Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Everything I need to know I learned from Grandpa
"Remember, Janie, slow, smooth paddle strokes. No splashing." (Whispering now) "If we're really quiet going around the next bend, maybe we'll see them."
"See what Grampa?"
"Shhhhhh, just watch."
As they rounded the bend in the river, he reached forward to the little girl in the bow of the canoe, tapped her shoulder and pointed at the far bank. A flash of movement caught her eye. Then another. She grinned in delight. Four young river otters were cavorting and belly sliding down the muddy riverbank. Mama otter was watching carefully. When mama decided the strange creatures in the canoe were too close she gave a chirp and they all dove under water.
That was me with my Grandpa 42 years ago. He died 16 years ago this month, and October winds always bring him into my thoughts. He only had a grade six education, but my Grandpa Gordon taught me some of the most important lessons of my life. Like:
I learned how to bait a fish hook. Where the biggest trout hid in the Old Mill Rapids on Priest Creek. And how to clean them for the breakfast pan.
I learned the surefire way to make a camp fire with only one match.
I learned to know the sound of wolves calling in the distance at the family cottage in Quebec. And how to yip and howl through the birch bark bull horn until they would answer back.
I learned there really was magic in this world. Grandpa and I would spread special magic seeds on the lawn at bedtime, and when I woke up, lollipops (Laura Secord suckers for you Canadians) were growing everywhere.
He taught me how to drive with a standard transmission, first on my great uncle's haying tractor, then using my grandparents' Volkswagen Westfalia. I was a slow learner, but Grandpa never gave up on me, even when I almost rolled the van taking a corner too fast. He just calmly nodded and said "Now you know to take those curves a little slower Janie. Remember to gear down when you head into the curve." Every car I have owned has had a standard transmission. Thanks to my Grandpa, I love to drive feeling the road through the stick shift.
Every time I watched him run down the road to the fire hall to take up his post on the volunteer fire department, I learned the importance of giving back to one's community.
I learned that an honest day's work is something to be proud of. Grandpa swelled with pride the day he took me through the paper mill he toiled in all his working years. The paper rolls were huge, and loud as the newsprint roared around them. I was so thrilled that my Grandpa, MY OWN GRANDPA! knew how to work them. And how to fix them if they broke.
I learned never to trump my partner's ace in a game of Euchre. Or life.
As well as being a teacher of IMPORTANT LESSONS, Grandpa was my biggest fan. He believed, and never let me forget, I could do anything.
One day, not long before he died, my Mom picked him up from his nursing home and drove him to a medical appointment in Ottawa. He had been suffering with increasing dementia for several years, probably Alzheimer's, and mostly did not understand what was going on around him any more. By then, I was a new lawyer and new mother, living on the other side of the country, wrapped up in my own life. The last time I had talked to him he seemed to think I was a child again, and had no apparent understanding of my adult life.
But as they drove past the Supreme Court of Canada on Ottawa's Wellington Street my usually silent Grandpa looked towards it and announced, "Someday Janie will be there."
I'll probably never be a Supreme Court Judge. But I still turn corners quietly in a canoe, kayak or on a hike. I think Grandpa would be proud of that