There was no way to describe how nervous I was when I first met Nick’s Grandpa Borchers back in 2004. I’ve never met anyone’s grandparents before and the idea of meeting them was so nerve-wracking, I even called my mom beforehand to talk out my jitters.
She didn’t help much. “Oh, this is a very big occassion. Make sure you wear a very nice outfit. Address them properly. Be yourself, but don’t talk too much….” The suggestions went on and on.
That only added to the anxiety. Even my Dad made a follow-up call when I got home. “Well,” he sounded like one of my grad school buds after I went out on a date, “what did you end up wearing?”
Dick was sitting in his recliner when I timidly walked over to be introduced. My parents advice was ringing in my head. His smile and handshake put me at ease and I let out a quick breath of relief that I got through the first five minutes. I doubt he ever knew how nervous I was to meet him, so I doubt he knew how much I appreciated that big, sincere smile that he gave me. I’m already a fan of electric smiles and infectious laughs, and I honestly don’t think there are many better than Dick’s. I can see his smile in his children, especially Rog and Linda, and it always makes me smile in recognition of its origin.
But my favorite memory of him had to have been when Nick and I came back from Nicaragua in 2007 after doing a mission trip together. Nick and I were separated into different groups and I was sent to dig ditches, deep into the earth, to help in the process of making latrines.
I could barely pick up the equipment, it was so heavy, and when I lowered myself into the ditch, I was, literally, in a hole so deep I couldn’t feel the wind at all. And then I started to feel like I was baking in the soil. The sun was beating on me and no wind could reach me. I tried to think positive thoughts, but the labor was just too intense for me. After a few hapless attempts, I started coughing and got dizzy and climbed out. I returned to my ditch several times, but it was as obvious as a cloud on a perfect blue sky that I was not making much progress. I defended myself to Nick, “I was BAKING, baking I tell you, in that ditch. I felt like I was going to pass out!”
On our first trip to Russia after Nicaragua, Nick promptly told his grandparents of my suffering and how I was clearly not cut out for manual labor in the sun.
I didn’t know how Dick would react to that story of my wimpy-ness, given that he was a hard-working farmer who could have at one time probably dug ten ditches in a day.
He loved it.
Over the years, every holiday or visit when I leaned over to greet him and shake his hand, he’d hold on to my hand for an extra second and ask, “Have you dug any ditches lately?” His hearty laugh followed when I smiled and emphatically shook my head NO and retold the details of my failure as a dirt digger. He really got a kick out of that. And Nick always got a kick out of his Grandpa getting a kick out of it.
I only knew Dick for the past six years, the last years of his life. Oftentimes, I marvel at how we can meet people in the last turn of their life, just as we are in the main throttle of our own. What a gift it is.
In a loving and resting peace, I imagine him now. And it’s because of that mega-watt smile he shared with me that first day back in 2004 that I often try to smile at newcomers and make others comfortable in my home. It’s always the small things in life that make a difference and leave an impact on others.
I’m just one of the many, I’m sure, who were touched by his life, family, and kindness.