man" lines. He taught me to shoot and hunt and drive and farm and fix fence. Along the way he pointed out how nature's world works and how we humans are another part of nature. All of these things provided markers which allowed me to get pointed back in the right direction whenever I strayed off the path. He died when I was on deployment in 1986. Sure do miss his physical presence but he walks with me every day.
Hshawjr207 said…
Our Grandparents and Great Grandparents had a wealth of knowledge that went beyond book learning or technology. It dealt a lot with common sense, living and relationships. Yeah, they still watch over us and care about who we are becoming before we get to that Rainbow Bridge. :-)