Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grandfathers, Fathers and Sons

I've not had a lot of work lately, so I've been able to spend some time with my parents and kids.

The last time I went squirrel hunting was when I was seven years old somewhere outside of Millington, TN with my Father. That was 51 years ago. My Grandfather taught me how to shoot a gun when I was five. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in Arkansas while my Father was assigned to sea duty.  To keep me occupied my Grandfather put me on the back porch of their farm house with a single shot .22 rifle and a box of "snake shot", and I shot blackbirds out of their five plum trees all day.  I became quite the "crack shot" and always had a love for guns even during my 60's pacifist days.

My eldest son is 31 now. The last time I took him "shooting" was over 20 years ago. We went out to the desert with some friends and I let him shoot my .22 rifle and then my Smith and Wesson .357 mag revolver with hot loaded 180 grain wadcutters to show him why he shouldn't play with guns. The "ex" was quite mortified. She was of the mind that if he pointed his finger in the shape of a gun it was a "mortal sin". We never went shooting again. A few years ago he inherited a custom 20ga. double barrel shotgun from his maternal Grandfather. Last week my Father, my son and I went squirrel hunting for the first time together. We took a small arsenal of various weapons that none of us have fired for decades.  We didn't take the .303 British, the 30.06, or the 7mm mag since it would have been tough to explain them to a Game and Fish guy as squirrel guns during elk season. So we settled on my old .22 Marlin, my Dad's Makarov 9mm and two shotguns. 

We parked the truck and my Father took my Son and their shotguns into the woods. As I walked the forest with my .22, I heard several shots. The echo of the gunfire seemed to come from decades past and I recalled my Grandfather showing me how to shoulder the gun, sight down the barrel and breathe while squeezing the trigger. The tradition of Robinson manhood was again being passed on from Grandfather to Grandson.

My Father has emphysema and a total of 11 bypasses and stents in his heart over the last 30 years. We were close to 9000' and he didn't bring his oxygen bottle. So he would walk a little then drive the truck up ahead and we'd meet him. He'd walk a little more, then he'd drive ahead again and we'd walk until we met him again sitting on the bumper of the truck. Both he and I were more interested in being in the woods with all of us together than in squirrels, really... which was good because we saw nothing.  So eventually we set up some targets on a tree and took turns shooting the .22 and the 9mm just to burn up some 30 year old ammunition my Father has had sitting in his gun cabinet.  In a way I believe it was him facing his mortality to use up good ammo on a tree trunk for grins instead of for sighting in a gun or in the direction of an animal.   

When we got home, he showed my son how to disassemble and clean his shotgun. 

But, it took him a while to break down and reassemble the shotgun because his hands were shaking.

About 20 years ago I noticed my Father's hands began to tremble. He was about my age back then. It only happened when he was trying to do something that required fine motor control, like cutting his food or writing something.  While we were "hunting" we set up some targets and my Father tried to shoot the 9mm pistol. His hand shook and he missed the target entirely. The pistol jammed and while we had our backs turned it went off while he was trying to clear the chamber. We suspect his hands were shaking and it misfired, but he didn't say anything and we didn't ask. He put some new ammunition in it and I shot a few rounds at about 30 feet.  This will be my Christmas card to my daughter's boyfriend that I've had a couple "man to man" talks with.

Yesterday I drove the 90 miles and took my Mother flowers and went out for lunch with my parents for Mom's 82nd birthday.  Dad had an open faced roast beef sandwich with extra gravy.  His hands shook so much my Mother asked if he wanted her to cut it up for him.  He said no, and she said, well, don't splash gravy on everyone then. I suspect she does that for him when no one is looking. 

A couple years ago I was eating supper and was cutting something. My hand wouldn't stop moving. It was brief, but uncontrollable. I knew what was coming. The tremors have progressed.  If my hand is stationary, it will stay that way which accounts for my nice grouping on the target. If I move it a certain way, it won't stop, which already is a problem when I'm cartooning certain things. Eventually the slightest movement will result in bigger and bigger tremors, and I figure that my fine motor control that permits me to cartoon at all will probably be gone in two or three years.  It is an undeniable signpost of my mortality. 

Tomorrow we'll all go and visit my parents for Thanksgiving.  It will be a time of thanks for my parents and I. We've been discussing things like funerals, wills and what if who dies first kinds of things lately. We all know that our bodies are weary, most of our days are spent, and there is more to look back on in gratitude than to look forward to in hope.  What we leave to our children and grandchildren will be handed on long after our hands are stilled and our voices a memory.

I've come to the conclusion that the best we can hope for is that we live long enough and eventually well enough that our children and grandchildren will be able to tell some good family stories to their children and remember us with some fondness. 

May your Thanksgiving be one of those fond memories and a good story to your generations to come.


Tim said...

I don't have a "proper" response to this. It is moving on so many levels.

... Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving, Steve.

Anonymous said...

I've come to the conclusion that the best we can hope for is that we live long enough and eventually well enough that our children and grandchildren will be able to tell some good family stories to their children and remember us with some fondness.

You've nailed it. If you can manage that, you've won.

Beautiful and moving post, Steve. May you and your family have a very blessed Thanksgiving.

Juvenaly said...

I can not help but echo Tim's words above. Thank you for everything you have done for my family and I this past yer and thank you to your wife for all of her love and help and support. Have a very blessed Thanksgiving. We are so thankful for you.

Anonymous said...

Love you, Steve.

Babushka Joanna

Fr. Sean Lotz said...

I, too, don't have a "proper" response to this, so I fall back on what I always do and make a failed attempt at humor: Hey, you'd better hurry up and draw some more Curmudgeophan before your hands give out! Really, your blog has become one of my favorites. Thank you for sharing your life, your insights, your humor with us.

justjamey said...

So THAT explains why Orthographs are so shaky! ;) I have had hand tremors since I was a kid, and the doctor expects them to get worse over the years. I'll try not to splash gravy on everyone!

This is a wonderful post on a very appropriate topic. For some unknown reason, a sense of mortality has overwhelmed me the last couple of months. Thanks for this moving reflection.

Anonymous said...

You've got me by pushing 20 years, Steve, but my parents are long gone. What I wouldn't give for my 6 year old son to sit on the Old Man's lap. Those two would've been trouble, and not in a good way. Sometimes I think I'd give my life for just one chance for the three of us to walk into the woods with our guns and come out empty handed. But still, the things to be Thankful for this day far outnumber the disappointments and regrets. And mortality or not, that's what matters.

You have a beautiful family. May God bless and keep all of you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Anonymous said...

"This will be my Christmas card to my daughter's boyfriend that I've had a couple "man to man" talks with. "
LOL - I get it! That's VERY funny.....hope the boyfriend
get the point..;)

Seriously though, have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.

Athanasia said...

This week my Dad and I discussed his thoughts on mortality. He wondered if it was sinful to think peacefully about death and welcome it, to not be afraid of it because life is a gift from God so to think otherwise may be sinful. My response was, "Dad, anything that has peace in it or around it or couple with it is from God. Fear, chaos, angst is from the evil one. That you are not afraid of death shows that you have a peaceful relationship with God. That you are not doing anything to hasten death shows that you continue to value the gift of life. To welcome death when it comes is a gift from God given through His grace. It is not a sin but an acceptance of His will and, this too, is a gift."

It seems those conversations are happening more frequently since my mother's death. I am glad for them and the opportunity to share them with him.

Peace and thanksgiving to you and your wife and family.

discourse said...

You're nice- my husband will have the target that looks like a person sent to the boyfriends.

Lovely to read this. Thank you for posting it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Matushka Anna said...

Steve, I don't have anything light-hearted to say.

Thanks for the joy your blog has brought. I'll hang in here as long as you do.

Happy Thanksgiving.

FriarWade said...

It's a little after 4:00AM here in Tampa. I woke up just a few minutes ago and came to the kitchen to scarf something smooth & cold to eat/drink. Before I started back to bed, I thought I might as well check online - since I'm awake - and see if there are any "Black Friday" sales that I should venture out to capture - since I'm already awake. But I came across your blog post. :-)

My Pop fell asleep in the Lord in 2007. He was 88. Yet my son, Brandon, (9 now), was able to know the man I call, "My Pop." So your blog post brought back a Post-Thanksgiving Thankful Moment. (That's kinda like the post-traumatic stress disorder, except in a positive, thankful way.) Hmmm... Now, I'm going to have to blog about it! Thanks! But first - do I? or Don't I? Go shopping? Yawn!

Thanks for sharing this "slice of life." Peace!

Fr. Wade+

DebD said...

All I can think of to say is "yup." Had a pretty crappy week leading up to Thanksgiving...and then the day itself ended up rather nicely.

we have an artist friend who has had shaky hands as long as I've known him (30 years). It has gotten much worse in the last 10...but his stuff is still beautiful.

Hira Animfefte (Xera Anymphefte) said...


...Have you seen a doctor about the tremors? Have you gotten a diagnosis...? ...I'm just asking...maybe there is something medical that could be done to help. ...And maybe not. ...It couldn't hurt to check? But maybe you already have.


.......I did think it was hilarious that it was that particular thing you were going to send your daughter's boyfriend. What could your message be? Hmmmm....

God bless you and yours, Steve.

Anonymous said...

You also win Orthodox Dad of the Year Award! Darn tremors better hold off...

Elissa Bjeletich said...

I'm with Matushka Anna -- I'll be hanging in here as long as you do.

We lost my grandmother yesterday, and I can honestly say that she lived well enough to leave us many family stories and fond memories. I spent the evening last night telling several of those stories to my children, her great-grandchildren. Her hands were very shaky for the last 30 or 40 years there. I can't imagine her handwriting without that shake in it, and somehow it just made me like her even more.

s-p said...

Elissa, May her memory be eternal and the stories you can tell her generations be a blessing to you all. I'm glad you were able to know who she is. That is getting more and more rare.

ryan said...

Draw like mad, Steve. Hurry up.