Conversation about grandfathers went around the table at my usual morning coffee stop the other day, and for once it seemed we all agreed on something: Grandfathers had made major impressions on our lives.
"I remember more about him," said Dutch, a white-haired grandfatherly type himself, "and with more fondness, than I do my own father. He tanned furs and hides and he had great, strong fingers from stretching the hides to get them ready for tanning. Children need grandparents to teach them things - their grandparents are usually so much more patient than their own parents."
My grandfather was a delightful old crusty gentleman who used to take me on Grand Adventures. And he taught me a lot about all sorts of things.
He once owned an automobile-repair garage before the Depression, and most of my family's automotive affection can be traced back to him.
I have a picture of him behind the wheel of a 1914 Stoddard-Dayton that he had cut down into a race car; he was 16 at the time. My late grandmother, who had been married to him for some 66 years, used to tell us about the questioning looks she'd get from the neighbors when he'd pull up with that car.
My initial visit to a museum was on one of our afternoon trips together; I can still remember the wonderful sense of awe and amazement that unfolded before the eyes of this first-grader. Here was a complete building, filled to overflowing, with all kinds of neat stuff just to look at.
There were dinosaur bones, giant rock crystals and stuffed animals; I was so impressed that when I got home I immediately started planning and collecting stuff to open a museum of my own someday for all of my friends to visit.
Gramp used to take me fishing, too. All it took was just the mention of a possible fishing expedition, and it would have me on my best behavior for weeks.
We started fishing on the small rivers, or "cricks" as he used to call them, that ran through the Ohio countryside near Cincinnati, and we would end the first hour catching bait. We would use for bait little centipede-like animals that lived under rocks in the streambed; to catch them, I'd shuffle along through the rocks while he would stand just downstream with a net stretched across the current.
A few years later, we graduated to fishing on the nearby lakes out of a boat, and he taught me how to run his old green Johnson outboard motor. For me, that was quite a jump up the self-esteem scorecard. Suddenly, I was the boat's captain.
Each fishing trip would actually begin the night before with the formal laying out and inspection of all the fishing gear and tackle. One time, during our getting-ready-to-go-fishing ritual, Gramp first taught me how to sharpen a knife. Our folding pocketknife, that we always carried in our tackle box, was discovered to be dull, and "a dull knife's next to useless."
He got out the sharpening stone, a drop or two of light oil to use as a lubricant, and he showed me how to slide the knife's edge along the stone. When we finished a half-hour later, you could have shaved with that pocketknife.
My father went through a job transfer, and we moved from Cincinnati to Chicago when I'd finished the first grade, so the fishing trips with Gramp became a little less frequent. During my father's summer vacation, we used to rent a cottage on a lake up in Michigan, and my grandparents would drive up and then we'd go fishing with Gramp.
The next year, we moved to Los Angeles and we saw Gram and Gramp even less frequently. My mother recognized the fact that there was no telling how long our stay in L.A. would be, so she made sure that we saw a lot of the Southwest while we had the opportunity. My grandparents flew out to visit, and that summer my parents, my grandparents and my brother and I all went for a ride through the great canyons of the Southwest; in two weeks we visited the National Parks at the Grand, Bryce and Zion canyons.
On that drive one of my grandfather's real talents became very useful in keeping two small boys quiet during the long automobile ride; he was a captivating storyteller. We heard all about how he had set out one year, riding a motorcycle, bound for the 500-mile automobile race at Indianapolis, only to fall off the bike at the state line where the pavement changed to gravel.
The bike was crashed too severely to continue, and he had to take a train trip a couple of weeks later to go back and repair the motorcycle.
Then there was a story of how a bat had got loose in the attic, and when they had finally got it caged, my grandfather had nearly been conked with a baseball bat they had been using to chase the flying animal when he yelled, "Throw out the bat" from the yard below.
When my brother and I started racing the family quarter-midget, a predecessor to the go-kart, one of the big faults of my competitive driving was that I would slow down on the straight in front of the grandstand to look up into the stands to make sure my grandparents saw me. Even though I didn't win much, they were proud of me. They always were.
Grandparents mean a lot to a kid. So if you are one, or possibly will be one someday, act accordingly. You're going to leave some big impressions.