Monday, May 30, 2005

Remembering My Grandfather

Yesterday we visited the graves of my grandparents in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. A couple of years ago I wrote this essay about my Grandfather's effect on my life. He was born in 1875 and died in 1966, when I was 14. Obviously, the world he knew was very different from today.
How did I come to be who I am today? Well, the short, snappy answer is: One day at a time. The serious answer, as always, is more complex. To begin to answer, I must first ask myself, “Well, who am I today?” I’ll return to that at the end, and get on to how I got here.

Certainly, my ideas of what a man should be were formed in part by my relationship with my maternal grandfather. Throughout my childhood we trekked to Omaha every other weekend to visit Grandpa and Grandma. This was never a bother, as my brother and I loved visiting them, and we had plenty of kid-friends in the neighborhood, too.

Grandpa was quite old when my mother was born, and he doted on his only child. He was already 77 when I became the first grandchild, which must have made it all the sweeter for him. He would play for hours with my brother and me. For outdoor fun our favorite was to walk along the nearby railroad tracks with Grandpa. He always brought along a snack for the journey: cut up fruit or some crackers. We could climb on things, explore, find pieces of coal or smashed coins. Grandpa was happy just to be there with us.

Indoors we would play hide and seek. Although the house was small, my brother and I never got suspicious as Grandpa “struggled” to find us hiding in the same spots we always chose. I also loved to play card games and board games with Grandpa, and he was happy to oblige. They had a piano in the house, and I sat on his lap while he played and sang the Irish folk song, “Danny Boy.” In a sense, I was named after that song, and it still reminds me of him.

Grandpa was quite a prankster. He once put a rubber rat out by the clothesline to scare Grandma, and she hit it several times with a broom before she realized it wasn’t a real rat. One of his favorite tricks was to help someone put their coat on while squeezing the second sleeve behind them. The victim thrashed about, arm behind the back, searching desperately for the sleeve that seemed to have vanished.

Grandpa was very even-tempered, and he subscribed to the Teddy Roosevelt school of discipline. If my brother and I were acting up, Grandpa would ceremoniously “Get Out The Stick.” The Stick was actually a rather large, wooden yardstick. He never hit us once with his hand or The Stick, but he made a great show of brandishing it and hitting the countertop with it for effect.

So what am I today? I’m an even-tempered, family-centered person. I take an interest in the games my children play, and I often play along with them. I am a bit of a prankster, and I still enjoy using Grandpa’s coat trick on an unsuspecting victim. Recently, I was trying to find a rubber rat…

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