An essay about a man I admire, as I would write it for grade 12 English class, if I had any balls at all, November, 1997.
My earliest memories of my grampa are of visiting the farm. I’d marvel from the backseat of my parent’s car as we’d turn off of the civilized highway onto the be-graveled road that ran up and down hill and gully and out past the collapsed barn and right in front of the old house.
There is a sharp corner just as the road reaches my grand-parent’s property. Right at this spot, on the corner of their lot, was an upset car, abandoned there by its owner several years before. Eventually, I’d come to realize that it was only there because grampa couldn’t be bothered to have it towed away. He's always had better things to do with his time and money, like cleaning wild strawberries while my grandma buys Nevada tickets and plays Bingo.
It is a little fuzzy, but I have vague memories of collecting eggs with my grandfather, of getting my hand pecked by bitchy hens, and of stealing away their still-warm eggs. I found that the least shit-covered eggs were the most pleasant to handle. I also remember being scared of the pigs he raised one year. Don’t let the adorable pigs you see in the movies fool you. Those bastards get big and mean and covered in their own shit, especially if you don’t clean out their pen on account of their being big and mean.
I recall throwing vegetable peelings to the chickens, picking vegetables in the garden, and enduring the continual yapping of his dog, neglected and chained, in the distance. I have fond memories of falling asleep to the sounds of hockey night in Canada as my grampa watched the game on Saturday night, as was his wont. I will always cherish the hours that I spent on the lake fishing in silence with him, and his laughter whenever I managed to hook a fish. He also laughed whenever he hurt himself, like the time he got a fish hook caught in his knuckle. I’m not sure what to make of that.
An Early Lesson in Trust
There was this one time I remember walking in the back yard to see what my grampa was up to. From a distance, I could tell that he was mucking around with a motor of some type.
Before I got too far, my father stopped me and said “If he tries to give you something or asks you to put something on your tongue, say no.”
I wasn’t too sure what to make of these instructions, but I proceeded to investigate my grampa’s activities. Sure enough, my grandfather holds out a wire and says, “put your tongue on this.” I told him about my father's warning. He just laughed.
I suspect that he was secretly upset. He has over 20 grandchildren that he knows of. I’m pretty sure he views each one of us as a free sparkplug/battery test. My father's warning rendered me a little more useless than before.
Things of course changed as I got older. The visits became less frequent, especially when I became old enough to stay at home and masturbate while my parents made the two-hour drive. I had come to see my grampa as a distant figure, a strong and silent man, a farmer, a soldier, who has little affection for his city-boy grandson.
An heirloom to be bequeathed pre-mortem
Lately, I’ve taken to throwing keg parties at my parent’s cottage (near my grand-parent’s farm) a couple times each summer. Technically, these are more like get-togethers with my closer friends. At any rate, prior to one of these weekends my father told me that my grampa wanted to give me something. I recently got my hunting license and firearms permit, and my grandfather was getting on in years, so my dad figured that Grampa would bequeath me one of his rifles before he passed away, so that he could see me enjoy it, or whatever. In other words, on this particular weekend, I would have to stay sober enough at some point to drive down to his place and visit for awhile, which is a sobering trip that I would make every other time I was in town in any case.
So, I drive over for a visit. My grandma dominates the conversation, as per usual. That's fine by me, my grandmother is a very entertaining woman. At some point, my grampa says “Well, follow me and I’ll show you the gun I’m giving you.” I'm pumped as hell about this for several reasons. First, I could never afford to buy my own rifle. Second, my fucking grampa is giving me a rifle! How cool is that?
As we walk upstairs, he tells me about shooting his first deer with the very rifle he's giving me. He says the buck was huge and that he hoped that I would have similar luck with the rifle. At that point , he described it in more detail, telling me that it was a 3-oh-3. I later confirmed it to be a .303 Lee-Enfield, the model used by commonwealth soldiers to fight Nazis during WWII; Incidentally, my grampa fought in the war as a tank driver/gunner; he landed on Normandy the day after D-day; he seldom speaks of it, and even then only in the most general terms.
Sidebar: Three Anecdotes about the War
1. My grampa once laughingly recalled the time some of his buddies got infected with French-whore gonorrhoea. Apparently you had to be there to see the humor in their screaming when they took a leak. If my grampa is to be believed, one of the guys bent a steel bar with his bare hand out of sheer agony-strength. Given the size of his hands and the fact I once witnessed him lift the back-end of a snowmobile with one arm, I am inclined to think that the guy who bent the steel bar was in fact grampa.
2. As a tank driver, my grampa was given the task of plowing dead bodies to create bridges over trenches and streams. Among other things, this anecdote is responsible for teaching me that real men do cry, namely my grampa and my father.
3. The day after VE-day, my grampa’s friend decided to take a short-cut across a field with his motorcycle. He hit a mine and died. This anecdote taught me that retardedly poignant shit that is only supposed to happen in movies sometimes happens in real life.
My rifle, but where is the case?
So, I follow my grampa into his room. He opens his closet door to reveal about 20 rifles of various description, mostly .22 cal. Somehow, he manages to pick out the rifle in question. It is a beauty. He hands it to me and I am immediately struck by how heavy it is. Awesome. Words can’t describe the joy I'm feeling at getting a rifle, a rifle from my grandfather, a rifle used to kill his first deer, a rifle of the same model as those used in the war in which he fought. It is as if this weapon were a sort of bridge across worlds, linking a soft city kid with his tough-as-nails war-vet grandfather.
While I admire my new boom-stick, playing around with the action and safety, my grampa starts looking for the gun case that he hoped to give me to go along with it. The first thing he finds is a box of old bullets. He hands those over to me and keeps looking for his spare gun case. He looks under the bed. He looks under some crap in the closet. He climbs up on top of some stuff and looks into this attic-type thing. No dice. I am still too enamoured with my gift to notice that my grampa is getting frustrated.
At this point, he yells out my grandma’s name. She comes upstairs and says “What!?”, in a dry tone.
My grampa says “Where’s my gun case?”, to which she replies “I don’t know. I didn’t touch it.”
Unsatisfied, my grampa insists, “Where’s my gun case you stupid cunt!?”
This last comment doesn't phase my grandma at all. They go about arguing over where the case might be and who might have moved it. For me, though, the world stops for a moment.
Did grampa just say what I think he said? My mother would kill my father (my grampa’s son) if he even so much as called her a bitch. Here is my grampa, in what is arguably the most special moment we have ever shared (and are ever likely to share), calling my grandmother a ’stupid cunt’.
I feel like I should stick around for awhile. I'm eager to collect less traumatic memories for the ride back to the cottage.
Eventually, I make the drive to my parent’s cottage in a daze. When I get there, I show my buddies my new rifle and I tell them this story. They laugh with me. I think they also understand that I am actually sort of sad. My grampa delivered a powerful dose of reality that day, dashing a certain idealized notion that I had of him.
Looking back, I clearly had mixed feelings about the whole thing, but I am very happy to have this memory now. Grampa dropping the c-bomb makes me imagine him as he really was in the lumber mill, in the big rig, and on the farm; driving a truck or tank, plowing a field or a French-whore, and grieving the loss of a friend and a generation of his peers. Grampa keeps it real. When he passes on, that's how I'll remember him.