By Bruce Murray
I was reflecting the other day about how much I enjoyed being a grandfather and how much better I am at that job than I was as a father. I recall the feeling I had when I met my first granddaughter shortly after she was born and the overwhelming feeling of love for this little person.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my children and I was not a bad father, but somehow with grandchildren I felt like I got a “do over.” Maybe it was the example of my step-grandfather. My mother died when I was very young and I never really knew my grandparents. My father re-married when I was about 4 years old and that was when a real grandfather came into my life. My new mother’s father was everything you could want in a grandpa. He owned a farm with trees to climb, a creek to play in and lambs to chase.
For the next several years my family lived in Northern Canada, but every summer was spent on grandpa’s farm. It was there, I learned about grandfathering. Grandpa always seemed to be doing something interesting whether it was working at his forge or plowing the fields — somehow he made it look fun. I recall turning the handle on the air blower for the forge and being fascinated by how red I could make the coal glow. I never got the same satisfaction from turning the handle on the cream separator for grandma — probably because it just seemed like work.
Grandpas can make work seem like fun just by their presence. My stepmother told us about grandpa’s disciplinary methods. She said generally speaking he would just give you that look that let you know he was very disappointed, but on occasion sterner measures were required. She related how on one occasion she and her brother had done something really bad and grandpa sat them down for a serious discussion, as to what the appropriate punishment should be. It was decided they should get a spanking. Grandpa was concerned he would hurt his hand doing the deed, so mother and her brother were sent outdoors to obtain a small branch off a bush to do the job.
She told us how she and her brother discussed the appropriate size for the switch. If it was too large it would hurt or if it was too thin it would sting. When they made their decisions and returned to grandpa he of course never used switches, but reminded them of his expectation for them to do better in the future.
One day my brother and I were rude to grandma. You could get away with a lot of things at the farm, but you always showed respect for grandma. Unfortunately, grandpa overheard our rudeness and called us into the kitchen for a discussion. He was very disappointed in our actions and reminded us this was not the first time we had been disrespectful to grandma and he felt it necessary to give us a spanking.
We recalled mother’s story about being sent out for switches and thought that would be just fine. Unfortunately, grandpa had other ideas. He went to the ice box and got out a plate of butter. He then explained to us how a good spanking required one’s hands be properly massaged with butter. He talked about how much he loved grandma and how disappointed he was with us for not respecting her all the while massaging his hands with a little butter. He never did spank us, but the lesson was learned and a great example of loving discipline given.
Grandpa always seemed patient with us. The closest I came to seeing him get irritated was when I decided to run away from home while visiting one summer. My mother had insisted I perform some task and I balked at the idea and informed her I was leaving. She said “OK, fine goodbye.”
I went to get my shoes and some other stuff, but she said if I was leaving, leave now and no going for other things. Shoeless, I headed out and walked the three miles into town. I was probably about nine or 10 at the time and this seemed like a real adventure until I got hungry and thirsty.
I sat down on a bench in the local park and contemplated my next move. About this time grandpa drove by and spotted me sitting there. He waved me over to the car and as I got in he said, “hurry up, we don’t have time for this foolishness. Your sister has fallen out of a tree and broken her arm.” I have never forgiven my sister for upstaging my revolt by breaking her arm.
I love being a grandfather and try to remember the lessons learned from my step-grandfather and maybe in some small way I can share that love he had for us with my grandchildren.