*This is part one of three of my Roots series*
Growing up I listened to the gravely reverent voice of my Spanish/ Native grandfather discuss his hunts in the forest. Passion would seep in when he spoke about those who killed simply for the sake of the kill. Anger rose up as his chest heaved with displeasure. "Don't you ever rob the earth Missy of something you don't need. It's there for us to use but don't get greedy or make something suffer just to show your power." Excitement would take anger's place as he continued the dialogue of his hunt and the moment when he knew his gun was aimed to snuff out life instantly...ideally without any pain. His heart would break if he missed and had to put the suffering soul out of misery. Patience overtook his stealthily pace in the forest. He would wait, his breath mingling with the crisp air, for the right moment. He viewed the beauty of creation as a sacred treasure. Grandpa would never say that a bear is brother enough to live with the human. He would say a bear is a brother of creatures who needs a healthy respect, to eat when necessary and to admire. Grandpa did not forget his place. He cultivated respect and used creation as a vessel to worship, to gain wisdom, to teach patience, to show beauty, to experience raw mystery and simple wonder. He taught to take only what is needed. Nature taught him virtue or perhaps his virtue gave grace to nature?
Today, past eighty, I rarely hear my grandfather sneaking up behind me. His quiet, sure steps show his sacred approach to all living things. Mysteriously he is able to leave questions as questions instead of needing to possess a standard answer. With humour he moves through life. He loves to laugh and joke. His copper skin is crinkled with time yet he is still a very handsome man. The wrinkles mimic joy and hardship. His ancestors travelled from Spain to Mexico, where his grandfather was the first Aboriginal to drive cattle from there to the the Cariboo Country in British Columbia Canada.
I am his firstborn grandchild. His "Missy." The one he can’t quite figure out because of my non-conformity of gender roles and the way I seem to be a mosaic of paradoxical cultural norms. Once I was looking for homemade snacks and asked my grandpa, "Do you have any more of grandma's bread?" He answered, "I don't know missy, the kitchen is her area. I have nothing to do with that. She loves it. That's women's work." He spoke with a gleam in his eye knowing I will give some spitfire reaction back so he added, "That's why I married a women to do all that." I took the bait and retorted, "And that is why I married my husband.” He laughed uproariously,"Missy that's not the way." I replied to his sanction with, "Who says grandpa? You can only make toast...well that is about my level of cooking. We are both lucky to have spouses who do not mind taking over the rest. Why does it matter if it is men or women? Unfortunately, my husband may not have has much time as grandma does but we get by...” I added in a teasing tone, "with grandma's food." He laughed again and walked away with a smile. Grandpa indulges and even allows his humour and his family to come before his cultural norms.
Grandpa’s heart is his home, and his home revolves around family and his ancestry. He chose to live off the reserve when he faced prejudice and despair. He chose to live near his grandkids. My history lessons involved the minority’s experience of hardship, prejudice and injustice. His family has been taken by violence and tragedy. I know the tale of the Aboriginal yet I have not had to experience it firsthand. I may not have lived on a reserve or experienced the prejudice at extreme levels but I can sense this enforcement down deep in my roots. His Canadian culture is only three generations old, but the Spanish/Aboriginal culture goes back many generations. I spent hours as a babe listening to his native songs. Songs without words, similar to the wolf dog's haunting melody but carrying the beauty of the human spirit. Up and down the vocal chords he would go as he consistently patted my back. The drum of time past and time present rose with each fall of my breath.
Friends of mine would call him Grandpa T or Mr. T as a spin off from the A Team. His burly build and gravely voice fit the description. He seems to attract friends from every walk of life. Grandpa has a way of talking to the considered outcasts of society in a way that makes them feel valued. He imparts dignity. In humble ways he jokes and makes others feel at ease. He often takes the phrase "judge not" and actually lives it. And he walks his line... A line dedicated to grandma for over 56 years. When my husband came into my life at the early age of seventeen grandpa wasn't sure about the guy whom he thought looked like a gang member. So he spent many hours chatting with the man sporting baggy pants and a toque. They were an odd pair at first, but as time went by they looked similar. I realized with stunning clarity that I picked a man who held many of Grandpa's qualities. Their build was similar, the strength in their voice, their booming laugh and excellent sense of humour. He calls my love his "favourite grandson in law" as he makes a humming noise in the back of his throat and pats my hubby on the back smiling. Grandpa understood that sometimes the soul needed to marry young. Grandma married him at fifteen. On her last birthday my grandpa phoned me and asked how he can phone in to a local country station. I helped him figure it out so he could dedicate "I want to stroll over heaven with you" by Alan Jackson for my grandmother's birthday.
Grandpa T simply taught his heritage, his stories, his wisdom, and by sharing, he gave me these gifts. I hope to teach in my own ways while passing on pieces of his.
Song Choices ( I LOVE these songs): A Picture of me without you- George Jones, I walk the Line- Johnny Cash, He stopped loving her today- George Jones, Hello Darling- Conway Twitty, You'll never grow old to me- George Jones