My mother’s father was a solid, responsible grandfather when it came to driving a nail straight, shooting a flawless game of pool, and finding where the fish were hiding in the river. He worked as a farmer, an auditor and a car salesman, so he knew a lot about the practical nuts and bolts of the world. He also knew what was wrong with it and what was dangerous, so he was among my childhood protectors and instructors.
He also saw the humor in the unexpected, lurching out of dark shadows at night, playing practical jokes, and becoming a conspirator in the wild, imaginary tales my two brothers and I cooked up.
As a fan on tricksters in myths and legends, my first lessons in combining fact and fiction, the sacred and the profane and the practical and the ludicrous came from my Grandfather Gourley. As a child and a young adult, I simply saw that Grandpa liked making people laugh. Now, I wonder if he had somewhat of a trickster’s mindset: that is, creating the laugh as part of a learning experience?
In my novel The Sun Singer, my Grandfather Elliott character—who has as lot in common with my grandfather—is the one who stirs things up. Since my novel is an adventure story, Elliott’s grandson Robert gets into some dangerous situations because things got stirred up. Needless to say, Robert’s parents aren’t pleased when things get stirred up. After all, they expect grandfathers to serve as wise protectors.
My grandfather lived in Illinois. I lived in Florida. So, for many years I only saw in on vacations. Ultimately, he and grandmother moved to Florida, finding a house about four blocks away from us. My parents liked the arrangement for all the usual reasons about having family close rather than far away. I wonder, though, if my parents noticed that after grandfather came to town, things got stirred up more than ever. My mother often told stories about the practical jokes her father played on her when she was a kid.
So, she had to know that having Grandfather Gourley in our neighborhood was somewhat like having a coyote or a fox in the hen house. When things went nuts, Grandfather acted innocent like he had no clue what could have possibly caused the latest hijinks. From him, I learned how to keep a straight face while household weirdness played itself out. While visiting my granddaughter last week, who is still very literal when it comes to the meanings of things said and done, I quite naturally felt a need to protect her from all possible harm and unpleasantness.
Yet, I also began my sacred task as a grandfather: working on getting her more acquainted with the figurative. (In small doeses, of course.) My grandfather helped teach me about humor, magic, and the benefits of managed chaos. That’s a tradition I want to continue.