Every fall, my Grandpa Curry would always have two things in his car and his red Ford pickup: a Plen-T-Pack of Big Red gum and ears of seed corn from the fall harvest. When I was a kid, I’d be chewing on a fresh stick of cinnamon gum listening all ears while Grandpa Ed would take me with him to survey cornfields and talk about our family business, in operation since 1935. He’d talk about the “4 F’s”: faith, family, friends and farm, and that nothing is automatic…that everything that’s worth something requires hard work and some effort. Most of all, I remember my grandpa being quite the storyteller.

The spring and summer of 1994, my grandpa gave me driving lessons on gravel country roads on our farm. Aside from an unusual approach that I drive in reverse the whole time, the driving lessons applied less to driving and more to life. [Note: Grandpa reasoned that anyone can drive forward, but not enough people know how to reverse a vehicle properly, so this is where we focused.]

He often stressed that “if God gave you talents, use them. Don’t waste them.” As his eyes scanned over the rows of soybeans and corn, Grandpa Curry talked about goals, ambition, and hard work. He’d talk about how uncommon it was to have a college education generations ago and that my ancestors (both men and women) had committed to earning college diplomas. Grandpa would outline the family tree, sharing stories about relatives I’ve never met and ensure their legacies lived on.

Between cues for left or right turns on the roads, Grandpa talked about being raised by a supportive family and the need to have religious beliefs and values. He would talk about my ancestors who were notable Catholic priests: Msgr. William J. Kerby and his nephew Fr. William Henry Russell. Kerby’s most notable involvement in Catholic social service was helping organize the National Conference of Catholic Charities in 1910, which is today known as Catholic Charities USA.

Grandpa would always find a way to mention “the two most important decisions in your life,” which he’d say with a smile, “are your life’s work and your life’s mate.” He’d reiterate that you’ve got to pursue your passions, likely understanding that farming was not one of mine. We’d talk about his and grandma’s world travels and learning from other cultures, but that no place was quite like home.

When the driving lesson was over, I’d steer the pickup home (forward this time and not in reverse!). I would later realize, when I was older, that I didn’t just learn how to drive. I learned lessons for life and discovered my heritage; and most importantly, I got to know my grandpa.