With everything going on, I’m hearing more investors and business owners wonder how we are going to get through the coming economic crisis.
Whenever hard times hit, I am always inspired by my great grandfather’s story. I was lucky enough to know him for the first 8 years of my life, and my grandfather (his son) would tell me more stories well after he passed on.
One of his legendary stories was a guiding light for me and showed me there is always a way when you want one.
My great grandfather immigrated from Poland and landed in Port Richmond, Philadelphia in the late 1950s with nothing but the clothes on his back. He was already 50 years old when he arrived.
He, his wife, and now teenage children lived through the horrors of WWII. But he had to leave his wife and children back in war-ravaged, and now Soviet-occupied, Poland just for the opportunity for a better life to eventually bring them to in America. His brother came to the US before the war and invited him to the US once they finally found out he survived the war.
Knowing no English, he found work in the Polish community of Philadelphia working long hours at the Richmond Bakery.
Working together with his brother, they found some land for sale. It was a swamp, laced with razor-sharp briars in the bogs of South Jersey. They both went into together on the purchase of the land in return for his promise to clear the lots for building homes.
They bought this land for pennies an acre because no one thought it was usable at the time. The sharp briar vines stretched thick for acres like a web thought the pine-filled woods.
But my great grandfather was full of gratitude for the opportunity and promised his brother, he would make it worth it.
My great grandfather was still working 10-12hr days back at the bakery and at this time, all he could do is afford at that moment after the sale was a bicycle and an ax.
Keep in mind, this man was already in his 50s. He would finish those long shifts working in a hot bakery during the week and jump on a bike about 4 am each Saturday morning. He would ride that bicycle across the Tacony Palmyra Bridge and 2-3hrs later he would arrive at the briar patch, swampy jungle in South Jersey.
Off his bike, he first went right to work swinging that ax just to clear a spot for a campsite. He worked through the weekend and even slept on the spot overnight with a small tent he had tied to his bike.
Then, late Sunday night after clearing as much briar vines and pine trees he could by himself, he pedaled back from South Jersey to Philadelphia so he could be at work 4 am at the bakery Monday morning.
He kept doing this weekend after weekend till the clearing was wide enough for a house. Then he and his brother were able to sell that first lot for a nice profit.
With the proceeds, he was able to send a little money back home to his wife and kids and start the process of getting them invited to the US. He was eventually able to get old chain saw and truck that he went to work clearing the rest of the property.
It took about 4 years for him to finally bring his whole family to the US. His son (my grandfather) had already married and started a family of his own. My mother was the oldest of 6 other siblings when they finally all arrived together to the US in 1962.
My great grandfather had bought them a house in Philadelphia and already had plans in development for a large house to be built on the now cleared property so they could finally all be together on a farm.
When I came later, my great grandfather already had multiple properties around Philadelphia and New Jersey. Since I was his first great-grandson, he would drive out Philadelphia with his wife to bring me back to that same farm he cleared and built with his bare hands.
My earliest memories of him were watching him, now in his late 60s, cut down trees by himself, and go about turning them into square beams that became the frames of the various buildings on the property…Some still stand to this day.
After everything this man lived through (diseases, economic crashes, and multiple wars) and the amount of work he put in every day, he never uttered anything bitter. He would constantly praise this country for allowing him to rescue his family from Communism.
I tried swinging axes and sickles on that very same land helping my family continue to clear the brush into my teens and twenties wondering how could this man do this work while he was in his 50s and 60s.
But most of all, I think about him waking up in darkness each morning and riding that old uncomfortable single speed bike from Philadelphia to New Jersey..all by himself.
I have this weird feeling while he pedaled in the dark and fog up and down hills, he dreamed that eventually, his family was going to have a better life in America. That ultimately he was going to be reunited with his family and he would play with his great-grandchildren on the land he was working so hard to clear.
So no matter how hard the times get my life now, I remember his story. I try to think of every excuse he might have had to quit. …and who knows if I would even be here today if he did quit.
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost anyhow.”
So what is your why?