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My Grandfather's Morning Routine

My grandfather’s full name was Victor Aldred Blythe, but everyone in town knew him as Vic.

I’m not sure what time Vic woke up every morning to begin his routine. When I woke up, Vic was already up. I remember the aroma of coffee percolating downstairs, the blare of the transistor radio and the faint smell of smoke wafting upstairs. Often, I would come downstairs to find my grandfather at the kitchen table eating a big slice of apple pie for breakfast. My, grandmother would yell downstairs, “Vic? Are you up? Get Sarah some cereal.”

Beside the big slice of pie on the fine china plate would be two generous hunks of extra old cheddar fresh from the local Pine River cheese factory. To wash it all down, Vic enjoyed two big mugs of percolated coffee with regular sugar and a good dollop of half and half cream. Breakfast was never complete without a couple of Player’s Plain filterless cigarettes to finish it all off.

So here is the secret to a successful day - presenting my Grandfather’s power breakfast -

12 oz Apple Pie

6 oz Extra Old Cheddar Cheese

2 Mugs Super Strong Coffee

2 Player’s Plain Cigarettes

This daily breakfast worked well for my grandfather.

Personally, I like peanut butter and jelly on toast and I am not sure what the perfect breakfast is, but here’s what I know about morning. Reading the details of someone else’s ‘perfect morning’ to-do list may take away your appetite for breakfast. Perhaps, the secret is to get up when it works for you, eat what you want and stick to your own plan. Listicles are for kids. But I digress, let’s get back to Vic’s morning routine. And what a routine it was.

After breakfast, Vic, would stand up, promptly turn off the radio, put on his hat and get on with his day. Vic then strolled down the main street towards work, saying hello to his neighbours, shopkeepers and strangers alike, always meeting lots of characters along the way. Work was a garage with my grandfather’s name on it, where Vic sold Chrysler’s, fixed cars and talked to colleagues and customers all day. Reg, the mechanic became Vic’s best friend for over 40 years. Often neighbours came into the garage, just to say hello and share a tidbit or two. My grandfather loved to tell jokes and stories and to make people laugh. Vic would brag, “People like me.” The reverse was also true.

So here’s some advice from Vic for a successful day.

Talk to Humans. Every Chance You Get. Yes, Strangers too.

And here’s another.

Tell Stories. Good ones.

And a third.

Listen Hard.

How do you think Vic got all his great stories, anyway?

(Sometimes, when designing the future, it’s prudent to pay attention to what we did well in the past, like face-to-face conversation.)

Vic had a long successful life with a beautiful wife and daughter and a nice modest home, where he lived happily, productively and perhaps even joyfully, for over 50 years. This house had a dining room for eight, a comfortable living room, a sit-in kitchen, a basement pantry filled to the brim and a guest room with twin beds and enough room out back to grow his well-loved rose bushes. What more could they want? Vic’s business made enough money for an annual trip to Florida and everything he needed, which was not a lot. What Vic needed in life was the love of his family, meaningful work, some fun every day and just enough space, time and money to entertain the people he cared about, and enough wisdom to appreciate all of it. Vic knew when to ask for more and also knew when to be satisfied with all that he had.

Here are two opposing tips for you.

Ask the Universe for More.

Know When You Have Enough.

If anyone came to the front door of Vic’s house in Durham, and I mean anyone, Vic would call out from his comfy arm chair, next to a beautiful pine ashtray stand, “Come sit down and chat awhile!” Whether that person wanted tea, or a Coke or a rye whiskey on the rocks, Vic would welcome anyone into the living room and regale them with tales full of great characters, escapades and one liners. When I dropped by, I was invariably given a Carlsberg and a date square, a bunch of kisses and hugs and always a belly laugh. It was my favourite place to visit. Did I mention my grandfather also looked like John Wayne?

My grandfather, against his will, was once invited to make a speech at my grandmother’s annual ladies guild meeting. On the appointed day in the large town hall, Vic looked out at the audience of all the ladies in their Sunday best, and opened his welcome address with this, “Good afternoon! Seeing all you ladies out there reminds me of the old adage, “Are you going for fun, or are you taking your wife?” The room was silent. Nobody laughed or cracked a smile, but it made for a good story for many years.

Somedays it’s okay to take a chance and say what you really think, break your routine or shake things up just a little. Bust a Move.

One of the last times I saw my grandfather was at a funeral in an outdoor churchyard near the shores of Lake Huron. Right in the middle of a somber funeral service, my grandfather, who was 84 at the time and was not exactly sure where he was or why, looked up at the big, blue sky, and said, “Sally (his wife), how about a cigarette?” My grandmother was not amused, but suddenly there was a smile at every pew.

In between an old grandfather clock and a telephone table in his front hall, Vic had a small black plastic plaque with his favourite saying, which Vic repeated to anyone who came through the door.

“If I can’t take it with me, I’m not going.” In the end, Vic lived for another year and did NOT take it with him. Vic left all the good stuff behind - the stuff you can only see with your heart - the stories, the love, the loyalty, the laughter and some learnings for good measure, and of course enough money for my grandmother to live another decade.

Vic lived well every day. So did Sally.

There is no magic to-do list which will guarantee success.

No secret breakfast, which will get you there faster.

No set routine which will bring you fame and fortune.

First, you need to decide where you want to go.

Then, choose your own breakfast, design your own routine and find your own path. Stop comparing yourself to other people. Get your own road.

Everyday, get to work to make it happen, and be good to people along the way. As Jim Carey once ironically claimed,"I can tell you that the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is."

I wish my grandfather was still here to talk and laugh with and share stories. I wonder what Vic would say about navigating these hectic and fast-changing times.

Here is Vic’s Manifesto for a successful life as I imagine it may be in 2017, or any year

  1. Eat what you want for breakfast.

  2. Turn off the radio and get to work.

  3. Show up and work hard.

  4. Talk to everyone.

  5. Seize your gifts and put them to use everyday.

  6. Be true to yourself.

  7. Find your own path.

  8. Make people happy.

  9. Enjoy what you’ve got.

  10. Take time to smell the roses.

But of course, the point is to write your own. Life’s too short to follow someone else’s routine.

What do you eat for breakfast? :)

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