The one thing I wish my grandfather had left behind then, is the one thing I’ve devoted my life to now.
“Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never see.”James Kerr
One of my greatest wishes is that my grandfather, grandpa Pitman on my mother’s side, had written a memoir.
My grandfather on my father’s side, “the writer side” of the family, the Whitmarsh side, did publish at least one book (that we’re aware of) called Famous American Athletes of Today. This was clearly not a memoir but a book with his thoughts nevertheless.
But Grandpa Pitman on my mom’s side – aka Douglas “Dutchie” Pitman, a ninth grade dropout, successful self-made businessman, and later on, a New Hampshire farmer, did not write a book.
A born entrepreneur and generally restless soul, always seeking new challenges to solve, my grandfather had a pen company, a bed and breakfast, and various other business ventures. But the one that put that side of the family on the map, was Pitco Frialator, the restaurant equipment company run by the Pitman brothers. A restaurant equipment company might not sound nearly as glamorous as founding, say, Apple or IBM or Ford Motors, yet it did make a notable contribution to America – specifically, to American eats.
That contribution is a widely used invention that most of us have likely seen in our lifetimes – the Pitco Frialator. That’s the French fry machine in fast food restaurants with the wire basket that drains the oil off French fries so they’re “slightly” less unhealthy.
My grandfather’s brother, Arthur Pitman invented the frialator (my mom still has the original patent!). Great Uncle Arthur, my grandfather, the other brothers, and my great grandfather J.C. ran Pitco. Although no longer connected to my family beyond the name, Pitco still exists today and they still sell fryers as well as an assortment of other restaurant equipment.
Something my family appreciates though, is how they keep the stories of their past alive in their marketing. In the about section on their website, they have posted a 1946 letter from J.C., and on their Facebook page, historical Pitco photos, that for my intents and purposes, are family photos.
That letter plus an assortment of other various sales letters, brochures, and marketing materials that my mom saved, along with childhood and teenage memories, and hazy images of stacks of Wall Street Journals, are all I have left of entrepreneurial wisdom from my grandfather and great uncles.
I do remember being impressed with grandpa’s knowledge of the stock market and investing, but unfortunately I don’t remember a single actual strategy or stock tip. I remember being impressed with the man overall, but unfortunately, the details of that impression have faded with time.
Even more unfortunate, is that by time I started my own business (at the urging of his daughter, my mother, clearly an entrepreneur’s child) at the age of 30 – my grandfather was long gone. When I needed my grandpa’s business wisdom the most, I was left to piece together ideas and lessons from old marketing materials.
Don’t get me wrong, these were quite valuable and I’m glad my mom saved them. But I sometimes wonder how my entrepreneurial journey might have played out differently if my grandfather had actually written a book sharing even more of what he knew – his story and lessons in his own words.
Especially in light of my curvy business journey, I can’t help but think of how his advice might have helped me. I wonder how many others his story and lessons might have helped as well – a ninth grade dropout turned business success story.
How would the shape of my life journey have shifted, even a little, if my grandfather had written a memoir? Unfortunately, I’ll never know.
So there you have it – a personal and poignant WHY behind my passion for helping people write their memoirs. My mission is business, and it’s personal.
Whom from your past do you wish left a book behind? How might it have changed your life? There are struggles we’re meant to face, and learn and grow from on our own. But the whispers of voices from the past have a way of softening those hard landings.