As his name suggests, Elmer Adelbert Giggey was born out in the country and back in the day. Most people will never hear of him. As much as I always liked him, I admit that just about everything I know about him, I learned at his funeral a few days ago. I know it’s not as poetic as, “Be Like Mike” or “We Like Ike,” but I think that being like my Uncle Elmer is a great way to be, and I’ll tell you why.
The Amazing Mr. Giggey
His story may seem unremarkable. He grew up during the Great Depression and served his country in World War II. He saved lives in battle and helped win peace and freedom for thousands more. When he returned, he married a young woman and drove a bread truck during those years they raised six children together. When the children were grown, he and his first wife parted ways.
He later married my aunt and welcomed her six children into his life. He treated that second set of six as if they had been his all along. He ran a construction company during those years and saved up enough money to buy a motor home for family road trips in the mountains.
He fished and hunted with his children, spending hours in their company while rarely catching or killing anything. As the last of his younger children left home, he retired and lived out his days among family and friends, demonstrating incredible strength amid suffering in the end.
He was a man with a quiet sense of humor who convinced his children that jackelopes were real and that tapioca pudding was actually made with frogs’ eggs. He told stories about discovering Spanish gold and spoke of imaginary characters, like Hard Hat Harry and Indian Bill, as if he knew them personally.
In the earlier years, on those Saturday nights at the ends of long weeks driving the bread truck, he would stay up and watch Jackie Gleason with one of his daughters. Children from his second marriage would later protest when he insisted on watching Hee Haw instead of Happy Days, and they were mortified when he occasionally dropped them off at school in the family motor home.
Once while a daughter wept, he quietly comforted her and withheld a few simple sentences of advice until she asked. When a son stole a roll of tape from the local store, Elmer taught him a better way without getting preachy, sending him back to the scene of the crime with enough money to pay extra and the courage to apologize. Uncle Elmer grew up in a time when the words, “I love you,” were rarely spoken, but he spoke them often to those he loved anyway.
One son was there when Elmer asked a client for payment on a construction job. The client reacted with ugly words before storming off. Uncle Elmer remained silent. When the man was gone, the boy asked his father why he didn’t say anything. Elmer replied, “It’s all right. He’s having a hard time right now.” His son was surprised when the man returned to apologize for his behavior and to pay Uncle Elmer even more than he owed.
The Width and Depth of Influence
A few people on this planet will touch millions of lives while they’re here. A select few may actually leave a legacy that goes on for a few years after they’re gone. As wonderful as they may be, even the most wealthy and well-known will eventually be forgotten by most of us, many of them while they’re still alive. As far and wide as our influence may spread, it will be short-lived if it doesn’t also penetrate deep into the hearts and minds of those who know us.
Here are three ways to influence others deeply (and widely too):
1. Live a wonderful life.
Learn to be balanced in the way you live your life. Notice the things you love while being open to even bigger and better things to come. Be true to your core values and willing to change your behavior as needed. Develop discipline while sustaining spontaneity. Be serious sometimes and have fun too. Learn when to speak up and when to be silent and simply listen.
2. Share your life with others.
Look for ways to make a difference for good in the lives of others. Be willing to make commitments to people and keep them. See the best in yourself and others, especially when no one else can. Be willing to open your heart and mind to other perspectives, to both suffer and celebrate with people. Learn to apologize and forgive quickly.
You don’t have to do anything fancy to make a difference in people’s lives. By small and simple means, you can make miracles happen over time. Remember that the most powerful influence you’ll ever have will be in the life of a child.
3. Tell your story like it is.
Tell people about yourself. Be open and honest about both your challenges and triumphs, without imposing upon those unable or unwilling to listen. Take responsibility for your setbacks and show gratitude for the contributions of others to your success. Keep a written record of your life as you go, and leave it for others to read and remember you whenever they’re ready.
A few hundred years from now, the grandchildren of Elmer Adelbert Giggey, along with the descendants of those he saved and served during his wonderful life, will number well into the millions. For generations to come, they will learn life-changing lessons from this gentle and noble soul, a man who most of them will never know in this life. Whether they remember his name or not, their lives will be better because he once lived.
A few dozen people attended Uncle Elmer’s funeral the other day. What mattered far more than the number of those paying their respects was the quality of love they felt for him. He was never rich or famous, as the world measures such things, but Uncle Elmer was obviously influential. Let’s all be like him, each in our own way.
How do you think we can be more deeply influential in the lives of those around us?