Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My Early Memories of Gumpy

Memories can be fickle.   They can be vivid one day and fleeting the next.  They can cause great sorrow and happiness without rhyme or reason.  

For me, looking through photos gets me headed down a sentimental path.  Going to certain places, eating certain foods and talking with family can trigger other memories.  Memories are full of fact and imagination since our minds do not like gaps in stories.  Ema reminds me of this on occasion because she remembers the childhood of her children in a very different way than they do.

I have been struggling with some of my memories lately.  Nothing bad per se, just the fact that I have few vivid memories of Gumpy from my early childhood.  The amount and varied hours he worked have something to do with this lack.  The big factor, the one I have been reconciling lately is the fact that my Dad was an active influence for me until I was 13 years old.

My dad was a pretty good father until the lure of pot, cocaine and alcohol proved to be irresistible.  There were endless games of "Monkey in the Middle" in our hallway, countless hours of playing catch and practicing baseball fundamentals.  We would listening to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey announce Tiger baseball, interspersed with his memories of listening to Chicago Cubs games as a kid.  We use to have boxing matches in the living room until I learned how to knock the wind out of him.  I had a happy childhood filled with great memories.

Those memories have been causing a bit of pain lately.  It has been over 12 years since I last spoke with my dad and I had given up on him being anything but a junkie long before then.  When my dad could not be a father, my grandfather stepped in.  While he could never be my dad, Gumpy allowed me to grieve the loss of my father while giving me a steadying presence.  It was his influence that allowed me to escape my teenage years with minimal scarring.

The pain of my memories comes from wishing I had experienced those things with my grandfather instead because my grandfather remained steadfast in his love for me and our family.  It has been a year and a half since Gumpy passed away and the void left in my heart is sometimes paralyzing.  It is up to me now to provide that steadying presence.    

I do have great memories of Gumpy from my early childhood.  I was pretty young when he taught me how to test an electric fence without getting poked.  I do remember hearing WITL 100 blaring on the tractor radio when he would be pulling into the barn.  I was always pretty excited when I got to go back to the woods and help him get another load of wood to keep the fireplace warm.  There was a trip to Mackinaw with my grandparents that I am sure was more fun for me and my sister.  The irrational kid in me is begging for stronger memories right now, and I am left unable to satisfy that demand.

The strongest memories, though, are from when I was 13 years old until Gumpy passed away.  It was then I learned how to treat other people.  It was then when I learned about work ethic.  It is when I learned what it meant to love and want the best for each member of your family.

Memories are little more than movies of our lives that we continue to edit and view again through out our life.  The script has last minute changes.  Characters make appearances, some longer than others.  You are always learning different ways to tell the stories.  While some of my movie might leave something to be desired in terms of storytelling, I made myself an attentive apprentice to Gumpy.  I hope he approves of my production skills.  

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How to Win at Golf

By the time I was in college, my golfing routine with Gumpy had changed.  I went to the farm once a week during the summer, so I only had the chance to work on my golf game once a week.  Gumpy, however, practiced almost everyday.  While I had the strength and size advantage, he countered with superior knowledge of the course and cunning.

That cunning manifested itself in the form of big chores for me.

One morning, Gumpy decided that the tree on the edge of Shaytown Road on the old fence row next to the chicken coop needed to be chopped down.  It wasn't much of a tree and it was too close to the field for Gumpy's comfort.  We quickly got to work with his old Stihl chainsaw.  The tree came down pretty easily and the branches were trimmed off quickly, so we decided to head to the golf course.  Gumpy won pretty easily because my arms were shaking so much I couldn't properly grip the club.  

Having not learned my lesson, a the next summer we decided to break up the concrete floor in one of the barns before our golf game.  He wanted a new cement slab to park his truck on while my grandparents wintered in Florida, and to accomplish this, the old floor needed to go.  Woodchucks and raccoons had compromised the old floor by tunneling underneath it, so breaking the old floor apart sounded like a pretty easy job.  All it required was a jackhammer.  

By this time in Gumpy's life, he wasn't much good for heavy lifting.  In his words, he was too heavy for light work and too light for heavy work.  So I hoisted the rented electric jackhammer into the back of the truck and we drove back to the farm.  

The actual breaking of the concrete floor didn't take as long as either of us had estimated.  Once I figured out a rhythm, the jackhammer worked slicker than the hair on a schoolmarms leg.  A project we both figured would take at least four hours was done in one hour.  It opened up plenty of time for a quick nine holes of cow pasture pool.

Feeling pretty strong, I was confident I could take the old boy, so I agreed to go to Mulberry Fore in Nashville, MI with him.  It was our secondary course.  We both loved Centenial Acres in Sunfield but we decided on Mulberry Fore to avoid the golf leagues.  Playing on the new nine at Mulberry, our first hole was a nice 350 yarder.  Nice and straight with open grass on the left and a tree line on the right.  Gumpy stepped up and stroked his trademark straight-as-a-string 180 yard tee shot.

I confidently approached my tee shot.  I knew if I killed it, I would be able to drive close enough for a nice chip shot onto the green and a shot at a birdie.  I wound up and took a hefty swing.  When the club hit the ball, I yelped in pain and almost lost my grip of the club.  My forearms were so tight and sore from controlling the jackhammer that I could barely stand the pain.  Needless to say, my approach to the game was much different that day!

I think I beat Gumpy in golf once or twice in my life.  We played a lot of golf together but he always seemed to be a little sharper in the short game than me, or a little more prepared than me.  But most of the time he won because he was just a little too clever for me.