I strolled across the back lawn, headed for the brown door, and once reaching it, headed inside into the cool air.
I strolled across the back lawn, headed for the brown door, and once reaching it, headed inside into the cool air. As I looked ahead, I saw the lump of a figure crumpled over a work bench, like I had seen many times before. Since he was a kid, he would always be working with his hands. It all started when he was 16, on an old Ford truck that turned into a welding rig that now sat in the garage. The big tan Ford truck stood in between us and I shimmed my way through various truck parts, electrical cords, and welding equipment until I was right next to him.
From a closer look, I could see his silver grey hair just barely hung over the edge of his glasses, his hip cocked in order to get closer to the bench. His gaze was fixed intently on a piece of metal in his weathered hands, as he mumbled to himself and his brow furrowed. I chuckled to myself as I watched this old man try and fix something that obviously grandma had told him he would break, to which he would argue and say he wouldn’t. He heard my chuckle and his concentration broke. He looked up, wiped the grease from his fingers on his faded navy flannel shirt, a smile grew across his face, and the wrinkles appeared like the grain of the wood bench he was leaning on.
His wrinkles had appeared from many years of beet farming in Bagley, helping farmers in the area sorting, planting, weeding, harvesting, and eventually, distributing in the surrounding towns where he had earned the nickname “Big Rig”, for the 1960’s red dump truck he would so often be seen driving along the dusty gravel roads. As a farm kid in a family of eight, he was used to all the hustle of harvesting and handled it well. He loved to tell me all the tips and tricks he had learned through all the years, like how to grow marigolds around the garden to keep deer away without the fence, how to organize the pumpkins so when they grew you knew which ones were which, that 50 degrees was the perfect temperature to plant corn, and that if you truly listened closely next to the corn fields in July, you can hear the corn rustle as it grows. Times were hard as a farm kid, and every little extra tip counted.
Life wasn’t always difficult as a kid though. Out of the six kids, my grandpa was definitely the one with the greatest sense of adventure and undeniable humor. His childhood was one memorable adventure after another. When he was five, he ran away and spent the night in the beaver dam across the highway, causing an absolute panic among his parents until he showed up the next morning covered in mud and soggy leaves.
When he was twelve, he accidentally locked his younger brother in the closet, lost the key, and spent the next four hours trying to figure out how to get him out. To this day, no one ever found out. When he was seventeen, he drove his family’s manual Jeep out of town, ran out of gas, and missed curfew by three hours because he had to push the car up a hill plus three miles down the road. Despite these fond memories, eventually my grandpa had to become a man.
In 1942, he left home and headed off to war. If you ask him now about those memories, his usually happy wrinkles fade into hardened stone, his voice stuttering and stumbling as he recalls those vivid pictures of war. He never liked talking about it, but as a kid, I was always prying for more. Even though I didn’t understand it, he would always tell me one thing.
“No matter the experiences you have, they’re always worth it.”
As a child, I didn’t quite understand what he meant by this. Later he would explain that no matter what he saw in war, he wouldn’t trade it for the world. When he explained this to me, he would always show me his two scars, one on his left shin where he was scraped by flying metal, and then the smallest scar on his right pointer finger, where the skin was just barely puckered from the blisters of shooting. My grandpa lived life despite every obstacle with that in mind. Despite the crashing farm economy, sons leaving for college, eventual lung cancer, and then, the death of his best friend, he lived every moment without regret.
As I graduated high school last spring, I looked down in the crowd to see my short grandpa in a worn blue flannel shirt smiling to the corners of his glasses as I accepted my diploma. As we met outside after the ceremony, he hugged me with one of those legendary hugs, where there’s no possible way you could feel anything else besides his proud love. He looked me in the eyes and whispered, “You did it, and I bet you don’t regret one bit of it.” Now, I reflect on that one moment in time, and think about how something as simple as time could be taken for granted. All I know, is that every moment is accounted for, and obviously, never regretted.