Unfortunately my grandpa passed away years ago due to a massive stroke so I never had the opportunity to grasp what a truly incredible human being he was while he was still alive.
I knew that he was a professional waiter, he was eclectic, he was always the life of the party, and he was frugal as hell.
I heard stories about how he and my grandma moved to Florida and bought a motel with no prior experience running a motel just because “all the Germans were doing it.”
I heard stories about how they’d pay cash for all the different houses they bought.
But it never sunk in and resonated with me that my grandpa was a bad ass when it came to money until the other night when we went out to dinner at a famous, local steak house.
The prices were crazy, (and the only reason why we went was because we had a gift card from our realtor,) but it dawned on me that my grandpa made bank.
You wouldn’t have known it by looking at him. He didn’t have much material-wise to make you think otherwise. My grandparents had nice houses but nothing crazy, they drove “normal” cars, and they never ate out at restaurants.
I remember spending time with them growing up where my grandpa would catch fish from his dock, he’d clean them up, my grandma would cook them, and we’d have it for dinner.
Having fresh fish nightly was amazing.
I always thought we had it because he was cheap but now I realize that it was because he enjoyed the good, simple things in life and knew how to be frugal when it came to acquiring them.
I remember him becoming friends with neighbors who had fruit trees in their yards just so he could get them for free whenever he wanted.
Oranges…lemons…grapefruits. You name it, we got it.
He got us a private room at the restaurant he used to work at to celebration my Confirmation and he basically got all of our food for free because that’s just the suave kind of guy he was.
I remember going over to their house on various occasions and he’d always pay me for massaging his feet. I was a young kid so I’m sure the massages sucked and didn’t last very long but he’d pay me at least $5 each time. That was a lot of money to me then! This was his way of teaching me the lesson that you have to work hard for your money; even if there’s some dirty work involved.
I remember his biggest advice for me was to go to school and make lots of money, become successful, and then find a wife. There’s some flawed logic in there but I’m sure that advice came from his experience of serving so many well-to-do people. He promised me that when I found the right one, that he was going to pay for my wedding. Since I work in the event industry now, I know how crazy expensive weddings could be but he’d do it because he was just that kind of guy and he definitely had the means to do so. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to see if he was joking or not, but that would have made for one hell of an interesting conversation.
He and my grandma were first generation immigrants who were able to raise 3 kids comfortably on his income alone. He was the only bread winner of the house and that’s something that I know he took great pride in.
But you wouldn’t have thought this would have been possible for him if you based things on the earliest part of his life went.
He became an orphan at a young age. He lost both of his parents in a short time period shortly before World War II from unknown causes. He and six of his siblings were separated between aunts and uncles.
He was a refugee who fled from the Russians. He learned enough Russian to literally save his life. He knew enough to lie about his age to a Russian commander. If he didn’t say that he was a year younger than he really was, he would have gone to a work camp in Siberia and probably would have ultimately died like one of his brothers who was captured in the war.
My grandpa wasn’t the smartest guy and I’m pretty sure he was dyslexic. He never finished school.
He had no parents. No home. And no formal education.
But he had a couple of things really going for him: He was extremely charismatic, he knew how to be courteous and professional, and he was full of confidence.
So much so that he asked my grandma to marry him the same night that they first met.
He was either crazy or really confident. We’ll go with the latter.
As it turns out, my grandpa spent most of his career at the pinnacle of being a waiter.
He wore white gloves so you know he only served the best of the best. He even served dignitaries from all over the world including President Eisenhower.
My grandpa worked until I was about 7 years old. My dad told me that there would be nights when he’d come home with $300-$500 in cash tips and this was literally 20 years ago!
He was a people-person and he got paid to do what he enjoyed. He enjoyed being around people and making them feel good about themselves. He got paid to become your friend. He always had “a guy” for this or that.
It wasn’t about the money. It was his calling. The wages were just the icing on the cake.
Everyone loved him and called him by his nickname. People’s faces would light up whenever you talked about him. He was just such a joy to be around!
Because he didn’t have much of anything growing up and he experienced horrible events such as war, he saved the majority of his income. It just became ingrained in him. His environment greatly influenced him.
Growing up, I thought that there was something wrong with saving so much. If you have it, you might as well spend it, right?
Boy was I wrong. My grandpa did it right.
His only downfall was that he thought money would solve everything; that it would make everything better.
He didn’t have parents for the majority of his life and he certainly missed out on certain aspects on how to be a good parent, etc. but he just wanted us all to be “happy.” He had a rough idea of what a “perfect” family looked like. He would throw money at certain situations and expect the money to make things better and he’d become extremely frustrated when nothing changed.
I wish that would have been different for him. I wish that he could have been able to see things at face value and let them go. I wish that he could have accepted all of our quirks and imperfections. I wish he could have been more at peace with how things were.
But nonetheless, he never chased money. He was fortunate enough to do something that he enjoyed doing and actually make money from it.
Starting out as a homeless, unintelligent orphan could have been enough to break the strongest of people, but my grandpa persevered, and he was able to live out his American Dream.
He used money as a vehicle to provide a comfortable life for his wife, his children, and the rest of his family.
I don’t think he ever took out a loan or mortgage. He was never at the mercy of a payment.
He had the discipline to pay cash for everything; houses, cars, vacations. You name it. I’m pretty sure he never had a credit card. He had the discipline to lead a “normal” life when he had the means to dabble in more of life’s luxuries.
He was a good man.
He was my grandpa.
I’d like to think that I’m making him proud.
* * *
I sell old books using BookScouter. I sell stuff on Etsy and eBay. I used Shopify to run my old online business. I make some money by taking pictures of my grocery receipts with Ibotta. I’m Marc the Shark , this is the Self Employed Movement, and yes, these are affiliate links.