Conversations with my Grandfather: Little Birds and Flies

by John Zajaros on December 17, 2009

What Would You Do if Your Mom or Dad Could See You Now?

When I was growing up I would have long talks with my grandfather, almost one a week. I idolized my grandfather and would spend every moment I could at my grandparents’ house, or at my grandfather’s business. I loved to be at either place because it was his in every way, a reflection of the man, and because I could be near him. To this day I have a picture of my grandfather, along with his friend Father Martin the founder of Boy’s town, on my wall in my office.

What used to be so cool was every once in a while Gramps would be in a really good mood, having had a particularly great day I suppose, so he would take me to Carl’s Chop House in Detroit, Michigan. Carl’s was an awesome place for a little kid because it had the most amazing lobster tank. I would stand there until instructed to take my seat and ponder the fate of the lobsters…some bigger than I was! Or so it seemed. Memories of Carl’s are good ones, family dinners and Christmas parties!

Occasionally, after work and being in a talkative mood, which something quite unusual for him, my grandfather would teach me something about life.

Of course I was in total hero worship mode, I still am. You see, I loved and respected that giant of a man. I always looked forward to the talks and treasured each and every thought he’d share. Listening intently to this man, a god of sorts, a person everyone in the place seemed to know, I remember every word of every talk over so many years; and, so many years ago.

Interestingly, I still remember one talk in particular almost like it was yesterday. I had just earned my first pay check for a full week of back breaking work.

It was the summer of 1965 and even for an 11 year old kid who just wanted to play with his buddies, it was an amazing time. The amount of the check didn’t matter, it was the experience. I still have the picture of my grandfather handing me that check, $50…all the money in the world in 1965.

After the lobster tank, the check, and an amazing dinner, my grandfather lit up a big cigar. Carl’s was that kind of place. He leaned back in his leather-tufted chair, shifted a bit, and I knew we were in for a long one!

My grandfather looked at me and said,

“I am going to ask you just one question; and, I don’t want an answer until tomorrow. I want you to think about your response and I want you to tell me why the question I’m going to ask you is so important, perhaps the most important question I will ever ask you, OK?”

Not answer him? What did he mean, why was this question going to be so important?

I shook my head, of course. You always shook your head and agreed with Gramps…that’s just the way it was.

He smiled, nodded, and took in a deep breath. Then, he asked me the following question:

“Over the past week, while working for me, and over the past month, while you have been staying with your grandmother and I; again, there is just one question I want you to answer, but not until you have had plenty of time to consider the question and your answer fully:

“What would your mother and father think of you and your behavior, your actions and the thoughts behind those actions, if they could see everything?

“In other words, would your mother and father be proud of you, of your thoughts and deeds over the past week, over the last month, if they were watching you the whole time and you didn’t know they were there?”

Wow, I was dumbfounded! What a question!

I started to open my mouth and he held up his hand in order to shush me, he simply shook his head and I understood.

Tomorrow,” I said.

He nodded.

Well, I thought about that question all night. I thought about all the times I didn’t think anyone was watching and I thought about my thoughts at cetain points over the last 30 days.

Then I had a horrible thought:

Did he know something he wasn’t telling me? Did he have someone watching me? Did he overhear me when I thought I was alone? Was I talking in my sleep? Did he hear me back in the parts department when I thought no one was listening? Did he….

No, of course not!

Then it hit me, the answer to his question.

Yes! I would be ashamed of myself! I certainly would not want my parents to have been a “fly on the wall” or a “little bird,” as my grandmother used to say, over the last 30 days.

No way, now how!

I got it!

Well, later that day my grandfather called me into his office and I went, tail between my legs and head bowed.

Things got real quiet, he didn’t say a word.

Finally, I looked up and he was smiling and nodding.

I smiled back…he knew, I thought!

Then, he spoke. “Do you understand what I asked?”

I nodded.

He then asked me the ultimate question. “Do you understand?”

I nodded and said, “Yes, I do…and I’m sorry!”

He smiled, nodded, and said,

“Never forget how it felt at the precise moment when you realized what I was asking and how you were going to have to answer it!”

Then it was my turn to smile and nod.

I never wanted to feel like that again, like there would be a time when my parents would be ashamed of me and my thoughts, words and/or deeds. From that moment until today, I always ask myself this question:

If the people I love the most knew what I was thinking, if they had a window into my soul, would they be proud or sickened? If I can’t answer yes to the former and no to the latter it is time for a change or, at the very least, and agonizing reappraisal.

Interestingly, we all have our moments and we all have our regrets. However, if we wish to be proud of ourselves, and have those important to us be proud of us too, it pays to remember the question and apply it in our daily lives.

Do I still have my moments?

We all do!

But they are fewer and farther in between, in part because I have grown up but also because of that larger than life character and a talk near the lobster tank in the summer of 1965.

Here’s that question in today’s terms, in terms an adult can understand:

If someone followed you around all day with a video camera, what would they see? And, more importantly, what would you see about your Self, your real and true Self?

How about commenting on this? Let me know about your little bird moments and/or talks with your grandparents!



Professor John P. J. Zajaros, Sr.
216-712-6526 (home)
216-539-7412 (office)
Skype: johnzajaros1

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

National lottery syndicate January 3, 2010 at 6:48 pm

Excellent post, this might sound weird but you have encouraged me to get my finances in order.


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