A couple years ago, I wrote a toast to my grandfather for his surprise 70th birthday party. Being the English Major of the family, I was commissioned, and with yesterday being Thanksgiving, I got to thinking about him and how thankful I am for him. I never shared this outside the family, but I will here today. I hope you enjoy it!
So. You’re turned 70 this year. That’s 7-0. I’m turning 22 this year, which means that you’ve known me for just a little less than a third of your life. For some of those first years, I probably owe you an apology, but if it’s been this long, you’re probably over it by now anyways. I’ve been spending the last few years in college, and let me tell you, I think they’re missing some things. I’ve learned some of the most important things in life from you, Grandaddy. Here’s a categorized list.
Driving: No matter how many wheels the vehicle had, which has been somewhere between 2 and 6, you always let me have a turn driving it, even if I did so poorly. But more than that, you taught me what those One Way signs really mean. The arrow, I learned one day in Colorado, is merely a suggestion! If you turn against the arrow, that’s okay, so long as you only go one way. “One way.” They didn’t teach me that.
Architecture: What seems to me a precise art, a careful measuring and delicate balance of wood, nails, and the occasional shim, is boiled down to a simple phrase. A phrase which everyone else seems to have wrong. See, in College, they’ve taught me “measure twice, cut once.” No, no, I tell them. The real secret to fine architecture is, “Aww. It’ll be alright. It’ll never be noticed on a gallopin’ horse.”
Medicine: If you cut yourself, or scrap a knee, or break your arm, or crack open your skull, there is one camp granddaddy remedy that cures everything. A genuine article, it probably even cures cancer, but nobody seems to know its magical properties but Grandaddy. Whatever ails you, put a little Camphophinique on it, and it’ll be all better.
What’s more, splinters and stickers need no fancy processes for extraction. A gentle tickle will take care of the problem, with no pain, no muss, no fuss.
Cultural Awareness: College is supposed to be a time when you learn of opinions and secrets from the world over. Well, believe me when I tell you, I received more multi-cultural education from my Grandaddy than I’ve got in college. The wisdom of the ages was passed down, it seems, solely through Granddaddy. His endless supply of old Indian tricks taught me how to mark a cut line with a nail, how to open a stuck jar, how to draw a straight line without a square, and if given enough time, I’m sure I would find no end to the ancient Indian wisdom he carries with him.
Philosophy: While my college classes have given me some pretty tough questions to answer, I have always triumphed. I have found answers, and given them due thought. Some of the hardest-hitting questions have, once again, come from my granddaddy. Questions I have known since I was a wee lad, but have yet to formulate answers for. Really, think about it. Just how much wood COULD a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood? We may never know, but I bet the answer is there somewhere in all that Indian lore.
He is also never content in giving away answers. He is determined that we children figure things out for ourselves. When one of us would ask, “What’s that for?” “This?” He’d smile, “This is for making little boys ask questions.” A regular Aristotle he is.
Literature: I owe my love for English to Grandaddy, even. Through my classes, I have read many different poets and authors, but none have stood against these simple poems of my youth, rattled off effortlessly by Grandaddy.
Birdy Birdy, in the sky, why’d you do that in my eye?
Birdy Birdy in the snow, where you came from, I do not know. I lured you home with a piece of bread, and then I crushed your little head.
It was from these poems my love for literature was born.
Time Management and Goal Setting: After a long day of grueling elementary school, he had one question for us. A question to get us thinking about what we were doing, and how to best use our time. “What did you teach them in school today?” Unfortunately, we were too young to know better, and we answered, “Nothing.” He would look at us, and ask, “Well what’d they teach you?” Again, we’d answer “Nothing.” “Well, what did you go waste a whole day for?” At the time, we all laughed, not knowing any better, but you know, as I see it now, he’s got a point there. There’s something to do, and there’s a time line in which to do it.
High Fashion: Thus far, I have heard nothing in school about how I should dress, or what sorts of clothing is best. Grandaddy, however, is always on top of things. The essentials include a good pair of clod hoppers (ones which make you run faster, of course. If they don’t make you run faster, why’d you get them? Hah, there’s more of that Grandaddy practicality.), some ‘spenders to keep your britches (a sturdy pair of blue jeans) up, and a baseball cap. Fun AND functional.
Quality Assessment: No matter the type of product, there is one benchmark that is applied across the board to judge the worthiness of a given product. If that product doesn’t work better than windshield wipers on a cat’s rear, it certainly isn’t worth having.
I don’t even want to think where I’d be without my Grandaddy’s teaching me everything I’d need to get through life successfully. They certainly haven’t let us in on any of these secrets in school.
For as long as I can remember, I always looked forward to what I would learn next from Grandaddy. I always remember looking up to him in awe at how much he knew, how much he’d done, and how strong he was. Well, honestly, I still do. I might be taller, but to me, he’s always going to be Paul Bunyan. The Jolly Green Giant. Santa Claus. Atlas. He’s always seemed larger than life, always ready with a clever turn-of-phrase, a helping hand, a pat on the back to let you know that you are doing well, even when you don’t always do well.
Whenever I find myself feeling a bit overwhelmed and like I’m just not going to make it, I remember those big, strong hands of his grabbing me out of the snow after we turned the snowmobiles over after a blizzard came through. I remember my Grandaddy who can do anything. Who was always at basketball games, cheering, whistling. You could always hear his whistle, no matter how loud the crowd. I remember that I’ve got him behind me, patting me on the back, letting me know that I did well. I remember that I can grab onto his hands, and he’s strong enough to pull me back up, pour on some camphophinique and push me to keep going.
I haven’t ever been as appreciative of that nearly so much as I should have been, and as I write this, I realize how often I take him for granted. How I never call and see how things are going. How I don’t make time to stop by when I’m in town. But you know what? Despite all that, I know, I KNOW, that if I showed up at the door, and I needed him for something, he’d do it. He’s never let me down, and I don’t expect he’ll start now.
Happy birthday, Grandaddy. From all of us to you. And best wishes for many more to come.
Who were you thankful for yesterday?