My grandfather Bill Little on my mother’s side was a victim of the Depression. He lost the farm, foreclosed by the bank as were so many others but was able to re-buy it some years later in an arrangement I never did understand. But though a small boy I remember the house and how warm it was compared to the fiercely cold outdoors in the winters in Minnesota.
And I vaguely remember my grandmother. She died when I was 3 or 4. Eventually grandpa, as a widower, sold the farm and moved to a nearby town to a very small house they built in which they intended to retire. But she didn’t live to see it.
Grandpa lived 40 miles from our farm but his retirement allowed him to spend more time with us than he ever had before. More time than I have ever been able to spend with my grandsons, and my relationship with Grandpa Little grew and grew and to be truthful, at the time of his death when I was 17, I was closer to him than I was to my own father. Much closer. And he taught me so much.
1. He taught me to fish. We would always take a couple of chairs, sit on the end of the dock at the creamery, and fish for hours. I learned the difference between a bullhead, a crappie, a sunfish and a bluegill. He taught me how to clean them and that we throw away carp because they were poor eating. But while we fished, he talked, and I listened, about the things little boys need to learn from the adult role models. Reminds me of what a huge void that is today for so many boys.
2. He taught me politics. Grandpa was a DFL-er, a member of the Democrat – Farmer – Labor Party, a center-left political party in the state of Minnesota, affiliated with the Democratic party and founded by Hubert Humphrey. I remember Grandpa telling me how much he couldn’t stand Richard Nixon (in fact, he said he “hated” him), but he also had me watch on his black and white television with “rabbit ears” political conventions of both parties, back in the days when political conventions actually picked presidential candidates, and meant something. So I saw both sides of the story. He made sure I understood where he stood, but wanted me to draw my own conclusions. What a blessing. Grandpa would not have been a Facebook fan.
3. He taught me to love animals. His collie, Jackie, watching the birth of piglets, seeing him with horses and cattle showed me the right way to care for and love them. It’s a shame he could not have been in Michael Vick’s life; there would have been no dog fighting.
4. He taught me generosity. I don’t ever remember my grandfather not bringing something for me and for my sister each and every time he visited. It was always a pack of gum for her and one for me, atop the refrigerator when we arrived home from school. Without fail, I carry on that tradition with my own grandsons over the past 16 years but with M&M’s, not gum. There’s a package of M&M’s for each of them in my pocket and they attack. And I love it. Giving is better than receiving.
And there was much, much more. I never knew my grandparents on my dad’s side, they died early. So Grandpa Little was all I had, but he was plenty and all I ever needed. And I still miss him.
Lee Baxter is a former commanding general of Fort Sill.