I am the youngest of six children. My five older siblings were all married by the time I turned four, so they basically doted on me like a pet or just one more child to play with their kids. They sometimes squabbled over me, all of them wanting me to come spend the weekend with them. I was pretty happy to go with any of them, but my oldest brother doted on me the most. I think it was because he saved me from drowning when I was three. My sister had brought me with her to the lake but was not paying attention when I got hung up in the weeds and slipped under water. Luckily my brother was there and noticed I was missing, ran in and found me unconscious, but obviously still alive. I do not remember any of this, but the story has been told to me over and over, though never by my brother. He was never one to boast. Instead, he took me swimming the next day and again and again until I grew up so at ease in the water that I would think nothing of running out the front door and swimming across the lake for a snack.
He was a huge figure in my childhood. A sharpshooter while in the Army, he taught me how to shoot a rifle. We would shoot the markings out of playing cards. He made his own bullets and taught me how. He built his own cannon and taught me how to shoot it. He taught me how to play pool and darts. He taught me how to dance, first demonstrating with his wife who shared his interests and who was, like him, an amazing competition dancer in local competitions. He would let me stand on his toes and go through the steps until I caught on. He also raced stock cars at the local race track and would let me sit on his lap while he did practice laps. He and my dad worked on the car a lot and, of course, I was there cleaning parts in the parts washer and tightening bolts and then “working” in the pit stop. I had my own overalls with the Royal Canadian whiskey (his sponsor) logo on the back, a farm cap and big red hankies in the pockets. I was about eight when I joined the pit crew.
He taught me to hunt and taught me the ethics of hunting. One year he invited a friend of his come along. The guy showed up with a semi-automatic and a six pack of beer. My brother sent him packing, explaining neither had any place in deer hunting. It was a salutary lesson to see him risk his friendship over principle and he did it without self-doubt and without anger. Sure enough, the friend came back the next day, sober and with a 30.06. It was a great lesson to see that you can stand up to your friends when they are wrong and still remain friends. He also taught me how to play croquet, explaining that it was a much subtler and more strategic game than it first appears. It certainly was when playing with him.
Sometimes he brought me to work where he was a one-man station agent for the single airline serving that small airport. There he taught me how to send up a weather balloon to gather the statistics for the National Weather Service and let me drive the jeep to clear the runway of deer before planes landed. He showed me how they communicated with planes and even let me file my own weather report with the National Weather Service. He also let me say hi to the pilots when he was talking them in and showed me how to book flights and sell tickets. All things that could happen at an airport where one person did everything including loading and unloading and cleaning the plane. Yes, I got to help clean the plane. It was probably only exciting because it was not my job.
He was a genius. A real genius with an eidetic memory and the ability to read a book like TaiPan in a day and recall everything. He could recite something he read two years ago. You could quiz him, opening a book and giving him a page number and he would close his eyes and think a bit and then tell you what it said. He taught me to love history and he never gave me history books for children. He gave me the Guns of August for my 10th birthday. I think it was that book more than anything that turned me onto history; it seemed to show the promise of history, of learning from the mistakes of the past to avoid mistakes in the present. A promise unfulfilled, but still a promise worth pursuing. He taught me how to live with a smarter-than-average mind; that being smart did not mean being a weirdo and did not obligate me to be high-minded every minute of the day. He taught me that it was okay to be smart and be shallow when I felt like it. It was a good balance to my mother who was certain I would grow up to discover the cure for cancer despite my lack of interest in biology or chemistry.
He died in July, 2009. Cancer stole him from us. (Perhaps I should have listened to Mom.) His second grandchild was just born last month, joining humanity without her wonderful grandfather to make the world sensible for her. Sure, her father is there who can teach her the many things his father taught him, but it breaks my heart that this granddaughter will never her him holler “Jump, I will catch you!” and know with 100% certainty that he will.
And so, THANK YOU! Fashion For Life and the designers and organizers who threw themselves wholeheartedly into this event. You raised over 5 million lindens, tens of thousands for cancer research and support. The struggle to win the fight against cancer is not easy and the funds raised are just a drop in the bucket of money needed, but buckets are filled drop by drop, ounce by ounce. You make a difference and because of that, someday more grandchildren will have their granddads around to catch them when they jump.
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