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Today is my 69th birthday. I share the birthday with grandson Parker, 7, and a great number of others. Parker and I shared birthday cake yesterday.
To a great number of people in my assorted constellations my age means I’m “just a kid”; to many others, including Parker, I grew up long ago in a simple time they cannot even imagine.
Today I take the time to share a couple of stories, one from me, a family story about my Grandpa and Grandma in Grafton ND; the other from a friend “out west”, relating a recent contemporary event that shows that, at heart, true community still lives in this country of ours. To me, the stories are related, and tell of being part of, rather than apart from, the community that makes up planet earth.
Grandpa Bernard: a story from the 1940s or 1950s:
My Grandpa Bernard was a crusty old French-Canadian. He’d served in the Spanish-American War; was chief engineer at the local flour mill; President of the Grafton Fire Department; lost one leg to diabetes in 1946, and the loss of the second leg in 1957 was his sayonara to life, 85 years well lived. I was told that he wasn’t one to run from a fight. I was 17 when he died so I got to know him pretty well.
We used to visit Grandma and Grandpa at their tiny, tiny, tiny little house down the street from the Court House in Grafton ND. Why they lived in that tiny, tiny house is another story for another time.
Grandpa enjoyed sitting outside, and they had built a bench of sorts outside the front door, and in good weather Grandpa was out there most all the time. He’d regale passers by and visitors with stories and wild tales, facing down moose in the woods when he was a lumberjack in Quebec, that sort of thing. We kids mostly reveled in his other antics: like he told us that, as a lumberjack, he wore the same long underwear all winter, and it was so dirty by springtime that it would stand by itself. I remember particularly one version where he recalled a caterpillar or some such crawling out of the button hole of one set of those “long johns”. Dirty underwear meant no baths: ah, that was the life!
And then there was the time when, at the end of Thanksgiving dinner, with all five of we impressionable kids at the table, he decided to teach us how to clean our plates…by picking up his plate and licking it clean. Made a great impression on us; somewhat less impressed were our parents and Grandma.
But I digress.
Grandpa was armed and dangerous to neighborhood critters.
They had a little garden out back, and hanging by the back door was a beebe gun which occasionally came in handy if something was out there munchin without asking permission. The back door faced an alley and a vacant lot, so there was not much danger or hitting somebody’s window, or rear end.
The front porch was a little different.
Out there Grandpa had a hand-made slingshot and a coffee can full of perfect pebbles. He was pretty accurate and it had good range.
One day we were visiting with him and he had an opportunity to show off his neighborhood influence.
He spotted a big dog trotting down the sidewalk towards his house.
When it got a couple of houses away, he told us kids “watch that dog”. So, of course, we did.
The dog trotted to slingshot range of Grandpa, made a hard right, trotted across the street to the other sidewalk, made a hard left, trotted on, then out of range, made another hard left, and then right, back on our sidewalk.
There was no hollering, no barking, no shots fired!
I’ve never forgotten it!
From Jane Stillwater
Berkeley, CA 2009:
A published letter to the editor, Berkeley Daily Planet:
I went to the April 22 Berkeley City Council meeting to see if I could snag some of that Obama stimulus package money for Savo Island Cooperative Homes, the South Berkeley housing project where I live. And as I sat there for over two hours while waiting my turn to ask for money to repair my home, I was forced to listen to speaker after speaker, all of them asking the council for money. And after listening to all these speakers describe all kinds of projects geared to make people’s lives better and realizing how many of these helpful and wonderful projects are funded by our city, it suddenly hit me. Berkeley is truly an amazing place.
Some of the worthwhile groups helped out by our city are a foster agency called A Better Way, Lifelong Medical Care (they fixed my teeth!), the Berkeley High School Bio-tech program, Berkeley Boosters police athletic league for kids, Strawberry Creek Lodge senior housing, BOSS assistance programs for the homeless, an Alzheimer’s center, a program to help deaf children, I forget what all else. If you had sat there for over two hours, you would have been amazed too.
Earlier this week, I had gone to a People’s Park anniversary event, and had thought to myself, “Those days are long gone. Berkeley just isn’t like that any more.” But after listening to all the wonderful people speaking up for their wonderful groups that help all sorts of people here in Berkeley, I suddenly realized that Berkeley hasn’t changed all that much after all.
Berkeley is still a wonderful, caring place—a place that takes great pains to make sure that those in need are taken care of and that we Do The Right Thing. I was very proud of my city tonight.