Those early years of life are so important because they set the pattern for the rest of it. The people who are in the early part of your life, who live in your earliest memories, hold sway over whatever happens thereafter.
If you’ve followed this space for a while, you’ve seen me write about my Grampa Sam. He lived right next door. You may have also seen me write about my Grandpa Byrd. In many ways they were opposites. Sam was laid-back. Byrd (this was his last name but even his wife called him Byrd) was fastidious and detail-oriented. Sam had been a sharecropper and oilfield day-laborer; Byrd had been a prison guard on the chain-gang and a carpenter — not totally unconnected professions.
For those of you who are familiar with Lonesome Dove, I might compare them to Gus and Captain Call, respectively. If you are not familiar with Lonesome Dove, I would suggest you find a few hours and repair that defect in your personal experience. Gus and Call each represent one dimension in the male personality. They are like spirit and flesh; faith and works. Neither can be whole without the other.
I was lucky to have two grandfathers who between them showed me the full dimensionality of what it is to be a man. What’s more, even though they were opposites, they liked each other. This is because they had a common enemy: Dad.
Between them, I can create the ideal Grampa. Grampa’s should know how to hunt and fish. They should be able to skin a squirrel and get out all of the bird shot so that you don’t find it during supper. Back in the day, they wouldn’t’ve had to use a shotgun, but your eyesight begins to fail as you age and you have to make accommodations.
They should have a skill. They should know how to saw boards and nail them together again. They should be able to make bird boxes, picnic tables, or houses. They should have a certain laugh that when the young men hear it, they don’t laugh; they get quiet; they get scared. They know they need to be careful.
Grampas should be wise. They should be able to talk politics and hold both parties in equal contempt, but especially hate Richard Nixon or whoever the equivalent of the day is. They should hate him, but not to the point they vote for George McGovern, rather George Wallace or maybe not at all.
In short, grampas should be colorful, larger than life, and as politically incorrect as all get out. There should be times when Grampa’s long-suffering spouse — aka Grandma — will say things like, “You go on; you just get out of here if you can’t be nicer than that” but chide any child around who fails to show respect ... in his absence.
You might wonder why I am thinking so much about this, but then again, maybe you’ve figured it out.
I am going to be a grampa.
We saw the pictures the other day, and my eldest is going to have a boy in July.
I spent about 15 minutes just now staring into space figuring out how to explain what learning that I’m going to be a grampa felt like.
It’s as if I was walking along through the forest on a dark night and saw a campfire up ahead, but up until that point I hadn’t realized it was dark or that I was in the woods.
It was a sudden rush of hope.
There will be one little light coming on as this one begins to go out. That is okay; that is perfect; that is the way it is supposed to be.
(Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)