Jim and I spent amazing amounts of time with Gramma and Grampa Neal when we were kids. We would attend University of Akron basketball games with them during the winter months, and go bowling with them on Saturday mornings. We took trips with them — to places like Washington, D.C., Dearborn, Michigan, and Ocean City, New Jersey — and Sunday drives to places in Ohio like the Blue Hole or Edison’s birthplace. We ate meals with them, went to Cleveland Indians “Bat Day” doubleheaders with them, stayed in hotels with them, and went over to their house to spend the night on weekends. They came to watch our baseball games, to our birthday parties, and to school plays and recitals. We continued to get together as time passed and we all grew older, although those opportunities were not quite as frequent.
Because we spent so much time together, I feel like I got to know Grampa pretty well. What did I learn from him? Although Grampa was not the sort of person who would talk openly about his feelings — he was much too reserved and “old school” for that — it was obvious that he loved his family and valued his time with us. His actions in that regard spoke louder than words ever could. One of my favorite anecdotes about Grampa occurred on one of our trips to Ocean City, which was a resort town with a boardwalk. Jim and I wanted to ride bikes on the boardwalk, and Grampa apparently wanted to make sure that he could join us. One morning I looked out the window at the bike rental lot, and was amazed to see Grampa slowly riding a bike around the lot. Imagine — a successful bank president in his 60s learning to ride a bike so he could accompany his grandchildren! For many years Grampa also paid for family vacations where our family and Uncle Gilbert’s family got together for days of golf, cards, and catching up, and in later years he hosted an annual luncheon at the Portage Country Club in Akron where he would always give a speech that identified one recent accomplishment or noteworthy event on the part each person in attendance.
He was devoted to my grandmother and always treated her with great affection. Although she often kidded him, he never responded in kind. He was a firm believer in the “Protestant work ethic” and thought that employees should show loyalty and respect to their employers. He valued education, and always quizzed us about our schoolwork and our progress. He was very generous with others, but frugal in his personal habits. He thought if you were going to spend the time to do something — like bowling and golf, which were two of his passions — you should commit yourself to doing that thing well. He was competitive, and if we happened to beat him in bowling or golf, which was not easy because he was very good at both of them, he was not above using some mental gamesmanship to gain an advantage.
I don’t mean to suggest that Grampa was perfect, because he wasn’t. He had his share of prejudices and biases and blind spots, as we all do. But to my mind his good qualities overweighed his faults, and he was a figure who left an indelible impression. I hope that, if I ever have grandchildren, I can be as positive an influence for them as he has been for me. Although he has been dead for almost 12 years, I still think of him often. Happy Birthday, Grampa, wherever you are!