My grandfather lived right next door to us when I was growing up. I'm named after him. He was known around town as Rocky, and, because he seemed to always have me with him in his green '53 Chevrolet with the tobacco stains down the driver's side from his habit of chewing tobacco, I got called little Rocky.
I never thought much about it then. I was way too busy being five years old, believing him when he told me that the reason I had freckles was because of my habit of standing up behind him in the car when he spit out the window.
I thought that was a pretty amazing way to get freckles, and I was glad I had them. I don't have any memory of getting hit in the face by tobacco juice, so I'm guessing I must have gotten scarred for life some other way. I just assume I'm scarred for life. Isn't everybody?
Pap used to come over every Sunday morning to read the paper. My older brother and I would come downstairs in the morning to find him there, in my dad's green vinyl recliner that doubled as our rocket ship when no one was in it, and he would put down whatever it was he was reading and pick up the comic section to read to us.
It wasn't that we couldn't read. It was just some sort of ritual we never questioned.
I was only slightly horrified to find out years later that he came over to read our paper because my step-grandmother gave him a hard time about paying for a newspaper we got for free because my dad was a typesetter for the paper. I'll leave explaining what a typesetter was.
I learned how to tie flies from my grandfather, and all other things fishing. We made our own lures, melted lead for weights, raised meal worms, learned how to use a gun, skin a rabbit, and make portable heaters for winter deer hunting out of old Maxwell House coffee cans filled with cardboard and paraffin.
He taught me how to ride a bike, and how not to cry when I ran head-long into my brother's bike and crashed into a giant pine tree.
Dad showed us pretty much the same things Pap did, but with somewhat less patience. Pap would laugh when we screwed something up. Dad hadn't developed the art of patience at that time. He must have been saving that part for my kids.
That seems to be the thing about grandparenting. My wife recently pointed out this quote to me she found by author Kate Morton in her book, The House at Riverton:
A grandparent's time is special, and so much simpler.
“While one's child takes apart of one's heart to use and misuse as they please, a grandchild is different. Gone are the bonds of guilt and responsibility that burden the maternal relationship. The way to love is free.
She, of course, was speaking of mothers and grandmothers, but it's also true of the paternal side. No one ever mentioned love, mind you. That isn't much of a guy thing between other guys, and even less so 50 years ago.
But somewhere along this journey, I became my grandfather, only different. The kids are miles away, nowhere near to being next door. I would love to be able to be there everyday, but that just isn't going to happen. If I try to hoodwink them with a similar freckles story, I get these dubious, doubting looks, because at five years of age, they are already too worldly to buy into my nonsense.
I must have been 16 or 17 before I figured out my grandfather was selling me a bill of goods about the freckles. Maybe a little younger, but you never take note of when you lose your innocence. For most things. For some things, you remember every single detail, but this isn't that kind of column.
We have Mother's Day and Father's Day, and I'm certain there's a Grandparent's Day that we really don't celebrate. Grandparents don't mind that. When I see my children, I see the results of my procreation, and I'm rightfully proud. But my grandkids are my legacy, and that's something different all together. I sure hope they understand what that means someday. And, that they get to experience the same thing.