I am not that kind of person that just quietly sits and waits for what is coming. I do not believe in faith, I rather have a control over things that are in the zone of my direct influence. Especially when it comes to the question how to make this world a better place to live. For that reason one might say that I have a Nose for trouble.
However, I still have the inner desire that makes me constantly go forward, the will to do something special. Not because of self-conceit but I still see many imperfections around me that need to be fixed. I cannot do everything so I am constantly thinking whether I follow the right direction.
This leads me to the fact that I have a very close example of what a man's life could be. From its very beginning till the end. Moreover, this is a way I would like to explain why the relation I have with my grandfather was so special to me.
Also, I am not going to summarize the sad facts about the end of the life. Mark Little did that very well some time ago. I would rather pick up the things I have learnt from this great example I had in my close family. Plus I want some of these things to be remembered.
My grandfather was born on October 18th 1925. The first world war was over, the second did not start yet but nobody knew. Many things were very different, there were no personal computers, no antibiotics (first commercially available in 1932)...
The economy situation in the former Czechoslovakia was not that bad and there was a promise of a great era coming. This did not come true and the Second world war started. My grandfather was 13 and he joined a guerilla (partisan) group fighting against Nazis. Once my grandfather stole a Mauser C96 from a German officer. An immediate death sentence would be clear when he had been caught. He used to say: "I could have been dead like thousand times.". This demonstrates courage to me and that you have to be brave and take risks if you are following the right path and you are living with your core principles. It is of course important to carefully select those principles (I might write about mine later).
There wasn't any long lasting happy era when the war was over as you might expect. The communists took over the rule in Czechoslovakia and they were not fun guys to play with. I would recommend everybody to read some basic facts about the 1953 Monetary Reform to get an idea.
So starting from ground zero, living in very bad conditions in a part of a warehouse (storage), my grandfather did not loose faith and simply went forward. When he was on his mandatory army service for two years, he was an army photographer. He created his own mixtures for developing photos and demonstrated a real passion for this "modern" art. My aunt was born around 1954, my father followed her in 1957.
The sixties were little better, there was again a glare of a light at the end of the tunnel. The atmosphere was more loose, people were able to travel abroad more, it was possible to play English songs on radio, the freedom of speech looked almost possible. Until the Soviets said no in the night between August 20th and 21st in 1968. The screws were tightened for another 20 years.
My grandfather became a Manager of the division for foreign automobile spare parts in Mototechna (the only company selling cars in Czechoslovakia, source only in Czech). Many people tried to destroy him on his career path but by sustaining high moral values and not following any dirty rules, they had only a little chances. Once it helped him that there was a Minister of agriculture with the same family name. My grandfather was openly picking holes in the company's management and a rumor started that he is so brave because his relative is a minister (which was not true). But as long as he was right there was only a little to object.
Many people were coming to him to ask him for a favour - they usually needed some spare part for their western cars that was not available on the market. They were also offering bribes immediately. My grandfather just did his job right. He tried hard until he managed to get that part. He did not take the bribe so he made many friends and acquaintances. This helped the whole family when we needed a good doctor for example.
My grand-grandfather was a rifle manufacturer. He also had a printer around the beginning of the 20th century. The Germans took them everything as both of these abilities were dangerous to them. So this rose another passions of my grandfather - guns and books. He was a professional hunter - like the one that feeds animals the whole year in the wood and then shoots them. He said that they would proliferate too much but I never bought that idea. However, he collected and read books related to anything he was doing: photography, weaponry, hunting, economy, customer care, traveling (see the Czechoslovakia adventurers Hanzelka and Zikmund), playing chess (I never won over him), fiction from all the world famous authors...
Before he started doing anything, he first studied a literature on the subject. While not having a university degree he had a great overview on almost any subject. Now there is a library in his flat. I developed him an application to create an index of all these books and spent the summer holidays in 2000 with him creating it. There are around 7000 books. Even in the wardrobes and closets where you would expect clothes, there are books!
My grandfather never stopped learning new things and kept himself aligned with the state-of-art in technology and computer science. This created a strong contrast between him and other grandfathers I saw around. Old people usually keep telling that everything was great 40 years ago and young people are all spoilt. I never heard that from my grandfather and I do not think this is true. I can see why it is easier and comfortable to simply stop where I am. Fortunately, I never saw this as an option for me.
When I demonstrated interest for electronics when I was a kid, my grandfather gave me a lot of books on that topic. I did not think about anything bigger at that age and I dreamt of a career of a repairman of electronic devices. I was always curious how things work, so when my grandfather bought a first computer Didaktik M (which was a Czechoslovakia clone of ZX Spectrum) I immediately started investigating how it works. The games were boring and I was discovering Basic programming. But how come my programs were not that fast as the original games?
In early 90's, my grandfather bought Commodore 64 in Vienna. This one was much cooler but even harder to understand as there was nobody around to teach me and manuals were in German. Also no books were available around. I already did not have this computer when I realized that there was an underlying assembly language that allowed better efficiency of the programs than Basic v2.
All in all, it was my grandfather who showed me the bigger picture and brought me to the computers.
He managed to learn working with a PC when he was 68 years old. In the environment where I grew up this was a typical no-go. People in their fifties were all scared: "I do not want to touch it, I am afraid I would break it!". He needed it for his work - he was an administrator and a bookkeeper for several properties owned by his friends. He did that until all his clients died some time around 2000. So he did not retire actually.
Short after 2000 he bough a digital camera and a color inkjet printer. He was able to take a picture of his friends visiting him and immediately print it. You should see those ladies admiring him. My grandmother died in 1993 so we encouraged him to have a look around. But he always said that he did not wanted to have a crush on an old hag. His theory was that the woman's age should be half the age of the man plus seven ;-)
Sadly almost all of his friends died many years ago.
After a very long adventurous life he was perfectly ready to die. Until the last summer he was able to completely take care of himself. Unfortunately because of a bad hearth condition he had to permanently move to a retirement house/hospital.
During my last conversation with him, he told me: "I did not expect the dying to be so hard, I just thought I would die and that's it. I do not like it this way, I hope to die soon. I am sorry but I cannot make it to your wedding the next year".
He died couple of days later on November 24th 2014 aged 89.
Is there anything he could take away with him? Any of these 7000 books? Any achievement he did? Who did he influence in his life except me? What is then really important in one's life?
The obituary notice below translates the last line of the following verse by Rabindranath Tagore (aka Rabi Thakur).
Traveller, must you go?
The night is still and the darkness swoons upon the forest.
The lamps are bright in our balcony, the flowers all fresh, and the youthful eyes still awake.
Is the time for your parting come?
Traveller, must you go?
We have not bound your feet with our entreating arms.
Your doors are open. Your horse stands saddled at the gate.
If we have tried to bar your passage it was but with our songs.
Did we ever try to hold you back it was but with our eyes.
Traveller, we are helpless to keep you. We have only our tears.