Every Wednesday for five years, Warren Higgins of Huntley wrote a letter to his teenage grandson.
He wrote of making jam, of religion, of his time in the military, of his marriage.
The letters began with a simple concept.
“Figure I might pen a note to you each week because we’re not seeing each other lately,” he wrote.
And they typically ended just as simply.
“Think about it,” he’d write.
The letters turned into a collection of life lessons that inspired his eldest grandson, Ryan Pearce, along the way, though it would take years for him to truly appreciate their meaning.
“So much of me is from Grandpa,” he now says of the letters he received from the ages 13 to 18.
They also inspired Higgins’ daughter, Ris Higgins. She’d laugh, cry, remember and love as she read the letters left behind on her son’s desk.
She kept them for years, not knowing what she would do with them, until she decided they needed to be shared.
Publishing the book, “The Wednesday Pen, A Grandfather’s Legacy to His Family,” she has turned her 88-year-old father into an author.
He wrote them simply because he felt his grandson might benefit from the guidance.
“Teenage years are tough,” he said.
“The notes that are on there are about as diverse as you can get,” he said.
Some took 10 minutes to write, some 10 hours.
He wrote of trips he took, a story about a high school classmate who went on to become Chief Justice Bill Renquist, and of his best and worst financial, career and personal decisions.
He tried to keep them short, knowing how “long-winded” he can be, he said with a laugh.
“It’s not much more than any grandfather would do,” he said.
It’s a book not only about a legacy, but also about the importance of connecting to one another, Ris said. That tends to get lost in today’s technology, she said.
“I think the conversation is missing,” she said. “To be able to share a piece of somebody’s life is so inspirational these days. There’s something about this that has universal appeal and wisdom and insight that I think would be helpful. ... The world needs this book.”
Warren Higgins is a World War II veteran, who served as a pilot from 1943 to 1945. He retired from a career in engineering and manufacturing in 1986 and has been an active Rotarian since 1959.
Through it all, his family says, he’s always been a “family man.”
“We couldn’t even go on our honeymoon alone,” joked his second wife, Maxine. “We took 23 of our family with us, all the kids and grandkids on a Disney cruise.”
The two were married about 12 years ago. Warren’s first wife, the beloved “Grandma Loe,” died of brain cancer.
He had known Maxine for years because she had married his best friend from high school, and the two reconnected after the deaths of both their spouses.
Upon reading the book, Maxine said, “I have fallen in love with this man all over again.”
Between the two of them, the couple has seven children, 13 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Along with the letters, Warren cross-stitched a quilt as a gift for each of his eight original grandchildren. When the oldest two turned 18, he took them on trips of their choice.
He’s arranged it so that the remaining grandchildren also get similar trips, paying the way for aunts or uncles to accompany nieces and nephews. His one stipulation was the parents couldn’t accompany their own children.
This was his way of enhancing the experience, allowing the families to get to know one another and perhaps giving the children slightly more freedom than the parents might allow.
“I think it’s something extremely special,” Maxine said. “Nobody does this.”
Though, she quipped, “He doesn’t walk on water.”
Now 33 years old, Ryan Pearce wrote his first letter back to his grandfather in 2009. That letter appears at the end of the book.
“In high school, when you wrote to me, they were neat stories that I enjoyed reading, but my own self-centeredness and immaturity never allowed me to truly appreciate them,” he wrote.
“When I read the book, I felt a lot of pride in who my grandfather is and the stories you shared with me and, thanks to mom, the rest of the family.”
Ris also hopes to publish a sort of empty journal that would encourage others to follow her father’s lead.
She tried to do something similar for her sons with weekly letters, but that only lasted about two months.
“It was quite a demonstration of care and discipline to be able to do that,” Ris said.
As Warren would write, just think about it.