Ben Goertz

What I Learned From My Granddad

I learned a lot from my Granddad. He was a great man. Some people talk about living in the shadow of great men. But to me he was like a strong tree in the forest that provided me shade and comfort. I grew up knowing that he would always care for me. Not just me, but also many people around him.

I remember riding around with him about 15 years ago and filming him out farming. Everywhere we stopped he had someone to talk to. It felt like he knew everyone. He was always kind. He could be stern when he needed to be - like when we found out how to shift the Mule, their off-road vehicle, into high-gear and race around too fast out in the field. But he was always patient.

We’d go out duck hunting all together at Christmas. He’d usually ask me how I forgot to bring brown or green clothes or anything close to camo (we found a video of me quail hunting in a purple beanie for example). I remember the hours he’d sit next to me in the duck blind calling in the ducks - qack, quaaaack, quaaaack, qa-qa-qa-qa-qack… He knew how to do so many things and he loved teaching us how to do them. He taught us to shoot a .22 rifle down in Falkville on his farm. Always so proud when we hit near the target. He’d pull down the paper target at the end and show it as a prize later for how great we’d done.

When we were younger he kept fish in a stocked pond and before we’d come visit he’d stop feeding the fish so that once we got there they would basically jump up onto the bank the moment our line hit the water. We of course, at the time, thought it was our exceptional fishing talent. I’ve come to find out over the years that’s not the case.

He did spoil us. That’s one of those things I didn’t fully understand until I was older and started talking to other friends about how they grew up. Granddaddy and Pam spent so such time with us and did so many fun things over the years. Christmases all together. Hot Alabama summers out on the Tennessee river. School plays and sports. Deep-sea fishing. Every year, from the time I was born until sometime after college, we went down to their place along the Gulf. So many hours of being down there as a family and getting to spend time with friends. A few years back, I realized I probably needed to start saving money now if I wanted to spoil my (potential) future grandkids. I save a little every month now with that goal in mind – inspired by my Grandparents.

Before his memories started fading he could point out the analog to digital boxes he worked on for the Saturn V at the Space and Rocket Center. He explained to me several times how the multiplexer worked to sample many different analog data feeds. He told me the German engineers they worked with were initially against it because they wanted continuous data feeds, but the multiplexers worked just as well and saved cost and weight. I wish I knew more about the technical details because his work along with thousands of others in this area built one of the greatest engineering achievements of all time.

I remember talking with him years ago about the missile guidance circuits that he used to design for the Army. He said they had everything they needed for the flight trajectory logic in 8-bits (which seems impossible to me and likely could be me misunderstanding) but that’s only 8 digital yes or no’s. He said they didn’t know why they would ever need more for what they were doing. I told him the phone in his pocket, an iPhone with gigabytes of storage, had upwards of 256,000,000,000 yes or no’s. I think he said his familiar, “well goollllly”.

A few years ago I innocently asked him how he found the energy and drive to succeed with the different businesses he started. He looked at me confused, and potentially a little disappointed, because he said he didn’t understand the question. He thought about it quickly and said, “I was tired of not having any money and we didn’t want to fail.” Simple as that. He sold his truck so he could put in $6,000 to co-found Universal Data Systems. He was always so full of life and an energy to go out and do things.

My wife Lisa and I have a favorite song from Jason Isbell called “If We Were Vampires”. We quote his line from the chorus, “Maybe we’ll get forty years together”, almost like a prayer. Granddaddy and Pam were married 43 years. Their love and kindness to each other, through good and hard times, is an inspiration to us. Over the last few years he forgot more things which was hard on all of us, but Pam shared the other day one of my favorite stories, which I think shows beautifully the strength of her love and care for him. She said Granddaddy used to always stand in church with his hymnal open but he wouldn’t sing out loud. But these last few years as his Alzheimer’s got worse he started singing in church. She said he had a beautiful voice.

Born in Hartselle 85 years ago, he told Pam recently he was able to do just about everything he wanted to do in his life. He spent his final days near the banks of the Tennessee river with sunshine coming in gently through the trees in their backyard warming his room overflowing with love. A life well lived.

There’s a hole now in the tree canopy. A once giant tree is gone. It’s hard to know how we’ll make it without his love and support always there to protect us. But he helped us put down strong roots. Sheltered us from storms as we grew up. I hope to be able to do the same for my family. To provide shelter, shade and support for the little roots taking hold below and their branches reaching up towards the light. May we grow to fill the great opening with love as strong as him.