I wish I had the chance to buy my Great Grandpa Earl dinner. Just the chance to show him that I have grown up, that I have succeeded, and that I learned from him. I wish I could have lived in his time, and I wish I would have been closer to him when I was growing up, I could have learned so much more than I did.
I was close to Great Grandpa Earl, but I was never as close to him as I wish now that I would have been. I remember summer nights at Grandpa Earl and Grandma Nanna’s house when the adults would all play cards or croquet after dinner, and my sister and I would look through Grandma Nanna’s old jewelry box, or explore the old neighborhood when we got a little bit older. I remember a lot of summer nights catching lightening bugs in a jar, and watching the Kansas City Royals on TV. Grandma Nanna always made such a nice dinner for us, and she always made the fruit jello with every meal. It was a strong feeling of family that took my own aging to really understand its value.
Grandpa Earl was the first one to teach me about fishing. It was always in lakes, a lot of times at the Lake of the Ozarks, other times in small lakes in Missouri or Kansas. We would go out really early in the morning, well before dawn, in a small Jon boat. He always wore his black leather wing tip shoes and his fedora hat. He showed me how to rig a minnow or worm on a hook under a bobber, how and where to cast, and wait for the fish to bite, which they always did.
Grandpa Earl was so tolerant of me being a young boy, and he taught me to be patient. There were mornings on a silent lake, with the sun barely rising, the water as still as a piece of stretched blue silk, and I would be making too much noise in the boat. Grandpa Earl would always say “You have to be quieter than the fish if you want to catch them.” I thought “How can you be quieter than the fish? They don’t make any noise until they jump out of the water.” But he was right; you have to be quieter than the fish.
I wish I could remember all of the things he told me, but I remember him more for the image of him he left in my mind, and the values he ingrained in my soul . He was a wise man, very sensible, and he used to tell me about times when bread was 5 cents a loaf, how hard he and his family had to struggle to make a living during the depression, and how he lost so many friends during the wars throughout his life, mostly WWI and II.
The last time I saw him was when he came with Dad to visit me during my second year in college in 1982. He was quite an incredible man that I wish I knew better. Great Grandpa Earl died shortly after that visit, he was 89. The last time I was with him, we were sitting on the stairs outside of my fraternity house on a warm fall afternoon. I remember him sitting there, with his black leather wing tip shoes and fedora, smoking a cigarette, telling me that he was proud of me, and telling me that the world was so different than it was when he was young. He told me about life before cars and TV, and how he had to work hard as a young boy at 10 years old to help the family get through hard times. He used to haul ice to people’s ice boxes in their houses for ten cents a day. Some days he would get a tip or two for an extra twenty cents, and that was a big deal for him. He was almost 20 years old before cars were traveling the dirt roads of the city streets, and he never watched a television program until he was in his fifties.
I’m not sure what inspired me to write about Grandpa Earl tonight, but I wish I had that time with him to live over again, I would have asked a lot more questions, and listened a lot more than I did when I was a kid. If you have that chance in your life, don’t let it slip by.