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Grandad’s First New Pair of Blue Jeans

By Grant Kleiman

This isn't really the story of a pair of pants. It’s the story of the most heart-wrenching experience of my grandad’s childhood. It’s the story that inspired me to live a healthy lifestyle.

It was a cold, winter night in March of 1949. Grandad has just turned eight years old. His mother sent him with his two older brothers, Eddie and Johnny, and his older sister, Mary, to find their father.

Grandad’s parents were divorced, something pretty rare in the 1940’s. His father was living in Mrs. Allen’s boarding house in north Newark. The four kids were scared and cold as they knocked on the door asking their father for money to buy food. They ended up spending the night on the floor of the boarding house.

The next morning they all went to the diner for breakfast, the barbershop for new haircuts and then to the "5 & 10 cent" store where my grandad got his first new pair of blue jeans. He was pleased that his father was being so loving and excited about a cool new pair of jeans.

Soon my grandad and his siblings were in a big, old building in downtown Newark. Their father went inside one of the rooms to talk with a woman who worked there. The kids waited outside for a long time in a small windowless waiting room.

"In one moment my grandad’s life was turned upside down. His heart was broken."

A woman came out and asked Grandad and his brothers to take a little ride with her. They didn't want to leave their father and sister, but the woman assured them it would be okay. They drove with the woman until they arrived at a big gymnasium.

The next thing they knew about 100 boys started pouring into the room. They found out they were at Saint Joseph’s Orphanage for Boys in Englewood Cliffs.

That first night at the orphanage was the loneliest night of Grandad’s life. Johnny and Eddie were sent to the dormitories for older boys. He was terrified. His 8-year-old heart was breaking. He cried himself to sleep that night. Some kid told him to shut up. He pulled the sheet up over his head and cried silently.

That Friday was laundry day. Grandad put his brand new pair of jeans in the laundry bag. That was the last time he ever saw them.

In March of 1949, just a few days past his eighth birthday, my grandad got his first new pair of jeans. It was also the first day of five years he spent at St. Joseph’s Orphanage. In one moment my grandad’s life was turned upside down. His heart was broken.

Granddad taught me that life is full of challenges and heartaches. He says that the measure of people isn’t how far they rise to the top, but how they bounce back when things get tough. Grandad taught me the power of resilience – no matter what challenges we face.

Grandad is a model for healthy living – both physically and mentally. Here are some of the lessons he taught me.

Nuts.com Healthy Eating Scholarship Winner Grant Grown with Grandad

Walk every day. Every morning Grandad heads out the door for his walk. He says a walk in the morning is a gift for your entire day. Walking while Grandad tells awesome stories instilled a love of walking in almost all of his children and grandchildren, including me. People around our town sometimes comment they see our family walking. Not only does it keep us healthy, I think it makes us closer.

Say hello. For Grandad there are no strangers, only friends we haven’t met yet. Grandad taught me to say “hello” to everyone. He said you might get a job offer. You might get a marriage proposal. You might meet your new best friend. It all starts with “hello.” Reaching out to other people keeps me mentally healthy and connected. Posting, testing and tweeting are fine, but connecting in person gives me a serotonin boost in a way connecting online can’t match.

Eat from farms and fields, not factories. Grandad taught me to eat food that comes from nature. I guess it’s not surprising that my family has a garden and fruit trees in our yard. We also contribute vegetables to the food shelf, so people having a tough time can eat healthy. We shop the perimeter of the grocery store to fill our cart with the stuff we’re supposed to eat.

Nuts.com Healthy Eating Scholarship Winner Grant and Grandad Gardening

Leave a place better than you found it. One of the most important lessons Grandad taught me was to make a difference in my small corner of the universe. For many years Grandad was the leading volunteer in recruiting blood donors in his county. (I think he recruited people as he walked around saying hello to everyone!) Grandad taught me to serve others. My dad is a veteran, so serving disabled and elderly veterans is something my family does together.

Why go crazy, when you can go nuts? My grandad is the most fun, playful person I know. He taught me that life is supposed to be fun. Like every family, our family has had our share of stresses and tough times, but laughter really is the best medicine. Staying positive helps keep us physically and mentally healthy.

Oh yeah, there is one more thing. My grandad taught me to forgive. Being dumped in an orphanage by your own father is a pretty good grudge to hold, but Grandad was never bitter. He said forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. Although I never knew my great-grandfather, when I visit New Jersey, my father gives me tours of his old stomping grounds in Newark, Belleville and Nutley. He never speaks of his father with anything but love.

Who inspires me to live a healthy lifestyle? That’s easy. It’s my grandad. He inspires me to walk every day, eat food from the earth, say hello, make a difference, forgive and go a little nuts. Thanks Grandad! I love you and appreciate everything you taught me.

Nuts.com Healthy Eating Scholarship Winner and Grandad at the Beach

About the Author

Grant Kleiman grew up in Hutchinson, Minnesota, where he spent the duration of his youth and adolescence before attending Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minnesota. This summer, he is preparing to attend Southwest Minnesota State University whilst pursuing a degree in Professional Writing and Design. After graduating, Kleiman intends to write about issues related to health and wellness.