And I know the person who made the most impact upon my life was my paternal grandfather, ‘Bud.’
Now, I never called him that. And I never called him ‘Pop’ like my mom and dad did, but I called him ‘grandpa.’
He died when I was a kid, ok, I was 17.
But, he taught me more about life before I finished High School than anyone has taught me in the rest of my life.
He taught me about family, God, country, Texas, and even farming.
He taught me how to defend myself, he taught me how to preach the Word of God – he was an awesome preacher and speaker. He could tell a story, and he taught me how to tell a story.
So, which story should I tell?
It was a cold crisp autumn day 5 miles north of Big Bend National Park, and about 20 miles north of the Texas border with Mexico.
When dad woke me and my brother up, the campfire was in full flame and smoking in the grey blue twilight. I was cold and shivering, so I turned my back to the fire. Dad said, “Son. Be careful and don’t burn yourself.”
Grandpa said, “Son. He won’t make that mistake twice.” As always he was practical and realistic.
He always had a $100 bill in his pocket, for emergency cash. Figure about $1500 today. I don’t ever remember him spending his ‘cache.’
I was tired. Very tired. The day before, Grandpa had taken me up on Mustang Mountain and walked me into the ground, literally. Going up right into that mountain. And on the way down, I just wanted to jump off a cliff and not walk anymore.
He had had major cancer surgery just 3 months before. Doctor had told him not to do anything he would regret. And grandpa never seemed to slow down.
Grandpa was cooking up bacon and eggs over the campfire. The smell of the bacon mixed in with the wood smoke.
I had to move away from the fire, grandpa was right, it didn’t take long before I knew I didn’t want to ‘burn.’
We finished up, in Grandpa’s words, ‘we broke camp.’
We headed over to our other ‘lease,’ in our old Chevy truck. My brother and I rode along in the truck camper. In back, we smelled the gasoline fumes mixed in with the West Texas dirt and the smell of cactus.
Like a fresh rain, the West Texas desert has a smell all of its own.
When we got there, dad had me take my rifle for Grandpa and me, an old 1903-A3, 30-06 from World War 2. It made a nice blot action hunting rifle, I still have it somewhere. I asked dad for some ’rounds.’ He told me he would give the ammunition to my grandpa, but I should cary the rifle so my granddad could rest. from his surgery.
Like that old man needed rest? He was tough, tougher than I could ever be.
Grandpa and I went to the right, my brother and dad went to the left.
The ocotillo cactus bushes kept grabbing me as I tried to walk around them. Like any cactus, the thorns would just reach out and grab me.
Grandpa moved with the stealth of his ancestors, and he just walked through the brush like it wasn’t there. He used to tell me, “Don’t watch the bush right in front of you, watch the bush ahead of you, and just move with the bush right in front of you.”
I always got thorns stuck in my arms and legs.
He found a spot overlooking a big ravine. As we lay down, I handed him the rifle. Then we waited.
The sun was coming up behind us, and it was about 9 AM. The warmth of the sun was all I could think about, when my Granddad looked back at me and whispered, “Look.”
He pointed at a very large buck walking towards us in the ravine.
Grandpa slowly opened the bolt of the rifle, and eased the bolt back. I could hear the deer stumbling over some rocks, and the rocks as they slid down the ravine.
I was overcome with the moment. Here was my Granddad, I had heard about his shooting skills my entire life. He had taught me more about shooting than my father did, even though I had spent much more time shooting with my father. Grandpa was a ‘natural.’ I do not ever remember him missing a bulls-eye on the second shot.
And this time, I would get to see him take down the buck. At least 18 points, it was an older and very much larger Mule-tailed deer.
Imagine this Mule tailed deer in another 6 years.
And then the moment became surreal.
“Give me a bullet.”
“Grandpa, I don’t have any bullets.”
“Son, don’t mess with me.”
“I am serious, grandpa.”
We whispered back and forth for what seemed minutes, but was probably no more than half a minute.
“I hope your dad gets him when he gets over their way.”
And we waited. Grandpa watched him through the scope. And I watched that magnificent buck walk along as if it was ‘King of the mountain.’
We heard a couple of distant shots. Probably 2 miles away.
The deer continued up the wash to our left, our south side.
Today, he was ‘King of the Mountain.’
In the face of losing the shot, grandpa kept his cool. Even as he was dying from the cancer within him, he walked me into the ground that year.
Like his Native ancestors, he was always darkened by the sun. I got more of our Scottish ancestors, more of his mother’s red hair, and a lot of her fair skin.
But, I learned what it meant to be a provider, a hunter, a gatherer. I learned from him what it meant to ‘live off of the land.’
To become one with the land, and to share the land with others. Both humans, and animals.
I learned that not only is there a time to kill for food, but sometimes, there was a time to admire the beauty of God’s creatures as they walked their mountain.
I admired, and will always admire, what he taught me.
And someday sooner than I might wish, I will see him again. But, there we won’t need to kill for food, and we won’t need to live with pain, or surgeries.
I miss that old man.
Is there someone you miss?