In His Shadow

My Grandfather was a simple man. He never attended school. In 1920’s rural Pennsylvania, there was no understanding of dyslexia. Bobby was considered unteachable and sent home. Consequently, He never learned to read and never learned to write much beyond his own signature. As a child, having no academic responsabilities, he spent his days hunting, fishing, doing odd jobs, homestead chores or shadowing any of his nine brothers. (They actually had their own baseball team) This was the era of the great depression. With such a large family, even the youngest of ten brothers had value and responsabilities.

After a stint in the service, he married and would eventually settle into a job at a facility that processed not for human consumption farm animals into animal byproducts (an unforgettable smell) and raised three children of his own on a meager wage. Years later, I showed up as grandchild number five. An oddball child with an uncommon attention span and a love of history, I enjoyed his stories and shared his love of the outdoors. I very much preferred the company of my grandfather than that of kids. I observed how he built things from reclaimed materials, how he “fixed” things (In our family, we called it Eckley engineering.) He taught me how to shoot a rifle and how to catch fish, how to gut a deer and how to split wood. Firsts meant something. My first “muskie”. My first deer. It meant something the first time he handed me the the rifle, the chainsaw, the shotgun, the riding mower, the axe or the key that unlocked his motorless jon boat from the steel cable. When I earned my Pennsyltucky drivers liscense, he would often hand me his car keys. I become chauffer for all our remaining fishing and hunting excursions of which there were many but not enough.

Sadly, Bob Eckley lived to only 71 years of age after a long and graceful battle with cancer. Soon after, I became the first of my family to achieve a college degree and a guy who knows how to read and write competently enough to have my own blog, create poetry and write scores of songs. As an intellectual of sorts, I’m so different than he was. I’m complex. He was simple. Yet, as I find myself hurdling my way through these achy middle-aged years , I am clearly becoming so much more like him at a furious pace. While I once wanted to be famous, I now crave anonymity. While I once ate a diet of processed foods, I’ve become a meat and veggies guy, I once had no patience for a garden. Now, I have multiple growing systems all year round; I once slept in til noon. Nowadays, I’m up at 4:30 getting things done. I nod off in recliners. I pick up bungee cords I find on the road side. I harvest my own wild meat. I improvise structures out of discarded materials and I stay as far from trouble as I can. With the insidious lack of privacy and intrusive nature of today’s digital hellscape, I foresee myself backing away from technology in the coming years and being perfectly content for having done so. Less noise, less chaos, less anxiety. Whatever the future holds, I’m certain that being the best me I can be means being more like him. Because the old ways were better.

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