It’s easy to get overwhelmed by nostalgia this time of year, and I’m certainly not immune to the occasional bit of wistful recollection … despite my typically snarky cynicism … as December begins and we roll full steam into the holiday season. For the last few years, this sense of sentimentality has been compounded by the passing of my grandpa Pruden since his birthday falls on December 7. Still, if there’s one thing I’ve always known about Pru (as his friends affectionately called him), it’s that he was the kind of guy who liked to have a great time, live life to the fullest and surround himself with loved ones everyday. He definitely wouldn’t want me – or anyone else for that matter – sulking around and feeling down during the hap, hap, happiest time of year. Instead, I’m quite certain he would pour a high ball, challenge us all to a brisk game of Euchre and sing us the Jammy Time song when he whooped our asses … and he always whooped our asses. In his much loved honor, here are some grandpa lessons he was kind enough to impart to me over the years:
1. Nobody likes a whiner. In our family, the glass may not always be half full in the exaggerated stories we tell, but you better bet your ass that glass is overflowing in reality. Pru taught me this lesson one summer at the family home in Canada. A neighbor kid (and lifelong friend) had pushed me off the dock and I cut my foot wide open. When I came home whining about it and vying for attention, Pru was playing cards with family and friends. Without missing a beat, he punched me in the arm and asked, “Does your foot still hurt?” Touché, grandpa, touché. There’s no point whining about circumstance when things could always be worse.
2. Girls can clean fish too. In the wilds of Canada he (or she) who can’t clean a fish is useless … and may not get dinner. I’ll never forget the first time Pru said to me, “You caught it; you clean it.” I can’t promise I still remember all the details of fish gutting, but this lesson taught me three things: The art of self reliance; I’m just as capable as the boys; and there’s nothing wrong with being up to your elbows in a little blood and guts every now and again. I’m still fiercely independent and like to think cleaning my first fish had a little something to do with it. Plus, I won’t go hungry if there’s a zombie apocalypse and I can no longer shop at Whole Foods.
3. Kids are assholes if you let them win. Okay, so I’m paraphrasing here. I don’t remember Pru ever actually telling me he wasn’t going to let me win or that kids are assholes. I just remember a lot, and I do mean a lot, of losing. This lesson didn’t come clear to me until I became a parent. That’s when it hit me half of modern kids problems is the self esteem myth. Letting kids win or giving them trophies even when they lose, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t build self esteem. Teaching a kid to be a gracious loser until they’re capable of winning by their own volition, well, that’s the kind of self esteem you just can’t beat out of a person.
4. Losing sucks. Pru taught me to play cards like a shark, take no prisoners at pool, rack up a helluva score in pinball, kick ass at Acey Duecy and blaze quite a trail on water skis. But, for all except the water skiing, I did a lot of losing as a child when playing against him (I know I already mentioned this in #3 but it most definitely bears repeating). He’d gleefully serenade me with the Jammy Time song (also mentioned previously), sending me packing off to bed early for my defeat. The lesson here? If you want to stay up past your bed time and hang with the big dogs, you best learn to win. This is why the Pruden clan are not to be trifled with.
5. Mushrooms are effing delicious. Mushrooms may be fungi but they’re also damned tasty. You can even find some of the most delicious ones growing right out back of our Canadian home (read Morels, which were Pru’s favorite). I learned this lesson on long walks in the woods with him (he was quite the ‘shroom connoisseur … and, no, I don’t mean the magical variety). This may have been the impetus for my long love affair with food and super finicky palate that occasionally causes arguments with disgruntled restauranteurs who are “sure” they serve the best grub around despite a plentitude of culinary evidence to the contrary.
6. Bears love garbage. As much as Pru loved shrooms, bears love trash. How do I know this? Because there isn’t much to do in cottage country when the sun goes down. One of the highlights of my summers in the Great White North was taking the weekly trip to the dump. Sure, we had to drop off the trash and that kind of stunk up the car but it was also a great chance to see bears in their (pseudo) natural habitat. I got to spend some quality time with my grandpa while he imparted lesson #6: Always keep a healthy distance from the wildlife because, baby, they ain’t pets. Tell that to the idiot tourists who try to hand feed them.
7. Water skiing is a contact sport. That’s right. You heard me. Just know, by ‘contact sport’ I mean my feet making contact with my head. I was about eight when Pru gave me my first waterskiing lesson. He set me on the edge of the dock poised in a pair of those old wooden skis and gave me a good natured talking to before getting in the boat and hitting the throttle. As I glided off the dock and about half way around the lake, the inevitable happened … I busted my eight-year-old ass. Enter one critical piece of information … you gotta let go when you fall even if you think of this as losing and losing sucks. I spent the rest of the day in bed with my back in knots but I never complained. Because nobody likes a whiner.
8. There’s no such thing as too many toys. Sure, money can’t buy you true love or blissful happiness but it sure can buy you plenty of toys, and there’s no such thing as being too old for a little bit of fun. Pru was a well respected Navy officer and loved boats (he had a regular fleet on Frood Lake) but he also loved snowmobiles, pinball machines and really anything else he could enjoy with friends and family. Last summer, a family friend gave us back (refurbished of course) the old boat I learned to ski on and we took it out for a spin. My dad set my teenage son, Kaine, on the dock in those same old skis and, rest assured, I remembered to tell him to let go.
9. Or too much time spent with loved ones. The thing about all those toys was that Pru didn’t have them for the sake of having toys. Like everything in his life, they were chosen to maximize experiences with the people he loved. They were memory makers. I could write a book about all the things he taught me (to say nothing of the things he taught everyone else whose lives he touched) and still not even scratch the surface in describing the kind of man he was. Whether we were tooling around the lake on the ski boat, taking the weekly trip to the dump or gutting a fish, I was always keen to spend some time with Pru, and I know the feeling was mutual.
10. A sense of humor is the key to life. Laugh at your friends, laugh at your family and, for Pete’s sake, be sure to laugh at yourself because a healthy sense of humor will keep you young no matter how old you get. I don’t remember a day passing when Pru wasn’t quick with a joke, a smile or a witty retort, and I know my sense of humor was genetically passed down on the Pruden side because all my smart ass cousins have it too. Need more evidence? See Bruised knees? Check. Bruised ego? Double check or the post about our summer trip to Key West for Mel’s bachelorette party, which also produced some pretty convincing (almost scientifically so) evidence.
I can still see that mischievous smile spread across his face, his remarkably blue eyes twinkling at me, in every fond memory I have of my grandpa. Today, I see Pru’s expression in my father’s face as he imparts much of the same wisdom to my son. Let’s just hope it sticks with Kaine as well as it did with me. We’ve had some good signs so far … he’s never tried to pet the bears and he let go of that infernal tow rope on his first run around the lake.