"I don't like children," Grandpa said without hesitation. "I never liked children even when I was a child" How could this be, I thought to myself. What on earth is he trying to say to me now?
This was the typical way my dialogues with Grandpa would be. I was always learning something new about him and at the same time just plain learning about the life of a man that spanned 96 years.
It was a time in my life that if anyone needed a Grandpa it was me. It was a time of transition for me in that I was completely out of my element. I was the city mouse who without warning turned into the country mouse. This is where my spirit of adventure had placed me. This is where my stand by the side of a friend had left me. This is where another beginning was taking place and my angel was Grandpa.
"Nope," he said as a matter of sheer fact. He went on to explain that when he was a young boy all he wanted to do was work. He wanted to contribute towards the family. He had no time for childish things and wanted to be a man. He wanted to be able to earn his keep to the world and those he cared mostly about. Another fact, Grandpa had raised 26 children in his lifetime. Hard to even comprehend, yet it is true. Some children were his and the rest came with the women in his life. It was at that time I realized why he felt the way he did. He called his youngest group of grandchildren, "heathens". I still have to laugh about it to this day. That man never lied!
Grandpa was a logger by trade. He also was a champion boxer and would work all types of different jobs to feed his family. He had lived almost everywhere in the state of New Hampshire at one point or another. He could tell you addresses as well as what the people were like. Countless hours had been spent listening to him tell me how Manchester use to look and Concord. He would tell me about New Englanders. He would talk about their manners and their politics and he spared no mercy on those topics. He would answer questions as basic as one can get. When I asked him what the people in Maine were like, he would say, "people in Maine are a different kind of people." That was it!
I would grin and smile laughingly back at him and insist he tell me what he meant. He would only add, "people in Maine are people in Maine." Of course he did have more to say with regard to other New England states. Some remarks were outrageous and ones that prevent me from repeating however I have made note of them in my mind.
Grandpa had great insight to his famiy and to why he chose Deerfield, New Hampshire to be his home. One by one he went through his children. There was no difference to him as to whose children they were. Some were white, some were black and some were mixed racially. Some were his and others were not biologically his. It didn't matter to him. He would just tell me about them based on their character. He would share what he saw as their strengths as well as their weaknesses. He would compare things to what his father would see. He knew what part of him was his father and what part of him was his mother. He was happy with some and disappointed in others. The biggest thing however is that he raised them! He worked and worked and had no difficulty with discipline or the use of a shotgun to make teenage boys get the message.
Grandpa paid bail for some and helped other ones get another start. With hearing starting to fail, with tears in his eyes from too much reading, with fingers that couldn't open things as good and arthritis in his legs, he still wanted to help the kids. He still wanted to make sure they were OK. He still would give these now grown children hell if they deserved it and would make suggestions to them at the same time. Then, there was Deerfield.
Grandpa loved Deerfield with every fiber of his being. He shared his story of when he came there and how no other place could capture him the most like Deerfield could. He was proud of his home. Why or how someone could say that with such passion was incredible. After all, the house that originally sat on the property had been destroyed by a fire. Then all the animals on his farm left one by one for one reason or another. Later he sold some of his land to pay the medical bills for his wife who had cancer. Topping it all off with living through some horrible winters and Nor Easters and so on and so on. Grandpa was proud to say he was from Deerfield, New Hampshire and proud to call himself a Democrat.
Grandpa could still see the beauty of the trees and leaves on a crisp fall day. Driving down his road as the sun begins to set is like a painting that you knew some artist already captured. Grandpa could still smell the fresh air and the moist earth. Grandpa would gather every bit of strength he had to stand up with two canes to walk out of his home on the landing saying, "be sure to come back", as I opened my car door. As long as I made a promise back to him that I would come back he became more and more accepting that I moved away.
Visits were frequent as long as the weather would hold out. I would let Grandpa know that once winter set in I would be staying close to home. He understood. I had the hardest of times leaving Deerfield when I did. He was open and receptive to my change and he never said anything negative about it. He just happened to believe that Deerfield was the best.
Once I began working shortly after landing in this abyss Grandpa was then always asking me how I was doing. He wanted to know if I was being treated right. He wanted to know if "those folks" were paying me good. He wanted to know if I was happy. He questioned me about where I lived and if I liked it there. He wanted to know if I thought things suited me. Other than these questions Grandpa would comment on my religious/cultural background as well as my political point of view and he did it at will. If something would come to his mind about an experience he had, then it was sure to follow he would refer to me.
Being with him was never about me telling him all my problems. I never had to speak of them. He read my soul from the start with just a glance. Being with him was pure respect before I uttered one word or opinion or even laughter. Being with him showed me what perseverance really is and what it takes to remain honorable in a troubled world.
The life of a man who said, "I don't like children," saved me from second guessing my decisions and choices in life. We all have crossroads in our lives. Hopefully we are astute enough to realize that is what they are. At these junctures it is hard to sometimes feel if what decisions we did make were indeed the right ones. Grandpa told me once that the only good thing he thought one of his grandsons did was to bring me to New England. That was six years ago. That statement made me feel as if I belonged. That statement gave me the courage to stick it out and learn to adapt to the new country mouse enviroment from the city mouse comfort zone.
Now it is two years after Grandpa has since passed away. I still see his big smile and his eyes in my mind and heart. It reminded me of when I packed up my memories of New Hampshire, the farm and the Deerfield fair.
The days that come sometimes when I begin to have self doubt I hear the spirit of a man called Grandpa. Grandpa believed in me when I could not believe in myself. Grandpa respected my upbringing as a Jewish woman when I had a hard time respecting it myself. Grandpa appreciated everything I did and would go out of his way to say it over and over. Grandpa's words that he was glad I was in New England come flooding into my soul.
Grandpa knew. He knew about life and about death. He knew about happy and sad. He knew about strength and about weakness. Grandpa knew about loss and about winning. Grandpa knew about good and he knew about bad. Grandpa knew that I needed an angel. He was my earth angel back then and is my spirit angel now. Grandpa knew I needed a push in the right direction. Grandpa believed I would stay strong and honest and true to myself. In fact, he was probably counting on it!
Rib it- I rest my head on the New England lily pad of my life!