Happy Monday, dear reader. Lately, it feels like the days are all blending together. It feels like I just said, “Happy Monday, dear reader.” I also feel like I am running low on writing material. Lately, happenings here at the farm have been pretty quiet. Quiet is not a bad thing. However, it makes for some pretty lame blog posts. Today, the snow is falling in Western Pennsylvania. The farm looks beautiful, blanketed in snow, but it’s all an illusion.
Underneath that pretty white, sparkling fluff is a layer of mud so slick and deep it sucks off one’s barn boots. Yesterday, I walked my Heavy-B (aka my Buster dog) and almost lost my boot in a swampy field section. Buster was hot on the trail of a playful squirrel, and he could not have cared less that I was struggling to keep my footwear in place. Yesterday’s walk was a reminder of why I don’t enjoy exercise. Fortunately, I was able to grab a big stick and use it to balance myself as I clumsily struggled to get out of the boot-sucking bog.
After rescuing myself, I kept a hold of the stick and used it to measure the depth of other puddles and as a propeller to launch myself forward when things got sticky. It dawned on me with very little pleasure that I was using a walking stick like my pop used to use. When I was a kid, my pop seemed ancient, and using a walking stick seemed like an old person thing to do. My pop was my Grandma Haney’s third husband and the closest thing I had to a grandfather on that side of the family. Where my sister was definitively my grandmother’s favorite, I was the preferred child of my pop.
Pop called me Teenie. My grandmother often called me Christina Lynn, mostly because I was a source of irritation to her, and using my full name was a reflection of said irritation. Don’t get me wrong; I often did things to warrant the use of my full name. I openly admit to that. However, where my grandmother found me exasperating and irritating, my pop found me humorous and loveable. For example, when I was around five or six, I created a make-believe critter from wild mushrooms, dandelions, and grass clippings. I sat on my grandma’s porch and smashed up all my gatherings to create what looked to me like an armadillo. I was sitting with my mess, minding my own business, lost in my imagination. When my gram came rushing out the door scolding me to get away from whatever wild critter I had dragged onto the porch. As I tried to explain to her it was something I had made, not a real wild animal, she grabbed me by my arm and pulled me up and away from my masterpiece.
This abrupt response, of course, made me cry. Once my gram had calmed down enough to hear me out, she then scolded me for making a mess on her porch and made me clean up my creation and discard it into the weeds. My pop came out to see what all drama was about. He stuck up for me and told my grandma I was just playing and to leave me alone. Never one to be told what to do, my gram then scolded him for sticking up for me. She left pop and me on the porch with strict instructions to discard my creation and clean up my mess. As I sniffled and snuffled and cleaned up my make-believe armadillo, Pop consoled me and asked me to tell him about my creation.
He sat listening to my explanation and the story I had created surrounding this mass of mushrooms, dandelions, and grass clippings. He told me how clever I was and thought it was an excellent likeness of an armadillo. We then secretly and mischievously giggled over my grandmother’s reaction. I was secretly proud that my creation was lifelike enough to warrant such an extreme reaction. My gram was probably watching us out her kitchen window. Not missing a beat, she came out on the stoop and warned us to stop wasting time and get that mess cleaned up. We both dropped our smiles, gave her a yes, ma’am, mumbled our apologies, and I cleaned up my rather impressive likeness of an armadillo. Pop gave me a wink, patted me on the head with his dry, papery bear paw of a hand, and told me not to worry about Gram; he’d handle her. Pop always had my back.
When I was eight, he and my grandma moved in with us. I had finally gotten a new bicycle. It was a purple, sparkly number with a large white banana seat. I was struggling to figure out the pedal brakes on my new bike. All the neighborhood kids were going to the top of the hill to ride bikes. I wanted to go but was not allowed because I couldn’t work the brakes on my new bike. My pop would sit in our garage with the garage door up, counting birds, counting cars, and watching the goings on of the neighborhood. He tried to help me with my pedal brake dilemma, but his mobility was limited; he could only shout instructions from the garage. Rather than help, this seemed to create more frustration and anxiety.
As I sat on my bike, watching my sister ride down the driveway to the waiting group of kids at the end of the drive, I cried. I remember some of the kids yelling up to me to stop being a baby or ride a tricycle. My pop told me to come to him. I went over, and he sat me on his knee. He took out his handkerchief, wiped my eyes, and made me blow my nose. He then patted my leg with his dry, papery bear claw of a hand and told me it would be okay. He said I’d get my brakes figured out in no time, and I would be the best bike rider in the neighborhood. He told me that I would be faster than all the other kids, leave my sister in the dust, and everyone would be impressed with what a good bike rider I would become. He then winked at me, patted my leg again, and conspiratorially said that he liked my bicycle way better than my sister’s bike, but I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone he said that. I sat for the longest time, rubbing his head with my head resting on his shoulder. He wore a crew cut, and his hair always reminded me of the bristles on the giraffe-shaped baby brush I used for my baby doll’s hair.
It’s funny how just walking with a large found stick brought back all those memories of my pop. Somewhere, there is a photograph of my pop and my grandma standing on top of a big rock. My pop is smiling a big silly smile, and he has a long walking stick in his hand, resting his weight against it. Sadly, that photograph is lost to me forever, but it continues to live on in my mind. I’m pretty sure that somewhere my pop continues to watch over me and is rooting for me to succeed and keep going. We all need cheerleaders in our lives. Those who make us feel special and loved, even when it feels like the world is against us. I hope my pop knows he positively impacted my life, and I appreciate his kindness.
On this snowy January day, stay safe, and be smart; one never knows what will trigger memories; let them come and allow them to make you smile, and keep washing your hands.