Stories from an Alaskan Cabin: Chapter Twelve

“Ordinarily, I would’ve told you a story about the Northern Lights or why there are no penguins in Alaska, but I guess I will save those for later,” Gerald began. “The idea that common sense isn’t so common was something that my grandfather said on several occasions. He didn’t really think that schooling was a necessity, but he encouraged his grandchildren to go to college. He just warned them about the dangers of getting too educated. He thought too much education sabotaged common sense if you weren’t aware of what was happening. I want to tell you about the time that led to my grandfather and me gaining respect for each other and learning to love each other’s differences and what we had to bring to the table in our interactions.”

When I turned 18, my grandfather was in his late 60s. The summer of 1990, he invited me to his place to spend a couple of weeks. It was in between high school and college. I didn’t have anything else planned, so I agreed to go. I don’t know why he invited me. When I was younger, he always thought of me as a brat, so much so that he refused to take us out to restaurants, which he would do with other members of the family.

He should’ve been retired, but he held a field job with the water company in his city. He would drive out every day to the various culverts and make sure they were cleaned of debris and unblocked. As far as I could tell, the job rarely amounted to more than driving to the culverts and fishing out larger objects from the grate over the hole that led underground. He would start early, like sunrise early, and be done by mid-morning. We followed his routine, which included breakfast at Arby’s or another fast food place that offered cheap eats.

On the weekend, we went out to his property to chop wood. We spent six hours out there, and there was no stop in him. He chopped wood with a chainsaw all day and then threw it into the trailer. He would throw two chunks of wood into the trailer for every one of mine. At some point, he felt sorry for me and told me to go rest in the truck while he finished up. I wish my pride would’ve kept me in the woods, but my body was exhausted. He worked me into the ground but didn’t make a big deal of it.

After cutting and loading wood for the “widder women,” we went to Arby’s for a late lunch. After we ordered and walked away from the counter, he said to me, “That cashier is cute.”

“Grandpa! She’s like 16.”

“Just because I’m old, don’t mean I’m dead.”

That’s when it struck me. My grandfather wasn’t a mythical being. He was a person, and that made all the difference in how I saw him. People make mistakes. They may be well-intentioned and still not do the right or good thing. Once my grandfather was a real person to me, I was able to embrace him for who he was.

Years later, before he died, we spent more time together. He introduced me to a couple of his friends as his grandson and perpetual student, “which is okay because he’s still learning.” It was one of the best forms of validation I have ever received because I knew he accepted me for who I was.

The others were silent. John took a deep breath. “That could open up a whole can of worms if we wanted to discuss the implications of your grandfather’s comments in relation to the girl at the register, especially in this day and age.”

“Yeah. I guess it could,” said Gerald. “He didn’t ask her out or compliment her or anything, but it was surprising even in 1990. Not for its mildly prurient quality but because I had never heard my grandpa talk about women in that way. I think society typically believes that people get old and lose the ability to find someone else attractive. Maybe less so now, but certainly back then.”

“So what did that story have to do with common sense?” asked Lee.

“I mean, there’s nothing obvious about common sense. I just told it because my grandpa always relied on his common sense.” Gerald rubbed his jaw. “I suppose if you wanted to reach, there may be something about the wisdom of our elders and how we ignore them at a layperson level. Most cultures revere their elders. We put our grandparents into homes and forget to visit them. Unless they’re in government where they run the country.”

“I think we should just take the story at face value,” said George. “A boy learns his grandfather is human. It’s late, and we have to leave tomorrow before 11. I think any other discussion will have us up all night and possibly result in hurt feelings.”

“Good call, George,” said John. “I’ll pour another round.” John poured drinks for everyone and raised his glass. “To our last night in the cabin.”

“Huzzah!” The other three shouted and clinked their glasses all the way around.