When I had just become a grandfather (“Grunked” – “Ganddaddy Uncle Bob” was shortened to “GrandUncle” then to “Grunkle”, ending up “Grunk.”) for the second time, I had a lot of congratulations, as well as a lot of well-wishes for the kid. A couple of friends asked a serious question that started me to cogitating, though: “In these days and times, thinking about raising up a pair of grandsons, what would you wish for them to have, to make their lives as good as yours has been?” As one old classmate observed, “We’ve had a pretty good run at Life, haven’t we?”
Little Dave was right, as usual. We were raised in the best place, in the best times, by the best people that kids could ever have been by. And that includes a whole bunch of good friends who are fast getting long in the tooth right along with me.
So that would be about it: Friends, to go along with Faith and Family, which you’d hope and pray for as they grow. There’s a framed calligraphy in my den saying, “The finest gift a father can leave his children is the knowledge that he loves their mother.” That works, but I’d add to that, “and God.” If you have those two things, you almost got it licked. There could be a lot of frills added, but the main one is, I’d wish for Sean and Leiton to grow up with as good a group of non-blood-kin Uncles and Aunts as I did, and as my own kids did.
Big Robert and Uncle Sam, his brother, did well bringing me up, but I killed my first dove under my Godfather Frank Tindall’s tutelage, and in his field. I acquired the desire and the skill of predator calling from Big Dave Bradham, until a great horned owl almost scalped me one night decades later. I also learned from him an appreciation of being willing and able to try to fix anything, though I never had the knack for it.
Big John Dean was there when I killed my first duck, as well as my first deer, from which he liberally smeared blood on my face first thing. He also sent Little John & me to rake sloughs for crawfish, and purge them before boiling to eat. Uncle Shag Shaifer was magnificent on building a stew, but even more proficient in the hospitality of doing so for a houseful of friends and kids. He also instructed me in the art of coon hunting. Mi’ter Mo’ taught me the art of tight-lining for white perch. Mister Jay looked after me not only in teaching hunting, but the basics of conservation and manners in the outdoors, sometimes enforced forcibly. Mountain Willy reinforced the instruction in firearms I got from Big Robert and Uncle Sam. Unca Tullier (“Too-yay”) taught me all I could ever want to know about salt-water fishing.
I grew up being at home in the houses of all those men and their wives, and they loved me just like they did their own kids, as well as – and this is a biggie, folks – disciplining me right along with theirs when I needed it. Many a Sunday when we’d act up on the Kid’s Pew, there would be a regular belt line before we cleared the church. I was never abused, but I sure got at least what I deserved!
My own kids had the same type of Uncle-&-Aunt fraternity as they grew up: older friends who were no blood kin, with names like James, Dye, McElwee, Daly, Bedford, Steen, Street, Neely, Ross, Crockett, Drake – one of my favorite books, Illusions, says, “You will know your friends better in the first minute you meet them than you will ever know some of your family. The bond that links true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.” Of course, that said, I have to acknowledge the value of Br’er Beau and Mountain Willy to my children’s lives.
So that’d be my wish, for those who asked and started this train of thought: For Sir and “Baby Brudder” to have those type Giants in their lives as they grow older; as well as, of course, for The Grunk and Doots to be around for a long time for their GrandBoys.
I’ve been through a lot in this life, and could have given up several times. The one thing that kept me going in the toughest times was knowing that there were friends to whom I could turn when things got too tough; and that they’d be there when I needed them, for whatever I needed. I can only hope and pray that my GrandBoys will have that type upbringing.