He sits in a chair in his living room, near the big picture window that looks out to a towering, shady oak tree in the corner of his front yard. The last I saw of him he liked to play his tiny remote, video slot machine game. He would play for hours and when the opportunity arose he would make the forty five minute drive to Dubuque Iowa, where the Riverboat Casino was docked and hit the real machines.

Across the road and down the lane from him, are fields of corn and beans all bordered and often surrounded by these sweet smelling woods of Northern Illinois. The smell of fresh cut hay is carried by the winds that have blown upwards for over 150 years across his property. Up and over the bluffs of the Mississippi River which flows lazily below. It is a good place to be, a simple place, a place where your life and the years can pass as quickly as the sun rises and sets.

He was born just across the pasture in a small farmhouse 86 years ago and would never leave this small one mile square area. It was a time when the prosperity of this country was on the verge of collapsing and we were beginning to sink into the Great Depression.

His family would struggle during that time but they never lost their resolve and they never left. When all you give is all you got then it just has to work. Farming has been in his blood his whole life .  From my earliest memories I recall a smiling man, a laughing man, a man who would grab me and tickle me and who was always kind. He worked hard. He squeezed harder. Whenever my brothers and I would visit we would run as fast as we could down to the barn where the cows are. We Look? No Grandpa. On past the tractors and past the hay loft. We look? No Grandpa. More often than not he would be found in his garage working on the chainsaws that locals had dropped off. It was a cheery place to be. A pot-bellied stove would be glowing orange and giving off the most wonderful, smoky scent.  His dog, Mitsy, all 30 pounds of long matted hair would waddle by and squeeze out the door. He would let us help with chores. “Cmon’ lets go feed the pigs” he’d say and I would shovel ground up corn into a bucket and spread it into their feed trough. We would go inside then to a warm kitchen and he would sit at the end of the table with a cup of coffee and a plate of my Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies. “Tell me whats new little man?” he would ask and poke me in the arm and smile big and bright. At that moment he made you feel like you were the most important person in the whole world, even if you were only 10 years old.

I always admired his work ethic. Some people are born with it and others develop it over their life and others never do seem to acquire that quality. I believe he carried that sense of resolve and fortitude into the Army where he did a stint during WWII in Japan and again in Korea as a young MP.  It carried over into the rest of his life as a farmer and bulldozer operator. Locals said that when operating a dozer he could pick up a nickel and move it 100 yards down a road and never disturb the dirt. To this day I do not doubt the skills he exhibited to me as I grew up.

For almost 3000 miles I have crossed this country on foot. Day after day, slowly making my way towards his home. It will be our last visit. Time is not forgiving and has taken its toll on his body. Parkinson’s disease has made these last years difficult although in a positive way he would say it has contributed to his success with the slot machines. I do know that once I place a flag near that oak tree in his front yard , a flag we will both salute to, I will move on and not be back. For he will be gone I am sure.

Today I ran up the bike path from Albany to Savanna and it brought back a flood of memories from childhood. I shared those thoughts and memories with the names on each flag. They listen intently, though I do not see them. They smile and I can feel them. It is their presence that has brought on things I cannot explain. Random meetings like the one in Iowa with friends I had not seen in 30 years who saw me on TV and tracked me down on the road. It is with parents that have met me on the road who I reassure that their loved ones will not be forgotten. This road has become a Memorial Highway of sorts and its taken me back to a familiar place. Back to a country lane that weaves its way north.

Quietly my breathing rises and falls often whispering, often lost in unspoken words. Legs that were once young and spry and dazzled on his lawn now old and bent carry me slowly towards a hill that is long and steep. At the top is his home. At the top he waits. I know Grandpa will be there, standing in his front yard, leaning on his cane. His hat will be tilted to shield the western sun as he looks down that road for me.  I know the leaves in his oak tree will be fluttering and singing in the August winds. I know our time together will be short and I have come so very far, so I will be there Grandpa, I will be there and I know you will smile, and laugh and you will poke and squeeze me and for the briefest time we will both be young again……watch for me……….


  1. Dusty Hardman


    This was a beautiful post and really hit home, my grandma is 98.5 and every time I see her I think it will be the last.

    Enjoy your time with your Grandpa! It is incredibly special.

    I follow your journey every day and watch your progress.

    :) Dusty

  2. John Holland

    Go get ‘em, Mike…go home and give your Grandpa a big hug! God bless – I loved this post.

  3. beth caple

    A friend told me about your journey to honor those who have died for our freedom. i am sorry to say that i forget at times that their has been a high priced paid for my freedom and my loved ones. I am spoiled! i don’t know what its like to have to wake up each day in fear, fear of war or fear of speech, fear of oppression from a war torn country that daily blood shed goes on. Thanks for reminding me and my family about how blessed we are! God still has His hand on the US, at least for now. Thankyou to all who have faught to keep our country safe! Thankyou for the greatest sacrifice a person can give! LIFE! Thankyou Mike, may your journey be sweet!

  4. Erika

    Enjoy your time with Grandpa! I am sure you do each other proud. God Bless!
    Trent and Erika

  5. kath

    God Bless you & all the granpa’s in the world!

  6. Donna Mullane

    Thanks for the blog on Grandpa, the great time you game him while you were here, and for the pictures. We will be forever greatful for all you are doing!! Love you always.

  7. lea ann

    Grandpa. Need I say more. Love you.

  8. Matthew Mullane

    Mikey!!! I had just finished a long day of mountain biking at Vail when I checked my email and saw you had posted. I was in a bar and had just sat down to have a beer and when I saw the title nothing could tear the phone from my hands. A couple of friends and I were sitting next to the open wall with many people sitting around us and many more walking 3 feet outside. As I read, tears welled in my eyes, rolled down my face and blurred my vision so badly I couldn’t read on and I was sobbing. Reality sucks! It is hard to be 901 miles away from our Grandfather. I miss him every day and your words brought back millions of memories of him and how he was/is. Thank you for this post and for this journey. Everyone needs to be remembered whether they are a 19 year old soldier or an 86 year old Grandfather! My thoughts are with you every day, cousin!

  9. Jill Ehredt

    There is nothing better then having family, roots to come home to. the Memories we will all charish as our life moves on. Thanks to all our family ;) Great job Mike!

  10. Theresa Hurd

    You are amazing…. I am so proud of you cuz. Unfortunately I was not able to be home for your visit but checked in with my mom on how the events went. Thank you for the tribute to Grandpa. I can not tell you how much we all cried when we read it. The love we all have for him could not have been more beautifully expressed.

    May your remaining journey be safe and god willing I hpoe and pray you consider putting together a book of this fantastic venture.

    You are a living breathing everyday hero.

    Love you from my family and me.

    Theresa (Steve)
    Adam, Kristi (Joe), Julie and Daniel


    My kids (not really kids anymore) read your blogs and are so proud to tell their friends of your venture.

  11. Cindy Schmidt

    I can hardly type this message–still wiping tears away from my eyes. Grandpa is a wonderful man and has worn many hats in his day. WHAT A WONDERFUL TRIBUTE. We recently had him in the riding in the combine during bean harvest–quite a change from farming 40 plus years ago. He enjoyed the day so much.

    You are winding down your journey and I am sure have many, many stories to tell. We are so proud of you.

    Stay in touch.

  12. GInger

    MIKE, CONGRATULATONS ON MAKING YOUR JOURNEY SAFELY! Wish I could be there at the coast. It is a once in a lifetime experience I am sure you will treasure! So many places, so many people, so many new friends so much of our country no one will see. Thank you for such a trech to honor our Veterans, you as well. Safe yourney home. God speed.
    friend, Ginger T


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

− 2 = 3

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>