Eleven and a half years ago, a heart attack seized my grandpa while driving home from a hunting trip and during the critical hours that followed, when his fate was unclear, Grandpa asked God, “Please give me one more year to live.”
God granted his wish. And then some. Today, as Grandpa celebrates his 59h wedding anniversary, my family celebrates the incredible gift we have all been given in having someone as special as Grandpa to teach us about life and love, family and laughter, fishing and hunting.
And so the other day I visited Grandpa and sat beside him on the floor of his crowded office and went through photo albums and memories. His office is overflowing with both.
At 82, Grandpa has forgotten more about fishing, hunting and the outdoors than I will ever know.
Yet he is still sharp as a tack (a feat I credit, in part, to his endless love of learning––at age 70, he taught himself how to play the clarinet and now performs with the St. Paul Police Band), and as he told me about the fishing evolutions he has seen in lifetime, it seemed he went back to each moment and pictured the scene in his mind.
“I started fishing when I was 5 years old,” Grandpa said. “I used a spinner and a hook on a drop line wrapped around a flat, thin board with a notch on each end for the line to be wound on.”
Needless to say, he wasn’t exactly using a GPS-enabled sonar system to save exact location coordinates, read the water temperature and provide depth readings and underwater images. “The depth finder was my dad’s bamboo pole. It worked good … as long as we were fishing in less than 10 feet of water,” he recalled, chuckling. “Back then (late 1930s) the boats were either flat-bottomed or round-bottomed. The round bottoms were better, made by craftsmen, but both types were prone to leaking until the wood swelled and got the joints to tighten up just right.”
If your boat started to spring a serious leak, you didn’t just high-tail it back to shore with the outboard at full throttle … mainly because you didn’t have a motor. Grandpa and his brother took turns rowing, until the late ’40st when their father sprang for a 3-horsepower Evinrude with no neutral or reverse gears––to go backwards you turned the motor, in forward gear, 180 degrees. “It sure beat rowing,” Grandpa said.
After WWII Grandpa’s family started going up to Brainerd for the coveted summer vacation. The two hot lures at the time? The in venerable Daredevil and Bassareeno.
“When we caught a bag of fish we put them in a gunnysack and brought the gunnysack into the ice house for storing,” Grandpa explained. “The ice house was the size of a small barn and was filled with sawdust for insulation. Blocks of ice had been cut from the lake the previous winter and this was the system to preserve fish. The system was OK, but not great––some fish would spoil.”
By this time, in the late 1940s, Grandpa was using the latest and greatest fishing tool: a genuine rod and reel. “I would wind in the line with my right hand and level the line with my left hand,” he said. “It wasn’t until later than reels with automatic levels came out.”
After our conversation, I’m proud to say, Grandpa gave me one of his vintage rod and reel combos. I was shocked by how stiff and heavy the metal rod was. Holding it makes me realize all the more what an incredible outdoorsman my Grandpa truly is––with all the countless hunting and fishing adventures he’s enjoyed in his life (in two weeks he’s going to Florida again for mackerel and pompano).
He painted churches with his brother for a living (name a Catholic church in Minnesota and odds are good Grandpa worked on it), and in the evenings at those small-town churches they’d find the nearest lake and catch dinner.
Years later, he and Grandma bought a lot on a small lake past Alexandria and plopped a mobile home down to make a cabin for their family. It has become a cherished haven for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to make memories.
My grandpa, dad and I all still remember the fateful afternoon years ago when we caught crappie and crappie at such a furious pace you’d think for sure we were making it up. For an hour before a thunderstorm chased us off the lake, all three of us each had a fish on our line basically non-stop.
So the memories go, and to this day our whole extended family gets bigger and bigger, and we all pile into the cabin on summer weekends and enjoy fishing, cards, campfires, swimming and, most of all, being together.
Which is why, we all know, that when God granted Grandpa his post-heart attack wish all those years ago, that we––his children and grandchildren––were the ones who received the ultimate gift: Time with the world’s best grandpa.