Saturday, January 30, 2016

Roots and Grandparents: Grandpa T: Tales of a Spanish Native Logger and Tender Fighter

*This is part one of three of my Roots series* As of 2018 my grandparents have been married 59 years.

Instead of barking, the wolf-dog next door sends her howling songs to the moon. Smooth, raw, and haunting, her long held breath causes a stir within me. Glancing out the window I see beauty across the frozen landscape. The moon looks brighter with the backdrop of her sound and the prairies seem less tame. If I step out my front door will I experience the primal part of nature? Feelings of the sacred past connect to the gifted present. The possibility of the primal and tame merge into a song of mournful calling. A calling for friends, for a mate, for someone or something to answer. The creature begs the earth to offer back.

Growing up I listened to the gravely, reverent voice of my Spanish/ Native grandfather discuss his hunts in the forest. Passion would seep in when he spoke about those who killed simply for the sake of the kill. Anger rose up as his chest heaved with displeasure. "Don't you ever rob the earth Missy of something you don't need. It's there for us to use but don't get greedy or make something suffer just to show your power." Excitement would take anger's place as he continued the dialogue of his hunt and the moment when he knew his gun was aimed to snuff out life instantly...ideally without any pain. His heart would break if he missed and had to put the suffering soul out of misery. Patience overtook his stealthily pace in the forest. He would wait, his breath mingling with the crisp air, for the right moment. He viewed the beauty of creation as a sacred treasure. Grandpa would never say that a bear is brother enough to live with the human. He would say a bear is a brother of creatures who needs a healthy respect, to eat when necessary and to admire. Grandpa did not forget his place. He cultivated respect and used creation as a vessel to worship, to gain wisdom, to teach patience, to show beauty, to experience raw mystery and simple wonder. He taught to take only what is needed. Nature taught him virtue or perhaps his virtue gave grace to nature?

Today, past eighty, I rarely hear my grandfather sneaking up behind me. His quiet, sure steps show his sacred approach to all living things. Mysteriously he is able to leave questions as questions instead of needing to possess a standard answer. With humour he moves through life. He loves to laugh and joke. His copper skin is crinkled with time yet he is still a very handsome man. The wrinkles mimic joy and hardship.  His ancestors travelled from Spain to Mexico, where his grandfather was the first Aboriginal to drive cattle from there to the the Cariboo Country in British Columbia Canada.

I am his firstborn grandchild. His "Missy." The one he can’t quite figure out because of my non-conformity of gender roles and the way I seem to be a mosaic of paradoxical cultural norms. Once I was looking for homemade snacks and asked my grandpa, "Do you have any more of grandma's bread?" He answered, "I don't know missy, the kitchen is her area. I have nothing to do with that. She loves it. That's women's work." He spoke with a gleam in his eye knowing I will give some spitfire reaction back so he added, "That's why I married a women to do all that." I took the bait and retorted, "And that is why I married my husband.” He laughed uproariously,"Missy that's not the way." I replied to his sanction with, "Who says grandpa? You can only make toast...well that is about my level of cooking. We are both lucky to have spouses who do not mind taking over the rest. Why does it matter if it is men or women? Unfortunately, my husband may not have has much time as grandma does but we get by...” I added in a teasing tone, "with grandma's food." He laughed again and walked away with a smile. Grandpa indulges and even allows his humour and his family to come before his cultural norms. 

Grandpa’s heart is his home, and his home revolves around family and his ancestry. He chose to live off the reserve when he faced prejudice and despair. He chose to live near his grandkids. My history lessons involved the minority’s experience of hardship, prejudice and injustice. His family has been taken by violence and tragedy. I know the tale of the Aboriginal yet I have not had to experience it firsthand. I may not have lived on a reserve or experienced the prejudice at extreme levels but I can sense this enforcement down deep in my roots. His Canadian culture is only three generations old, but the Spanish/Aboriginal culture goes back many generations. I spent hours as a babe listening to his native songs. Songs without words, similar to the wolf dog's haunting melody but carrying the beauty of the human spirit. Up and down the vocal chords he would go as he consistently patted my back. The drum of time past and time present rose with each fall of my breath.
As the years went by I would sit at his feet as he strummed his guitar. His jet black hair reminded me of Elvis. His favourite songs catered to the mournful. George Jones' 'A picture of me without you', 'You'll never grow old to me', 'He stopped Loving her today' or Conway Twitty's ' Hello Darlin' or anything Johnny Cash are his favourites. I was astounded at how close his voice mimicked Johnny Cash. I  can't hear any of those songs without hearing my grandpa's voice and picturing his work roughened hands strumming his guitar strings. I loved to sit at his feet and listen to the soothing sounds and stories within the songs...mostly sad ones. He was a logger for most of his life, hauling trees on backroads to battle the poverty he grew up in with his thirteen siblings. Some of my favourite tales were of the drunken brawls he had before he found his form of faith or when he rode the broncs bareback or jumped off the high bridges into  mountain rivers. The saddest tales were of him going without food, watching his siblings die, loosing homes fought for with blood and sweat or running into prejudice, one of which unjustly landed him in prison. Grandpa was a fighter but he was also full of tenderness and heart.

Friends of mine would call him Grandpa T or Mr. T as a spin off from the A Team. His burly build  and gravely voice fit the description. He seems to attract friends from every walk of life. Grandpa has a way of talking to the considered outcasts of society in a way that makes them feel valued. He imparts dignity. In humble ways he jokes and makes others feel at ease.  He often takes the phrase "judge not" and actually lives it.  And he walks his line... A line dedicated to grandma for over 56 years.  When my husband came into my life at the early age of seventeen grandpa wasn't sure about the guy whom he thought looked like a gang member. So he spent many hours chatting with the man sporting baggy pants and a toque. They were an odd pair at first, but as time went by they looked similar. I realized with stunning clarity that I picked a man who held many of Grandpa's qualities. Their build was similar, the strength in their voice, their booming laugh and excellent sense of humour. He calls my love his "favourite grandson in law" as he makes a humming noise in the back of his throat and pats my hubby on the back smiling. Grandpa understood that sometimes the soul needed to marry young. Grandma married him at fifteen. On her last birthday my grandpa phoned me and asked how he can phone in to a local country station. I helped him figure it out so he could dedicate "I want to stroll over heaven with you" by Alan Jackson for my grandmother's birthday. 
This is the legacy that they each pass on. This is the legacy I want to leave.
I lived a few years of my childhood in the mountains and half of my life growing up I spent at each of my grandparents' houses for the summers in the Cariboo Mountains. Grandpa would take me into the forest and give me instructions on bear safety and the sounds of the forest- most of which I have unfortunately forgotten but some rules stuck. As we trudged up the path, me weary and him bursting with energy, he would stop and point out waterfalls and flowers.  The man who would kill to eat, stepped aside to not crush a flower. "Missy, a good person won't leave an imprint in the forest they travel, unless it's to mark their path." He would break twigs off to show me how to know where I have been while looking forward to where I should go. My favourite part was when we'd see the orange/ red peeking out from the grass. Indian Paintbrush. They symbolized Grandpa T to me. I'd rush over and exclaim, "Grandpa, I found Indian Paintbrush!" He would crouch down and touch the pretty flower weed. "This is fire just like your ancestors. They understood that each living thing is a gift of creation. Each living thing possess the breath god breathed to create."  Occasionally he would allow me to pick one and take it home. Grandma would put it in a pretty vase and serve me cookies as I stared at the fiery passion of nature, grateful for my roots.
Roots shape us or perhaps in spite of our roots we become. I am lucky that each of my three grandparents taught beauty and thoughtful process. Grandpa T inspired me to consider the riches that whisper while tiling the earth and the vivid colours in the sounds of the wind. He also taught compassion and non judgement and had a particular way of charming hardened hearts and befriending troubled souls. Grandpa T simply taught his heritage, his stories, his wisdom, and by sharing, he gave me these gifts. I hope to teach in my own ways while passing on pieces of his. 

Song Choices ( I LOVE these songs): A Picture of me without you- George Jones, I walk the Line- Johnny Cash, He stopped loving her today- George Jones, Hello Darling- Conway Twitty, You'll never grow old to me- George Jones


FlutistPride said...

This is cool. I have traced my roots back to farmers and samurai.

Kmarie A. said...

Thanks:)! I added a bit to it...I'm enjoying the reflections:) that is neat about your roots! Very cool:)

Anonymous said...

Very beautifully written! You should send this to a short story contest! Thank you for sharing.-C

Kmarie A. said...

Thank you so very much:)

Ashe said...

He sounds so awesome! And a great grandfather to have as well.

Kmarie A. said...

thanks Ashe:) he is:)