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My Grandfather, Papa and I had many adventures. Papa and I were so often together, his shadow was jealous. Ever reluctant to give up his job, the shadow finally seceded. When he did, Papa and I pioneered dime store aviation making balsa wood soar. We would ride the country road roller coaster--our laughs following the contour of the land up and down inside the car. Papa and I would stop and talk to the field explorers who grew corn and herded great milk-bellied beasts. Papa brought me the world without leaving the little town of Atlantic Iowa.
I was six years old the summer after my parents divorce. Papa and I would rise with the rooster as the sun played catch up all day long. We began with a shave. Papa with his bladed face mower and me with a grandchild proofed, bladeless disposable that I am sure my Grandmother, Grammie discarded. The steamed mirror was like a crystal ball, the sink like a cauldron and with every swipe of the towel a new adventure would emerge. Our daily agenda decided over a hot witch's brew of whiskers, dreams and too much shaving cream.
I followed Papa proudly through the small town of Atlantic, Iowa. I too in my cowboy boots and starched Wranglers we would walk the streets to take care of our errands. Papa was born to talk with people and this gift was not lost on a single member of the town. Upon entering Casey's General Store, fellow patrons immediately engaged Papa and in conversation. Casey's--the only place I have ever heard bowel birthed howls and screech owl laughs bounce off cooler doors. I would move straight to the great glass cage that housed the colonies of multicolored, sprinkled doughnuts as big as my fist. Gathering my breakfast as Papa filled his lava hot coffee and discussed the price of corn and silage mixes--four feet sounding as two while we headed towards the counter to make our purchase. I, never speaking unless spoken to would receive nods as we passed. I was happy here and understood these men. We both knew we were lucky to be around Papa.
If we had far to go we would take the car. This was not only the fastest car in the whole world but also held the entire Grand Ole Opry in the depths of its dash. High and lonesome were the songs and I was sure not to lose a sprinkle to the seat as we see-sawed with the curves. Never being rushed, we would talk. Papa, my Rosetta Stone, made all the world make sense. Me, like a chick chirping for food, incessantly asking questions, making six year old observations. "Papa, that man is dirty," I'd declare while admiring my tidy appearance.
"That man Nathan, carries dirt for us all and his work is what allows you to eat," he would apprise.
While moonlighting as his shadow I would learn to think before I spoke, to question but not judge. I would watch as he looked to find a reason for people and their behavior and try not to make a decision until he had evidence in hand.
We would drive the countryside and he would teach me the landscape. Asking which trees are stands of oak or what purpose a terrace serves. Papa and I would drive the back road roller coaster, talking of sports and his beloved Cardinals as I would envision Ozzie Smith doing a back flip. I was in summer school and like a glossy-plump cherry I was about to burst from my sun soaked nourishment. After countryside schooling we would arrive on Main Street to complete the rest of our errands. Again, we would not run into a stranger. Though no more than seven blocks long from City Hall to the train depot--we explored the pharmacy with its great labyrinth of untouchable shelves, a butcher who housed sides beef big as small cars, and my favorite, the mothball scent and plank board floor of the dime store basement with its hoards of magic and youth.
Papa and I would arrive home to the house laughing like banshees--exiting the car electric. The house was yellow and thanks to Grammie, had an ever-changing shade of shudders. A lawn that Major League Baseball could call its own encompassed the property. My sandbox, a five fingered climbing tree the escaped the earth's grasp, a never empty clothesline that smelled of bright summer days, a brown tin shed where wild beasts slept and a concrete patio where family could find rest completed the backyard. The patio was my favorite place in the whole world. Papa, Grammie, and I would spend hours on this patio playing Cribbage, grilling hamburgers or just visiting while the cicadas sang. When the rains came we broke out the folding chairs and sat in the garage to watch the storm roll in with myself usually on his lap. I can remember setting out waxy-red Dixie cups to gather hail and my first lesson in meteorology. Not a moment wasted.
Our next great adventure was to mow the lawn. I would be charged with picking up rogue sticks so that the mower would not be attacked as it sailed, chomping at the green grass sea. When all was clear we would go the shed, the large brown stable where the great green Deere slept. Papa would show me how to check the fluids and feed the beast without spilling any gas. Then as he coaxed her out of her slumber, she would snort and spit and cough blue smoke. Guiding her to the front yard with both Papa and I in the saddle he would pick the perfect route. Never a man to mow twice in the same direction he would adjust the blade height and we were off. Papa would play with lever between the turtle and hare until the blue smoke stopped and the cough turned to gentle whine. It was if she was singing an old blue grass tune and oh, how I wanted to take the reins.
Papa worked hard for this property and took pride in his work. He always impressed the fact that I must show pride in what I do. Hard work will allow me to earn my possessions. Whether my possessions are the knowledge I have gained, family I am blessed with or material items I have earned I must take great care of them all. For if I do not they cannot be replaced.
I am older now and the summer days are not as frequent as they used to be. I know it was Papa, not his shadow that allowed me that summer job. He was well aware that I needed guidance, instruction and most of all a friend to count on. Papa taught me how to fish, tie my shoe, and throw a baseball. Papa also taught me responsibility. He gave me the job of his shadow that summer so I could earn the lessons he taught and I thank him daily. Papa took on the responsibility of raising a child whose father had left and for that he has my admiration, respect, and love.