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My Inheritance

Michele Gooch
By Michele Gooch

The back of his hands were as dark as a cow’s hide and almost as leathery while his arms where white as a lily. The skin on the back of his neck matched his hands, yet his legs were paler than his arms. I remember finding that curious as a chid. He spent his days outside covered by jeans, long sleeves and a straw hat. He could read the mind of any horse and hunt down every stray calf and nurse back to health a sick heifer. Grandpa was his name and I adored him.

His world was unfamiliar to mine and oh so intriguing. Owning the largest cattle ranch in Kansas at the age of 14 (due to his parents untimely death) leaves no time for formal education. Educate is what he did! At his side, I learned to believe in myself, do the uncomfortable, and keep showing up even when I put the truck in the ditch (which happened every time I was behind the wheel). Grandpa left an indelible mark on me.

He worked hard to feed cattle year round, train horses to do the work, bale hay in the summer and break the ice off of the water in the winter so livestock could drink. With all that hard work and fascinating lifestyle, the thing that impacted me the most is the way he invested in people. He knew, loved, and cared for every hired hand, neighbor, cattleman and their families. He would shake your hand, look you in the eye, communicate genuine compassion and come to your aid at any time day or night.

People matter. All people matter.

Grandpa was known in the region for hiring the down and out and overpaying them to help them get back on their feet.

After a tornado tore through the community, Grandpa gathered a handful of men, tools, and supplies and showed up at the home that had been destroyed. Within a couple of days, they had a roof back on that neighbor’s home.

When a fellow rancher died of a heart attack, Grandpa organized a half a dozen men and their combines to cut the wheat that was standing across 200 acres of the deceased man’s fields. They completed a week’s worth of work in a day and half, at their own expense.

When the Christmas pageant was approaching, Grandpa volunteered to give a ride to a widowed neighbor, Mrs. Osgood. That evening Grandma was running late, so Grandpa quickly ran to Mrs. Osgood’s house with the intent of coming back by the house for Grandma. When he arrived at Mrs. Osgood’s place, she asked him to send in Florence (my grandma) because she needed some help. His reply, “I can do anything Flo can do.” Mrs. Osgood needed help getting her stockings on — the kind that pull up to your thigh and attach to the snaps of a girdle. Grandpa did what was needed.

People matter. All people matter. This is the priceless inheritance Grandpa left me.

Unlike Grandpa, he was a city-sleeker who appreciated the finer things in life like concrete driveways, a television in the house and daily access to a grocery store (except on Sundays). He took care of the money for a prestigious corporation; flew in a jet as needed; met with corporate executives; and was always prepared to give the after dinner speeches. His sense of humor would split your side open every single time. His playfulness would make the day fly by. Don’t get me wrong, not only was he playful, he was also smart. He could often be found reading the dictionary for entertainment. I thought he was the smartest man alive. Poppa was his name and I adored him.

His father abandoned him at a young age. His step father was a rough, mean, angry man. Poppa left home before he finished high school. Somewhere in there he ran off with my grandmother. He worked hard and played harder. He, like Grandpa, had no formal education. Yet educate, he did! By his side, I learned not too take life too seriously, play as much as I worked, and never stop learning – there’s always more to be understood. Poppa is permanently and unforgettably etched in my mind.

He worked hard to feed a family of seven, to keep many different organizations, institutions and his own business running smoothly. He always had time to keep his mind brilliantly vibrant. With all of that talent, experience and knowledge, the thing that impacts me the most is the way he invested in people. He never met a person he couldn’t make laugh. He saw the value in every human and volunteered across his community.

A series of strokes left him in bed the last year of his life and still each person who came to see him left encouraged. With no real physical capacity and a speech pattern that was difficult to follow, Poppa made every visitor feel special and valued.

People matter. All people matter. This is the immeasurable inheritance Poppa left me.

These two men couldn’t be more different from each other. One a republican, the other a democrat. One a quaker, the other a baptist. One comfortable in the country, the other preferred the city. And yet, they both left a legacy — a deep understanding and conviction that people matter. All people matter.

Whatever legacy you are leaving — whatever inheritance stays behind when you go — may it include a deep understanding that people matter. All people matter.

Michele Gooch
Fun Facts About Michele: While in southern Mexico on vacation, she accidentally ate lunch with the Cartel.  When snorkeling off the coast of Belize, she unintentionally swam with an 8 foot shark while he was eating.  As a child, she...Read More
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