Remembering H: A tribute to my grandfather (November 19, 1915 – May 3, 2012)

How do you say goodbye to someone who has graced this earth for over 96 long, wonderful years?  It is impossible.  I don’t think you ever can.

My grandfather during the cocktail reception at my wedding, July 8, 2000, doing what he loved best.  Playing his beautiful, melodic songs on the piano.  

My grandfather, Howard Everett Anderson, was born on November 19, 1915 in small town Illinois to Charles and Selma Anderson*.  He enjoyed a satisfying yet challenging childhood growing up with five brothers in the midst of the Great Depression.  Times were tough and money was extremely tight.  For many years he lived in poverty having to fish in a nearby polluted river for their evening meal.  However, sometimes adversity makes you stronger.  Through difficult times, my grandfather and his brothers learned lifelong skills of working hard and never taking anything for granted.  Skills that would be engrained inside him for his entire life and be passed on to his children as well as his grandkids.

In 1936, my grandfather moved to Madison, Wisconsin where he worked the graveyard shift at a diner so he could pay his way through college.  It was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (also my alma mater where I met my husband Paul many years later) that my grandfather met the love of his life, Emily Kneip, who would share the next 62 years of her life with him.

Howard and Emily married shortly after receiving their college degrees, a rarity in those times, and they shared a long and happy marriage that lasted for 62 years until my grandmother’s death in 2003.  They raised three wonderful boys of their own, my father (the eldest), my uncle Terry (the middle) and their son Jeff (the youngest).  Shortly after my father was born in 1942, my grandfather was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Navy and was sent to the Pacific Theater.  He spent several years at sea in the navy, away from his wife and newborn son but survived the war and was sent home in early 1946.  My uncle Terry was born shortly thereafter.

In 1951 after the birth of his last son Jeff, my grandfather joined Sears and Roebuck and they moved to Richfield, Minnesota where he raised his three boys as Terry would say “teaching them the fundamentals of growing up male in the postwar era —-how to hit a baseball, run out for a pass, rebound a basketball, catch a walleye, and shoot a pheasant.  He taught his sons the meaning of responsibility”.

The years raising his sons were perhaps some of the best years of his life.  He worked hard, had a wonderful wife and three unique sons who would all prove to be successful, productive citizens in their own right.  He couldn’t have been more proud!  By the age of 60, my grandfather was able to retire and move south like many Minnesotans do.  Howard and Emily chose Harlingen, Texas where they met many friends, played golf and saw the world.  They also spent their summers in Northern Minnesota in a small mining town called Silver Bay which was only a four-hour drive from the Twin Cities.

What Grandpa cherished most in life was his special relationship he had with his sons.  Over the years, together they enjoyed many father-sons weekends of golf, drinking beer and laughing.  He was fortunate to live a long, healthy and happy life without any real illness or trouble.  He was able to attend both his grand-daughters weddings, play three-generational golf with his son and his grandkids, and even meet his great-grandchildren.  He was a happy man and played his beautiful, melodic tunes on the piano, music from the Great Depression era, throughout his long life.  His love for his family, music and life will forever be engrained in my mind.  I will never forget him.

(*A special thanks to my uncle Terry who wrote my grandfather’s obituary and I have taken it upon myself to paraphrase and rewrite parts of it for this post.  Thanks TA!!!!)

Photo of my grandfather and grandmother outside my childhood home in the summer of 1994.  Ironically enough, this used to be their home and when my parents had the three of us kids, and my grandparents retired in Texas, we bought it from them.  


My grandfather was an incredibly special man.  A gifted piano player, a man with a soft heart and hardworking mentality.  A rare find in this day in age.  I’ll always remember him asking us if we wanted to hear him play a song.  He had an incredible gift for music and played most of his melodic songs by ear.  He never read music.  It all came from his heart.  And his voice was so strong and lovely it brought tears to my eyes.  Growing up, to hear him play the piano was one of the best things in my life.  Something I always looked forward to and something that I’ll always hold dear to me as long as I live.

I’ll never forget him playing the piano at my wedding.  He was 85 years old and had just walked me down the aisle alongside my dad.  You see, he never had a daughter.  Only boys.  He loved his three boys yet for him, his granddaughters were special.

My grandfather and dad walking me sobbing down the aisle. 

My tears were contagious.  My father lost it at this point as well but H held us strong and we walked down the long aisle together as one. 

He always doted on my sister and I while we spent our Christmas vacations at their home in Harlingen Texas.  As he got older he got a little grumpy yet he always had a soft spot in his heart for the girls.  Every single year we’d pack up our family station wagon and drive for two to three full days and nights to reach my grandparents house in the south of Texas.  It was a long, boring drive especially back in the days of no entertainment.  We fought like cats and dogs, played sign games, sang, fought some more and drove my parents crazy.  But once we got to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in Texas, the freshly baked cheese bread was always waiting as was Grandpa’s piano.

Grandpa instilled a love for music on my whole family.  My sister and I took up piano lessons as well and still play to this day.  My brother took up the guitar.  But I never had the gift that H did.  I could never sit by the piano for hours on end playing music from the inside of my head or from deep within my heart.  I always had to use my book save for the few songs that I actually did memorize.  Grandpa’s book was in his head.  And in his heart.

Born in an era of the Great Depression, H as he was often called lived in poverty and struggled to make ends meet.  His shrewd, cheap way of never wanting to spend a dime on a thing frustrated us all yet stayed with him until his grave.  It is something of a miracle in this day of age where consumerism and capitalism are the rulers of this world.

I always was impressed by the fact that he had so little in material things yet had so much in life.  Love, happiness, health and a wonderful wife and extended family who loved him for 96 years.  In my opinion, there is really not much more you could ever ask for or want in life than that.  To have a long, wonderful life filled with love and joy is the best gift God could ever give someone.

I feel so blessed to have had my grandfather for some many years of my life.  He was there for so many important milestones, my high school graduation, college graduation, my wedding and he got to meet both of my children.

Here are some of the photos that I’ll always hold dear to my heart.

Grandpa walking me down the aisle.  

My grandmother passed away only three years later.  I was so thankful she was able to be at my wedding!  My grandfather surprised and amazed us all by going on living almost another ten years after my grandma’s death.  

Grandpa playing the piano for two-year-old Max.  

Grandpa meeting his great-granddaughter Sophia for the first time.  

Grandpa, may you rest in peace and be reunited with your beloved wife Emily!  I will always remember you, love you and miss you dearly!  

I love you, H!

Your loving granddaughter, Nicole


  1. jen borgstrom

    Thank you Nicole–what a beautiful tribute. I am sure H is smiling down on you for remembering him in such an honorable manner. It brought great joy (and tears) to see the wonderful pictures of H with you and the kids. Thanks for sharing–love mom

  2. Jennifer Burden

    I love this, Nicole. Your tribute, I’m sure, made his life. 🙂 So sweet. My thoughts are with you during this time.

    Jen 🙂

    • Thanks Jennifer! It felt great to use the power of writing to say goodbye. I spend the whole day thinking about it and wouldn’t quit until I had it written. It was my way to say goodbye especially since we are not having a funeral per his wishes. He outlived everyone! So this was my eulogy to him!

  3. My condolences Nicole. As your mom says, what a beautiful tribute to your grandpa. It made me cry. You can be happy that he had a long and fulfilling life.
    It’s the anniversary of my mum’s death on the 10th, Mother’s Day in Guatemala. Always a bitter reminder. I can’t believe 4 years have gone by already.
    May your grandpa rest in peace.

    • Ah, Lucy that’s right. I’m sorry about that and on Mother’s Day as well. It makes me feel so blessed that I had my grandpa for so many years. He was happy, healthy and loved. What more can you ask for in life? No money could buy or fulfill this kind of joy. He was a good role model of that fact. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose your mother so young too. My sister’s husband lost his mom when he was only 10 and he has never ever forgotten her or stopped loving her, even 30 years later. It makes you realize how important it is to tell people that you love them and enjoy each day. Thanks Lucy for the kind words and wish I could be there to give you a hug on Mother’s Day. :)N

      • Thanks so much Nicole. You never forget your parents. The pain gets easier but you never stop missing them. I agree, it’s so important to show and tell your loved ones how much you care about them and yes if you’re happy, healthy and loved then you’ve lived a good life.
        Sending you a big hug and thinking of you especially at this difficult time.

    • Thanks Jennifer! I feel very lucky and blessed. I will sure miss him but always have the fond memories of what a wonderful papa he was.

    • Thanks Kathy! Hard to believe I had him for so many years! He was a wonderful, unique and special guy. A rare breed! I will always treasure my memories of him and hope to instill some of his values of handwork, music, and never giving up, to my kids.

    • Thanks Debra! I know he knew we all loved him dearly. I can close my eyes now and see him at the piano playing his songs. I’m so lucky to have had him for so many years of my life. Very blessed.

  4. Nicole – what a beautiful tribute to a strong man, I’m sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family at this time.

    Two weeks ago my husband lost his 96 year old adopted father, it was difficult. But we must celebrate his life as he lived so long. One of his parting phrases was that he didn’t make it to 100, like many Sardinians.

    Wishing you peace. Blessed be.

    • Wow, many Sardinians live to 100! Must be that special Italian island lifestyle, huh. That is wonderful! Yes, to live a long, happy and healthy life is rather a miracle today. Also to never of had a major illness or disease is unbelievable. I sure loved my grandpa. I’m so incredibly happy that he got to see me reach so many milestones too…marriage and great grandkids. Pretty amazing life!

  5. Jen

    Thank you for writing that Nicole about Grandpa! Of course, you brought many tears to my eyes but it is such a wonderful tribute to his life and how special he was.

  6. What a beautiful way to say goodbye, thanks for sharing it with your readers. Prayers for all of you during this difficult time.

    • Thanks Lauren! I felt so good about this post. We’ll always have it too, to share with my kids when they get older. Hope you are doing well! I’m missing your posts! 🙂

  7. How lucky you were to have had him so long in your life – and the lives of your children! I’m sure writing this loving memoriam gave you a greater understanding of that, and a way to express your feelings so that they can be handed down the generations.
    Take care Nicole

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