One granddad worked the southern Illinois coal mines. The other worked his central Illinois farm.

One was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat. The other not so much.

One lived a day's drive away. The other just up the gravel road.

One would flick ash into his yellow ashtray. The other would munch cookies.

One had a hallowed place in the house where his medals from World War II were housed. The other had a hallowed barn where generations of auction prizes found a final resting place.

Both of them had hands like bear paws, even as they got older.

They both had my haircut.

One let me sit in his blue recliner when I visited. The other got up from his gold one to let his grandson rest.

From those perches I heard stories: of family, of friends, of card games, of railroads and fist fights -- the latter always prefaced by a "Don't tell your mother."

I never did.

I was lucky to have all four of my grandparents into adulthood. My maternal grandmother, Betty, is still kicking -- literally. Bum joints force her into physical therapy on a relatively regular basis these days, and she does not like it.

I think about my granddads a lot these days and with a little deeper understanding. No longer a wide-eyed preteen or arrogant teen or even cocksure 20-something, I now know how much I missed. I should have asked more questions, should have paid more attention, should have kept my eyes on them instead of letting them drift to the football game.

Once a month since I've been in Hays, someone else's granddads and grandmas roll into the newspaper office, sharing their own tales.

And my thoughts go to two men who treated me as if I could do no wrong -- as is the right and privilege of every grandparent.

Meeting on occasion with the Generations Advisory group has been one of my privileges -- a duty that has become much more somber in recent months.

Though I never had the chance to work with her, former committee member Jeanne Lambert died this spring. Delbert Marshall, a man who simply oozed reason, passed away last fall. Jim Flinn, who traveled from Ellis with his still-doting Opal at his side, died in May.

I should have asked more questions, should have paid more attention, should have kept my eyes on them instead of drifting over to check story comments on my iPod.

The Generations Advisory Group, formed nearly a decade ago by former HDN publisher John Montgomery, now consists of three regulars -- Arris Johnson, Opal Flinn and Ruth Moriarity. Harry Watts still contributes on occasion, as does antique expert Marvin Mann.

The Generations page, which runs each Wednesday, is a special place -- and something that sets this newspaper apart. Giving space, time and attention to our elder statesmen is something that gives our staff great pride.

Their stories give comfort to those who lived it, knowledge to those who came after. The scrapbook carried by Opal faithfully to each meeting carries treasure much more valuable than clipped newsprint.

They tell us of times when family meant something different. When music bound a nation together. When young men fought and died. When communication was more about words than keystrokes.

Our Generations writers offer the younger generations -- maybe some of us who regret missing the chance to quiz our own grandparents -- a chance to connect to our heritage.

While our eyes might drift, Opal, Ruth and Arris, we are paying attention.

Ron Fields, the grandson of Olen Williams and Ron Fields Sr., is managing editor of The Hays Daily News.