It has been said that we Americans are always looking to tell our story. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, as long as we are able to tell someone something about ourselves, our lives, or experiences and whatever else it is that seems to burn in our hearts. I have found, however, that I have always hesitated to write, to spew, to tell a story-any story from my life because I always thought “who cares” if there’s no explosions, monsters, and no one gets the girl. What a shame to have felt this way, but if aging has anything to do with my change of viewpoint, I suspect that it has mellowed me and just as my I saw my grandparents dismiss any sense of yield or decorum, they spoke their minds and too bad if you didn’t like it.
It’s nice to be (almost) at that stage, except that I have some years left that require gainful employment, some much-needed social contacts and a desire not to be ostracized for letting it all hang out.
So, as you can probably tell, this little offering is about a grandparent; my maternal Grandfather. I may have liked to have written about my paternal Grandfather, but I didn’t know him as he had died when I was very young. But I did know the other by virtue of attrition. And he assumed the role of Grandfather, or, “Pappy” as he was called with dignity, grace, and a simplicity that I failed to adopt. This is yes, a regret, as I have doggedly pursued a complex lifestyle, much in the same pattern as my Dad, who was driven to succeed and succeed he did. He was a depression-era kid, and his stories of sleeping on the floor with his ten siblings like cordwood, eating crackers for supper and walking seven miles to school in six-feet of snow were driven into my skull from the moment I popped out of my Mother’s womb. My Dad’s tales of economic suffering had shaped him and ultimately has shaped me. No regrets per se, but I wish that I had taken a deep breath at some point before I hit my fifties and asked myself “what would Pappy have done?”
I can tell you this; not much, and that would have been with a smile and a chuckle.
I remember my Pappy not for what he said, but more for the fact he didn’t say much at all. As a matter of fact, until I was about six or seven, I didn’t think that he spoke except for a few grunts here and there, most notably when my Grandmother was chiding him for something inane or calling him to the kitchen for dinner, which, in fairness to her, was a chore as it was quite difficult to pry him away from the Red Sox and a Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Pappy was born in 1900 in Manchester, New Hampshire. He was the son of an English Dad and an Irish Mom, both of whom migrated to the United States through Canada and settling in Manchester, which was a thriving textile city at the time. As My Mother tells it, he was brought to Manchester to run one of the huge mills, and if the stately home that he lived in high on a hill in South Manchester was evidence of his success, therein lay the validity to the tale.
His Mother died when was young, and his Dad married another woman of which not much has ever been said that didn’t raise eyebrows or the ire of my Grandmother. From what conversations that I could hear during moments of eavesdropping in another room under the pretense of playing with matchbox cars, my Grandfather should have been a wealthy man by virtue of inheritance which the second wife had allegedly squandered. As much as adult drama can confuse a kid, I still remember the angst and indignity expressed by my Grandmother to my Mom and Dad, with Pappy sitting in but not saying much.
I often wondered if the simple, gentle man that he was would have been a complex, driven man if the fortune hadn’t been allegedly pilfered. And as such, Pappy was far from wealthy and labored for decades in a local shoe manufacturing plant. I recall my Dad not bemoaning the fact that Pappy was not a wealthy man, but he did use it in his work-your-ass-off in school lectures as a point to remember; did I want to work in a shoe factory? I never dared to say yes, even though as a little boy I was more fascinated with big machines that made things than the dull and repetitive dribble that most of my teachers volleyed to us, with rare exception. They weren’t wrong to evoke images of doing nothing more than the same thing over and over and over again for pennies on the day; they wanted the best and it seemed that the only script available to depression-era parents was the endless reminders that factory work or ditch-digging were jobs that no one should have, even though I wasn’t sure what was wrong with each other than the fact that they said so.
The thing that poked holes in their tales of job-related woes unless you use your brain was in spite of the fact that my Pappy was a career-factory worker he was the happiest man I have ever known. And I couldn’t wait to travel from the noise and calamitous pace of Long Island, New York to visit him and “Grammy” in their modest two-bedroom saltbox home, which lay peacefully on what I thought was the quietest street known to mankind. The pavement was visible but often in patches only, as the layers of needles that fell from the skyscraper-tall pine trees covered most of it. The street was nary a mile from the last stretch of miserable highway, but for me and my sister and brother, it may have well been next to the North Pole.
The whir of the wind as it would pierce the side-vent windows of the sixties and seventies sedan-boats that my parents owned, coupled with constant clouds of cigarette smoke made the 286 mile ride almost intolerable. No such thing as mini-vans back then with all of today’s little electronic morsels to keep junior quiet; just the occasional game of my-car-your-car, who can shut-up the longest, and a word-game called ghost. After that, my attention (as the oldest child) was drawn to my insatiable desire to drive my younger sister and brother out of their minds. I was not a good traveler and most threats to stop the car on interstate 84 or 90 and blast me one were because I, by being the oldest, needed to fulfill my obligation and harasser-in-Chief.
The only interruption in the grueling, second-hand smoke-laden ride was the pit-stop to relieve everyone of urine and of me, at least for the moment. It seemed like bad smells were a definitive component of travel in the sixties and early seventies, as the highway bathrooms rivaled NYC subways for the foulest odors one could imagine. For some unknown reason, I was always charged with making sure that my younger brother didn’t sit on the disease-splattered toilet seats, so I had to carve out enough toilet paper from the rolls and dress the seat like it was getting married. What made that art-work more insufferable was that more often than not, the toilet paper was in square sheets, and it took the hands of Michelangelo to secure my brother’s butt from inheriting some organism that had made a highway bathroom home.
And all the while, I would keep my thoughts pinned to the picture of Pappy and Grammy’s house, shrouded in the sweet-smelling shade of those tall pine trees on the curb-less street adorned in pine needles. Away from the sound of sirens and train horns and civil defense sirens and the din of the highway that guarded the left side of our neighborhood. Away from the forty-kid classroom decked with teachers that made school vacations look like parole.
I still recall how everything seemed to just stop when we made the right-hand turn on to their street. It’s called ”Plummer Road” and to this day, I don’t know why. The house was on the corner of Plummer and “Seabee” street, and I think that it was a name given in honor of the Navy Seabees. It didn’t matter, because for me, it meant that time would stand still, the grind of New York would fade for a while, and my clothes wouldn’t smell like a pack of Kent cigarettes.
No more hearing the high-pitched whine of the highways. No more wind slicing through those annoying window vents. It was like coming in for a landing because the speed dropped from sixty-plus to what seemed like five miles per hour. My parents’ own movements seemed to fade to slow, their voices suddenly hush. I had no inkling to irk the crap out of my sister because we were almost there.
This was a scenario that we repeated as a family for several years, from the time I was born until I was sixteen. Albeit it was a little less captivating as I grew from playing with toy-trucks and cars to chasing girls, but even the thought of missing out on a bit of adolescent romance for a few days to stop time and spend it with remarkable people would fade after an hour or two.
The house, painted gleaming white with black shudders, looked like it was drawn by Norman Rockwell. Nobody BUT Grandparents would be allowed to take up residence by sheer design.
My Mother (who was a far better driver than my Dad, although she was sometimes too damn aggressive) would turn the car in to the driveway and pull within just a few feet of the window-paned garage which only housed two cars during its existence, from the time my Grandfather and his cohort of Yankee friends built the house by hand until their departure to a nursing home when they slid into their early eighties. The first Pappy-mobile was a black 1952 Chevy something-or-other. It had so many rounded features that it looked like a big black turd. The headlights, the roof, the hood, the fenders, everything looked like it was designed without a ruler. I remember, before my sister and brother were either born or walking on two feet, going “up city” as he would call it to run errands like getting the big black turd tuned-up. Sitting on the front seat felt like I sitting on one of those carnival moon-walk things. I was too light to flatten the spring-laden seat so I was left to hang on to the door with both hands so I wouldn’t roll off the seat and into the deep, dark recesses of the seemingly cavernous floor. If we hit even the slightest bump, I would bounce like a golf ball on a trampoline. While bouncing, I would never take my eyes off of the bear-head ashtray that Pappy had glued to the metal dashboard. It was perhaps no bigger than a man’s thumb. Its mouth was open, teeth-bared and he looked genuinely pissed off. I suppose that he bought it from some fishing and game store “up country” as he would call anywhere north of where he was. “Up country” was his generic term applied to some of the most idyllic areas for shooting pheasant out of the sky and yanking dozens of trout from cold and ridiculously clear rivers.
The wheels of my parents’ car would slowly-agonizingly so- turn and come to a final rest on the concrete surface of the driveway. The whine of the steel-belted radial tires had finally given way to soft crackling of pebbles and twigs.
As far as we the kids were concerned, we couldn’t get out of the seatbelts and/or the upper-torso harnesses that they had bought after I ate the dashboard during a sudden stop. They were confining to say the least. For our parents, the contraptions served a two-fold purpose; it would save a trip to the dentist and keep my impish ass in my seat. The harness prevented me from physically torturing my brother and sister, so I was forced to resort to psychological methods such as face-making, changing the words of songs on the radio to make fun of my sister, or farting as much as humanly possible. Ah, the good old days.
Once the car doors swung open we would charge our Grandmother like she had just saved us from something hellacious. Even though I could smell the sweet aroma of her home-made Boston baked beans, I still would ask her if she had made good on her promise to make them. Seeing Pappy and Grammy was sort of a psych-emotional transition for us. They would be our surrogate parents in a sense, at least for a few days in the land where time stood still under the watchful eyes of the tall ‘whispering pine trees’. Yes, they were called that for a very good reason for when the breeze would blow the pine-filled branches would collide and make a whispering sound. For me, the swishing of the branches sounded as if the trees were saying,” shhhh..you don’t have any math homework for a week..and you will eat caaaandy..lots of caaaandy.”
Next to greet the invaders from New York was Pappy. He deferred to Grammy, clad in her royal apron, her matriarchal duties intact. He was blissfully happy in that role. My Dad, many years later when our conversations had taken on a more adult-tone would often lament how Pappy was seemingly subservient and down-right hen-pecked in his view. Although I would only concur with a nod, because he wasn’t necessarily wrong, but he wasn’t completely correct.
If Pappy’s belly was an indication of marital bliss, he was the most in-love man that I have ever known. He truly enjoyed Grammy’s simple yankee cooking. His five-foot nine frame carried all of perhaps 170 pounds, much of which was firmly housed in his round belly, which was actually not that big in retrospect. But, when you attach it to a thin frame, it looked like someone had inserted a small round pillow just below his chest.
With his belly leading the way, his buttoned, short sleeve plaid shirt, green workman’s pants and moccasin-style slippers, he would slowly step from the kitchen into the breezeway. Tucked in one hand was a folded Manchester Union Leader newspaper, and with his black-framed Ike Eisenhower-style glasses resting upon the tip of his nose, he stepped into the breezeway, smiling. I could barely make out his greetings to my Mother and the habitual greeting to my Dad, which was a hi-how-are-ya, Fred, wanna beer..? My Dad almost always acquiesced, and I am sure that after a five hour ride in a car with three kids, two of whom were psychologically beaten into the mats by the oldest kid-me-, he almost always said yes.
We travelled each and every summer to Bedford, New Hampshire to visit with Pappy and Grammy. Summers are so very different in New England than in New York, at least as I remember them to be. New York summers were noisy, hot and something was always going on what seemed like break-neck speed. The streets were teeming with kids playing stick ball, or basketball, or just hanging on the corner. If you were inside your house for more than ten minutes, you felt like you were missing out on something- and you probably were.
But not at Pappy and Grammys’ house. Not anywhere in their huge yard which, without New York curbs (which were very unforgiving if you blasted into one with your bike) made it seem like it sort of melted into the street. Pappy took great care of his yard, but didn’t over-do it. He left a great portion of the back yard to the whispering pines, which stood guard over the immediate back yard and the fence-to-street garden that Pappy grew with the savvy of a Midwest farmer. In fact, his garden seemed to be so big to me, so utterly filled with a tremendous variety of vegetables from corn to squash to rhubarb that I used to tell my New York friends that my grandfather was a farmer. And because he was really good at cutting word and nailing it to something, I included his other trade of that as a carpenter. He was the definitive doer, even though it didn’t really appear that way because Pappy was very deliberate and very slow. That was the New Hampshire pace of things which was probably exaggerated having come from ninety per hour New York, where we wrote smaller and faster, where we all sounded like radio disk jockeys, and if we weren’t doing ten things at once, there was something wrong with us.
Even the name, “Pappy” (or Grammy for that matter) was different than those known to my friends in New York. When I would tell them I had or was visiting my Pappy and Grammy, it would elicit laughter and ridicule from kids who called their grandparents even stranger names like “Nana”, “Pepe”, or a host of other names which sounded like Fuzwah, Shedizzalaboo, or Ka-ka. How the names for my grandparents, simple and quite New Hampshirey sounded odd is still beyond me. Other things indigenous to my Pappy and Grammy found little to no similarity to the other kids’ grandparents feats of whatever. If I said that I was dying to eat my Grammy’s beans, yes, more laughter and ridicule. How could something so sweet and simple be so funny? My head would spin in total misunderstanding as my friends’ would brag about their Italian nananana was making some sort of dish with an egg and a plant that looked like someone let the air out of bicycle tires and then bled all over them. Or my Jewish friends, whose kazizel was making something with a guilty-fish. Ugh. As I grew older, I developed a taste and desire for these foods and I am glad that I did, although if I could resurrect my Grammy for one more plate of beans and those fat, over-sized hot dogs and thick, buttered bread, followed by tapioca pudding for dessert, I would.
That little house in Bedford became a house of umpteenth gables for me as well as my sister and brother as they grew older. Each nook, area, space or place held some significance. Perhaps the best one was Pappy’s workshop in the cellar. It was never called a basement, as was the case in New York, and going down there required special permission from the authorities, which only served to enhance the sheer magic of the tools, tables and junk that looked like a treasure trove of construction possibilities.
My parents probably spent more on toys for me at Christmas that far out-weighed the cost of one of most fascinating devices Pappy had in the land of nails and such. If they had boxed this thing up and out it under the tree, I would probably still be playing with it.
The grinding wheel.
The way the handle felt in your hand when you turned the crank which made the wheel spin was powerful. The faster you cranked, the faster the wheel. And the best part was yet to come once I had that thing turning what seemed like a thousand miles per hour.
When you held the tip of a screwdriver on to the spinning wheel, sparks would fly like the Fourth of July. It was utterly thrilling to see the sparks fly across the room and fall harmlessly to the floor while wisps of metal-smoke rose from the tip of the tool. Faster and faster I would spin and grind, until I had deformed yet another Pappy tool, at which time I would then ask my little brother if he wanted to try, which left him holding the now-useless screwdriver in his hand when Mom or Dad would come to see what the racket was about. Success! Or I would think, until I eventually realized that my parents weren’t stupid and no four year old boy could do what I, the nine year old could do with the spinning wheel and a tool.
When I wasn’t grinding and wrecking, I would watch Pappy with complete and utter amazement when he was working on making something out of wood. This was New Hampshire wood, not like the New York wood which only appeared floating in a run-off stream or in a gutter. You made things with this wood. It even smelled good.
Pappy made some incredible bird houses out of scraps of wood that he would cut by hand. Just the sound of a real saw being drawn by hand and the pump of his sinewy arm was art-in-motion to me. He made it look easy as he would cut each and every board laser-straight. He knew just how to hold the nails between his gnarled fingers so that it would go in straight. Anyone who could hammer things straight and without snapping the wood in half was amazing to me. And this was my Pappy, who was really showing me the elegant nature of patience, which I never seemed to have adopted.
When he wasn’t creating a masterpiece of a birdhouse in the magical wood-kingdom of the cellar, he would be massaging, building and encouraging what I thought to be the most massive garden of vegetables and flowers in the world of a little boy. Each row was meticulously cared for; nary a weed was to be found. Clad in his overalls, dirty white T-shirt and worn-out work boots, he would pore over every leaf, every stalk, and every branch of whatever was growing. And grow they did. He had corn, which as a little kid might as well have been an Iowa cornfield as they were so very tall and thick. I remember carefully prancing into the corn rows. It felt as though I was out of sight and in another dimension. I could smell the various aromas and fragrances that the plants would emit in a cacophony of fresh air dressed in all things New Hampshire; all things Pappy. It wasn’t just the fact that they grew like wildfire, but they did because of him.
He would take the time to show me just how to pick the yellow beans without ruining the plant itself, and to snap stalks of rhubarb to bring to Grammy who would wash them in cold water, then have us dip the ends in sugar. As far as youthful respites, bringing in the stuff that Pappy grew to eat them almost right away was far better than waiting on a hot, steamy corner for the ice cream man. It seemed that the all the ice cream men that laced through my New York neighborhood during the summer evenings looked like they had just murdered someone. Most of them were nasty, so we never felt a pang of guilt when one of our gang would distract the driver with a firecracker thrown on his seat, which allowed the quicker kids to reach up and pilfer from his freezer boxes. Yes, it was better to be at Pappy’s house.
And for some reason that still escapes me, I was never allowed to walk into the Grammy half of the garden. This is where all of the assorted flowers were. If I was caught going near any of them, she would yell from the kitchen window which overlooked the back yard and garden like a prison tower. “Git away from the gahhdin!”
She would yell and then retreat from the window to alert my Mother, who heard her anyway along with anyone within the county. My Mother would reiterate the initial warning to stay away from Grammy’s flowers. In my mind, I couldn’t understand the felony –level of my potential breach, as anything worth the effort was growing on Pappy’s side, which possessed far greater utility then her damn flowers. We at least ate what he grew.
Pappy was also an avid and talented fly fisherman. He was a member of the local casting club and was magic with a cast. I could never seem to emulate the gentle, ballet-like swing of his rod as it tossed the line like a graceful string of silk across the river water. I watched in amazement from downstream, where I would be jamming the fattest worm that I could find on a hook to try and catch fish that you could fit into a shot glass. Then, every so often, I would catch a glimpse of Pappy casting and pulling a shiny, struggling trout from the river. Pappy stood in the middle of the river in his waders, a fishing cap complete with various fish-catching flies hooked into the sides like a conqueror’s medals.
Pappy was never too engrossed in his fly-casting venture to teach me how to fish. I was amazed at how deftly he would slide a squirming worm onto my hook like a tailored suit. I usually eviscerated any worm that I had selected for my hook, or put so much worm on a hook it looked a chocolate parfait that the miniscule fish that I desperately tried to capture would pick it clean without so much as a thank you. Even with my having murdered countless worms in my effort to catch a fish-any fish, Pappy was ever so patient. If the little red and white bobber started to flinch and sink, Pappy would be just as excited as I. With his still-wet waders squishing and squeaking, he would walk over to me where I would be perched on the edge of the bank, and draw himself close to me, head to head just to see what I was seeing.
“Go slow” he would whisper and “don’t pull up too quickly”. Pappy always made me feel like I was about to catch Moby Dick himself.
When the moment came and it was okay to pull the rod up and reel my catch in, Pappy would cheer me on and with his left hand on my shoulder commend me for bringing the fish in. Now came the hard part-taking the damn thing off of the hook. This was the only part of the experience that I hated. Pappy would say, “you caught ‘em-now you have to take him off the hook.” It was something akin to a rite of passage in the fishing world of my grandfather, as though one wasn’t really a fisherman until they could encircle their hand around the girth of the wriggling fish and carefully extract the hook. It took all of the bravery I could muster to avoid the spikes of the local Perch fish, which I seemingly caught every time I fished. As small as these fish were, they had these spike-like fins that rose up like needles when they were stressed.
“Show me, Pappy”, I would say, knowing full-well that it would help me avoid being ripped to pieces by those nasty fins. He would place the fish in the palm of his calloused right hand and the fish always calmed right down. His long, gnarled fingers would engulf the fish while his left hand would slide the hook from the fish’s gill. “See..nuthin’ to it.”
And with that said, Pappy would slide the fish gently from his hand and back into the water.
“Can I do it again, Pappy?” And with a nod he would hand me a worm, I would fumble and twist the hapless creature onto the hook and would toss the hook and worm back into the water and catch the same fish again.
The mornings that we fished seemed like they went on forever, but in a good way. I was mesmerized by the sound of the little waves from the lake as they slapped gently on the shore, or the gurgling of the river-streams. It was medicinal to a stressed-out kid from New York to just stand there and listen to the cornucopia of New Hampshire sounds; water, the breeze through the trees, the bullfrogs, the snapping of twigs under feet, and the variety of bird sounds that never ceased. I wasn’t a kid who took to being quiet, but I couldn’t wait to be absolutely silent as Pappy would lead us from one favorite fishing spot to another.
Pappy was also the great white hunter to me. He only went bird-hunting, but he hunted nonetheless, which meant that he owned a monstrous shotgun that I was absolutely fascinated with. In New York, I had heard about guns, but they had nothing to do with hunting fowl.
Pappy kept the gun in a case and in a closet upstairs in a room that he used for storing his fishing and hunting supplies, which included a table devoted solely to tying fishing flies. Here was a man who could swing a hammer like Thor, saw through wood like butter, and sling a shotgun over his should like a walking stick, yet he had the deft hands of a surgeon.
On rainy and foul days, Pappy would often retreat to his operating table, where he would peer through a magnifying glass that was hitched to a small stand. With a spotlight that you could see from space, he would weave little pieces of thread and feathery material around a hook that was firmly held by another little stand that held a plier-like device. I would watch in amazement (and of course, absolute silence) while his workman’s hands would encircle, sew, secure and tighten each miniscule little piece. I recall asking him what he was making and he handed me a poster with scores of multi-colored fishing flies each with their own particular name. Names like, “royal coachman”, “wooly worm” and other oddities confused me further and made my appreciation for worms that much better. They were different for different kinds of fish he would tell me, which made me even more admiring of him. Pappy was the NASA of fishing; he was so far advanced in the world of sport fishing that I never even thought of arriving at that plateau, or level of incredible patience required to sequester oneself in a darkened room hours at a time creating little flies with bizarre names. And to this day I still have no idea about fishing with flies.
Perched over the door and just to the right of the fly-tying table was a stuffed pheasant. I often slept in this room as it had two beds, one of which Pappy slept in when he and Grammy couldn’t sleep together due to his brutal snoring. As the sun went down and before my eyes grew weary, I would often gaze upon the bird, with its left wing thrust out as though in flight. The eyes, wide open, still held a lifelike tone as though it was only taking a break.
But it wasn’t. It was dead and Pappy, along with his incredibly talented and intelligent hunting dog “Speck” had flushed it out from wherever it had been hiding. The bird reminded me that I was away from New York and in a place where birds like this flourish to the point that they are hunted. This certainly wasn’t a sparrow, or a robin, or the ubiquitous New York pigeon. A pheasant was a royal bird and belongs in the idyllic setting of a New Hampshire glen or meadow.
I often wondered why there was only one pheasant tacked to Pappy’s wall. Why, here he was, in a place that resembled the same territory that Timmy and Lassie would roam, and there must have been plenty of other pheasant to shoot. But, for my grandfather, one was enough. Hunting or fishing was his time to breathe as well, to step away from the grit and noise of the shoe factory, to remind him that he was one with the real New Hampshire, and that his talents far exceeded that of a man who was relegated to a machine that made the same thing over and over.
Perhaps the place in Pappy and Grammy’s house that hold the most memories was the living room. It was small, yet able to accommodate all of us that crowded onto the dark brown couch, or the small, low-backed chair that Grammy sat in, or as I often preferred, was the round, marshmallow-shaped hassock that was intended for my Pappy’s feet but made a better gymnastic device than a foot stool. Rolling on it to the point that the seams were stressed and in danger of tearing was taboo when the adults were in the room, but they were not, it was my time to roll and spin and roll some more. I don’t know how even to this day, but no matter where they were, they knew I was playing furniture Olympics with the hassock and would shout from the wherever to “knock it off.”
The premier location in the living room was Pappy’s chair. Situated in the right upper corner of the room, its back to the front entry door (which no one used) and in direct line of the television in the corner, it assumed a throne-like status.
The chair was a drab, olive green with a faded flowery pattern, with a high-back that had the atypical wings that held guard to the left and to the right. The armrests were padded, rounded and sort of curled under. The top of the throne just behind where Pappy’s head rested was a white doily that never moved.
To Pappy’s right was a magazine repository of sorts. It was a small table with a tall lamp struck through middle and to its’ side was a carrier that was loaded to the brim with magazines such as “Field and Stream”, ‘Sports Illustrated”, and the occasional “Life” magazine. I don’t recall seeing him actually ever read any of them, but there they sat for years.
It was this chair that Pappy would come to the last chapter of every day. The seat cushion, sunken and misshapen, had a little dark pillow to give him some supportive relief. It stayed the same way after he left the chair for the evening. This isn’t to say that it was even the least bit uncomfortable for him. On the contrary, the pothole in the cushion fit him quite well.
One thing was for sure; no one sat in his chair. Not that he would object- it was an unwritten rule that never had to be enforced. We all knew that Pappy deserved his own resting place where he would be able to perch for our benefit.
And when it came time for evening television, with the four channels that they received, it was also a rule that watching the news was paramount and not to be compromised by any request to watch anything else. With rabbit ears in the right position, my grandparents would glue themselves to Jack Chase for the Boston news and Don Kent for the weather. Then it was on to Huntley and Brinkley for the national news and back in the sixties and early seventies, it was none too good.
I knew that it was none to good by the litany of comments made by my grandparents. Seeing what was happening in Watts or Detroit or Viet Nam made being in their home in Bedford that much more removed from the mess of the world. In New York, it seemed that we were at the epicenter of all things that were going to crap, and in many cases, we most certainly were. I relied upon my grandparents to be somewhat of a barometer of social issues in many respects. If there were college riots, it was because of the hippies, or drugged-up drop-outs, or whatever term that they could come up with to identify who was to blame.
Pappy never offered sage-like advice from the chair, nor did he pontificate or philosophize. He never told anyone what to do, never reaching back into his own life’s experiences to offer remedy to anyone about anything. He didn’t have to.
Pappy showed me what it meant to be simple and to be comfortable with what you have and how to relax without having to open your wallet. Without ever having to say it, we all knew that he really loved my Grandmother by the way he looked at her. He never raised his voice in anger to her, even if she may have deserved a little backlash from him. I don’t know how he resisted any temptation to tell her where to go at times, but he was wise enough to let her spout and she would soon forget what she had been yammering about.I learned from Pappy that wisdom doesn’t have to say anything. If there’s a secret to a serene and long life, it would seem that he held it, never spoke of it, but modeled it beautifully. He gave me lessons on tranquility and peace through his smile and his reticence. He showed me how to be tender through his gardening, patience with his fly-tying, strength through his carpentry, and kindness through fishing. And he never had to say anything.
Copyright © Jeffrey Czarnec 2013