Check out part one of my annual letter to my grandpa here.
Recently, I took my dad and two boys to a Purdue basketball game. As we pulled into West Lafayette, dad started to reminisce about visiting his grandfather in West Lafayette as a child. Realizing the significance of the moment—it is not every day that my dad reminisces about the past—I asked dad if he wanted to go see his grandpa’s house?
He did. I turned onto Grant Street and slowed the car as we approached your childhood home — what dad refers to as his grandfather’s house. The red brick house stood out against the small pile of snow on the lawn. Dad commented that Grandma would still be upset about the house next door, and then explained that she never wanted to sell the land it now occupies. He played games on that dirt, he said. The more he reminisced, the more I thought about how the dirt is the one thing that remains constant. My boys represent the fifth generation from your father, so it is natural that the neighborhood, and life for that matter, is now radically different.
But the dirt remains the same.
As Hoffer Plastics turns 70 this week, I have thought a lot about dirt. This is probably because of a country music song that keeps finding its way onto my playlist at the gym. Here are a few of its lyrics:
A few days before he turned 80
He was sittin’ out back in a rocker
He said, “What you been up to lately?”
I told him, “Chasing a dollar”
And in between sips of coffee
He poured this wisdom out
Said, “If you want my two cents on making a dollar count
Find the one you can’t live without
Get a ring, let your knee hit the ground
Do what you love but call it work
And throw a little money in the plate at church
Send your prayers up and your roots down deep
Add a few limbs to your family tree
And watch their pencil marks
And the grass in the yard all grow up”
‘Cause the truth about it is
It all goes by real quick
You can’t buy happiness
But you can buy dirt
When I hear these lyrics, I immediately think of you and your generation. I picture my Papa smoking a pipe outside his garage in Evansville, and I think of you tending your greenhouse in Elgin, and the word that comes back over and over is contentment. Your generation pulled up its bootstraps, worked, and “sent your prayers up and your roots down deep.”
There are literal pencil marks in your old basement charting the growth spurts of two generations!
The refrain I often hear from well-intentioned people is that they are leaving Illinois because of its unfriendly business climate, high taxes, and bad weather. I cannot argue with these challenges. But as last year wound down, the message I continually received from my prayers was:
Different, But Not Unique
One of the moments that reoriented me last fall was driving by your house on the way home from a business trip. I think I mentioned driving by your house almost every year because it is always impactful. This time I realized that buying dirt was precisely what you did. You stayed in the same house from 1953 until the end. You refused to chase better when you were already happy. You embodied contentment.
We moderns like to trick ourselves. We think things are particularly hard right now and that business challenges are unique to our generation. The word I like to use is “different.” Things are definitely different, but they are not unique. And regardless of external circumstances, we still walk on the same dirt you did.
Obviously, I don’t know what the future holds. Today’s different circumstances may prove to be too much. There is no defeatism in me when I say these things; I am just pointing to the reality that nothing is assured. Well, nothing outside of time passing by and the dirt staying dirt.
While some readers might find this reality depressing, I do not. As I shared last week, I rediscover hope every time I look into the eyes of the people who make up our team. I see the possibilities in the next generation, and they excite me. My task is to ensure that the seeds are planted, that the plants are tended, and the harvest is plentiful.
I must tend the dirt as you did.
There is a profound purpose in doing so.
Until next year, I will keep watching the pencil marks of my kids’ growth grow, I will keep saying my prayers with Sarah every night, and I will keep digging our roots deeper and deeper into the community God has placed us in. I will do this regardless of how different things are, and even when those differences irritate and frustrate me.
I will do this because that is our family history. Until God calls me elsewhere, I will tend to the dirt he has given us.
You understood this.
I am starting to.
I miss you and love you,