Everyone needs a grandpa: words from Papa Bob

Papa Bob, Writer

My dearly departed Grandpa Art cheated at cribbage, pretended to be hard of hearing to escape his wife’s understandable nagging at him, thought the obviously fake Northwest Wrestling on TV was as real as rain, and used me as an excuse that enabled him to sneak off to the barn on the far edge of his ten acres for a quick shot of Four Roses whiskey and a few tokes off one of his carefully concealed Tiparillo cigars. He liked to play jokes and planned an especially good one for his first meeting with my new bride. It went like this.
We crawled up the winding, gravel road in our Subaru station wagon on a foggy, chilly morning, found his driveway, and parked. There he sat on the porch in a rocking chair whittling on an apple branch with a long knife. He grinned and waved us up.
“Grandpa, this is my wife . . .” “Nice to meet you, young lady,” he interrupted as he stabbed the knife into his upper thigh, stood up, and offered his hand with the knife handle sticking out from his leg toward her.
Hold on! I apologize for I have forgotten my manners. I should introduce myself properly.
Greetings, my young friends. I am a content, old, retired guy who lives two blocks away from the LCSC campus. I stumble around your college on my daily walks, use your library, and attend the many events, especially sports. My favorite week of the year is the NAIA baseball tournament. I relish hanging out and feeling the good energy from you young people as I grow weary of listening to boring tales of knee replacements, silly comments on how the world is going to hell, and possible cures for hemorrhoids.
I was looking through an old briefcase and came across my grandfather’s driver’s license that I had for some unknown reason and noticed the birth date—1893. The date seemed familiar but I couldn’t figure out why. Turns out that it is the same year your college began which is a possible interesting coincidence. I started to research what his life had been like. Here is part of what I found.
But first, let me take on this sad and disgusting myth circulating like a toxic vapor in our culture. Humanity is not swirling the drain as things get progressively worse and worse. The End of Times is not inevitable or inescapable. The Good Ol’ Days mostly sucked. Let’s look at Grandpa Art’s life for it will prove my point.
When Art was born the infant mortality rate was 165 per 1000. Today’s rate is seven per 1000. Let me translate the number for you. One in six babies born died before their first birthday. In parts of the country and world, families would not name their kids until after their first birthday. The horror of losing a little precious baby was not rare—one in six babies died! Think of all the grief. It is beyond comprehension to imagine such a time.
I would gladly stand in front of a loaded semi-truck zooming down the highway or cut my right arm off with a rusty knife to prevent any harm coming toward my grand-baby, Big E, or my
grand-twins—Mister & Sister. I am a positive man, but I don’t know if I could go on if they became ill and died.
When Art was born on an isolated Montana ranch, life expectancy was 42 for a white male (33 for a black male) and only slightly higher for females. Today, life expectancy is close to 80— 78.5 to be precise in 2018. From 42 to 78.5. In 1893 there was a severe economic depression that caused high unemployment and put many into poverty. Friends, we were still on horseback. The Wright Brothers didn’t get their plane off the ground until Art was a ten-year-old. Indoor plumbing and electricity would not be common for the average family for many more years.
When Art was school-age only half of the kids attended school. Where did the other half spend their time? In factories or coal mines working 12 hours per day six days a week, or out delivering newspapers or ice or working long hours on the farm. Some kids were hired as chimney sweeps, crawling up chimneys to get out the toxic creosote.
Chimney sweeping was a job children could do better than adults. Small boys starting at the age of 5 or 6 years would be sent scrambling up inside the chimney to scrape and brush soot away. They came down covered in soot, and with bleeding elbows and knees.
There were no child labor laws back then. A 40-hour workweek was a distant dream as was unemployment compensation or union membership. Art was in his forties by the time these core things became law. Lose an arm or leg in a work accident and you might get five bucks and your walking papers. Art made it to fourth grade. Only 3% of kids attended college. What a stunning number that is, huh? But it makes sense as only 6.4% of kids graduated high school at the turn of the century. You are enrolled in this wonderful college which I understand is a time of stress but you really are living a dream that wasn’t possible for most in Art’s day.
He had a 10% chance of making it to age 65. The majority of folks living during Art’s childhood didn’t survive long enough to witness their kids grow into adults. There was slim chance that one— let alone both— parents would live long enough to see their children get married. Nearly half of people during this era had lost one of their parents by the time they were 21 years old. Both of Art’s parents were gone by his late teens. He got married at age 16 and Grandma Marie was 13 on their wedding day. Art was a survivor and ended up defeating all the odds, living for 92 years. It is worth looking at what he went through in those nine+ decades. Here is the short version.
He survived the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 that infected one-third of the world’s population and killed 50 million people worldwide. In America, we lost 675,000 residents. Towns ran out of coffins. He fought in WWI, a war that had over 40 million casualties including 19 million deaths. I need to stop for a moment and try to make those numbers less of an abstraction.
A million seconds adds up to 11.5 days. (Go ahead and Google it, you doubters). It would take over a year and three months— non-stop— to call out the first name of each WWI soldier who was injured or killed.
He labored at odd jobs during the Roaring Twenties and survived on mostly a diet of potatoes during the Great Depression. He worked building ships during WWII, a war where 70-85 million people perished. Look at the numbers and try to imagine.
Then the Korea War, McCarthy Era, the upheaval of the 1960s and on and on. The changes he saw with his bright blue eyes during his years are mind-boggling. Life was a struggle back in his childhood. Diphtheria, pertussis, and measles killed millions of little kids. Polio was crippling and killing thousands of people each year and smallpox was killing and making people blind clear up until the 1970s.
And finally, I get to the real point of my babbling.
Perspectives are important and false perspectives lead to depression, discouragement, and feelings of hopelessness that are out of whack. Sadly, tragically, some young people give up, hurt themselves, or worse— leave this world. Well, it matters to me and many others in this valley community if someone is in trouble in our hometown while attending this gem of a small college even if they are not relatives or close loved ones. We are proud of Lewis-Clark State College and are glad you are here training to be a nurse or teacher or master mechanic or whatever. You are not alone.
Our daily existences and full lives are things Grandpa Art could never imagine. If you would have shown up in 1900 with your iPhone it is likely they would have put you on a dunking stool or burned you at the stake. It helps to keep the marvels of modern life in mind. College should be an exciting time. Take some time once in a while to walk the campus and look around. I especially like the bench by the twin redwood trees in front of the library.
I miss my old Grandpa Art but the wheel keeps turning and now I am a Grandpa myself. I am here to offer my services because everyone needs a grandpa. If you feel overwhelmed email me for I am not busy and we will talk it out. [email protected] Oh, the knife deal was a joke. He put a piece of wood with some glued on Styrofoam under his pant leg to handle the blow from the blade. It shocked my wife, for sure.
Share the love; fight the hate and enjoy your short time on this majestic, mysterious blue orb we call earth.
Until next time, Papa Bob