Bird is the Word: More than a jerk

December 2015 Posted in Columnists & Opinion

Kali-MartinBy Kali Ramey Martin

I wasted 25 years of my life thinking my grandfather was a jerk.

I mean, the truth is, he really was kind of a jerk at times.

He was moody and selfish and all I knew was that when he came around, we had to walk on eggshells.

He was always upsetting my mom and as a kid, I didn’t care to have much to do with him.

But the reality is, people are neither entirely this nor entirely that.

And there was so much more to him I was never able to access because I was too busy being mad at him.

The most unfair thing about grandparents is that we only get to see a snapshot of their lives.

We only get them for a certain period of time, and in that time, we rarely see the whole picture of who they are.

How can we?

We are too young, too self absorbed, too immature.

Often, by the time we lose them, we’re still grappling with who we are ourselves, much less taking time to learn from the people around us.

No, we see them singularly, for who they are to us, and sadly, miss out on the wealth of wisdom their life story has to offer us.

Beyond being the occasional “jerk” I thought he was, my grandpa was also an extraordinarily intelligent man with a wealth of knowledge and life experiences.

He traveled the world and lived in a time that I will never be a part of. And when he passed away a few years ago, I realized I’d never get to ask him about any of it.

I never got to ask what it was like to be a Yellowstone park ranger in the early 1950s.

I never got to hear how it felt to serve in the U.S. Navy on a South Pacific Destroyer during World War II.

How he liked raising five children in the Montana wilderness. How he felt about catching and selling trout to help his family survive the Great Depression.

Why he decided to study forestry and wild life management in an era when more “practical” careers were all the rage. Why he waited so long to be married and start a family.

I never got to take him out for lunch and ask him about fly-fishing. Quiz him on what kind of equipment he favored. What his dad taught him. What he thought about Montana’s conservation efforts. If he tied his own flies. Learn all his favorite places to fish. What the trout were like before the country became so overrun with anglers. Hear about the wild backcountry places he hiked into to cast a fly, and the inevitably exaggerated story of that one legendary catch.

I never got to ask him to take me fishing and we never got to go.

What I wouldn’t give to simply sit down and spend a couple hours learning firsthand about the life of a person who was so much more than just my grumpy old grandpa.

So while it may seem a bit strange at first, and perhaps a little awkward, do me a favor and keep this in mind as you gather with your relatives and relations this holiday season.

Take some time to pull them aside and ask them about their lives.

Because hidden underneath your notions of who they’ve always been to you, may be a person you don’t want to miss out on.

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