“Destined For Greatness”
No one ever had to tell me to respect my elders. If I ever did anything rude or obnoxious I’d hear about it and believe me, by the end of the day someone would have my ass in line.
“Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me,” my grandpa would say. He was one of the very few people I knew who could take his own advice. I think that’s why when he spoke, I listened.
He taught me everything. He was a brilliant teacher, the kind of teacher they make movies about, the kind of teacher that makes you want to learn. Almost everything in the world was open to interpretation, he had few rules. The earliest memory of my grandpa was when we were driving to the Oakhill Park, I was eight years old. I was never good at ‘just enjoying the ride.’ I needed to have something to do at all times. In fact, this is one thing that hasn’t changed over the years. I always need something to do.
Grandpa had a knack for stimulating activity and keeping my energy focused. As we drove to Oakhill Park we quizzed each other on American history. I always knew I would lose this game, but it was the way we played the game that kept me going. He would always make sure that I understood how and why I lost. In order to be good at something one must practice it over and over again. This is what Grandpa taught me and it’s a lesson I’ll never forget.
The great thing about talking with Grandpa was the knowledge that everything had a point. There was always something to be gained. Anyone can engage in repetitious behavior, few learn from that behavior so that it doesn’t become repetitious in the future. This was our thesis and it was proven every day.
I got out of the car in the parking lot at Oakhill Park and what I saw then is as clear today as it was then. I saw open meadows and a tree-lined expanse that could have gone on forever, if given the chance. The soft beckoning of the slowly whispering winds led us onward. There were no trails or paths for us to follow. Here you made your own path. Oakhill Park was not a place for tours, even if they were self-guided. This was a place where your mind was set free, like the blowing leaves recently separated from the trees. The wind can guide you, but you set your own course.
Grandpa knew I loved to run around. That’s the real reason he liked to take me to the park. It was a tough job keeping up with me. I was as my mother put it “quite a handful.” On this particular day, our mission was to collect the best acorns for the squirrels in my neighborhood.
“If they come into your yard make sure they come for quality not quantity,” he said.
“The last thing you want is for Grandpa to step in a hole because not only will he take a couple people with him, you know as well as I do that Grandpa doesn’t fall well.” I loved it when Grandpa talked in the third person.
He’d do it unknowingly at times, which was amusing because you never knew if he meant to do it or if he had done it to make sure you were paying attention. This was vintage Grandpa. He’d always do things like that, drop little subtle hints and if I figured it out he’d get so excited and proclaim: “that’s my pal!”
There were always rules when we played. If one of us (usually me) didn’t play by the rules the game was over. Grandpa said we couldn’t hide the acorns in the front yard anymore because most of the acorns we laid out wound up in Dad’s lawnmower.
“Let’s put them in Mom’s garden,” I suggested. Grandpa laughed so hard I thought he was going to fall down.
“I learned a long time ago not to mess with your mother,” he said as he grinned from ear to ear. He had a showstopper smile. To this day his smile makes me smile, it reminds me of those afternoons in the park. When he’d sit down and watch me running here, there, and everywhere, all the while smiling at the other parents proudly proclaiming as if he’d just won a medal “that’s my grandson, that’s my pal!”
When I got home we had even more fun. Grandpa would pull into our driveway and I’d grab the two grocery store bags filled with acorns and try to run the length of the driveway to the backyard. But, Grandpa would stop me.
“There’s no need to start going for the shovels just yet,” he said.
“Do you remember our presidents?” He asked. I was so excited to get those acorns into the ground I could barely contain myself so he’d repeat the question.
“Do you remember our presidents?” He inquired.
“Of course!” I shouted back at him. It’s important to note that at this age you could have taken me to the dentist and I would have probably shown the same level of enthusiasm.
“Which one came first?” He asked. I had to think about it for a minute.
“He had a thing for trees just like we do,” he led on.
“Washington!” I proclaimed. His smile hit me like the morning sun hit me at the park, it kept me warm. He handed me a one dollar bill and told me to hang onto it because we would need it later. I tried to find a secure storage area on myself, but my clothes rarely had pockets, so I stuffed it way down in my sock so it wouldn’t slide out when I was digging later on.
I’d feel that soft, dry, crunchy bill sliding around in my sock for the rest of the day. It stuck in there like a band aid sticks to your skin, only when I took that bill out my dirt-ridden sock at the end of the day, you’d swear it wasn’t currency in my hand. It felt like, and smelt like something awful. The cashier at Walgreens was not nearly as happy as I was that Grandpa had given me that dollar bill to hang on to, but that was the point Grandpa said.
“Sometimes you just need to freshen people up,” he said. He truly did have the oddest sense of humor. For what it’s worth, the lady that checked us out at Walgreens would remember us for the next five years. I think that made Grandpa happy.
“You can never have too many friends,” he said and I looked at him with the most puzzled expression I’ve ever worn, but he just kept on going. Grandpa never let anything slow him down.
Grandpa loved the beauty of life and it’s simple pleasures. Sometimes we think of people and we picture what would make them happiest. Grandpa would have been perfectly happy being the skipper on a steamboat on the Mississippi circa 1845 or so. He’d be able to see the country, play poker and while making a stop he could grab his bat and mit and join the locals for some baseball.
I imagine he’d make some stops up along the Mason-Dixon Line so he could spend some time at the track watching the horses and betting on the races. All of this would have made Grandpa a very happy man. The only problem is that in the game of life, Grandpa was an incredibly unlucky man.