Sunday, June 14, 2009

John ~ CM033001-f-CMpart~-Fr-Sg-W.jpg

JM Shephard

My Grandfather, John, was a modern-day Thoreau. He differed from Thoreau in that he lived his philosophy without writing or expounding on it. In fact, he had probably never even heard of Thoreau. Rather, he was the personification of the ideals Thoreau proposed.
He lived on Lake Minnetonka in a cottage that he had originally started to build for someone else. The house was built from used wood. Halfway through the building and the clearing of the land, he came upon a rock that was too large to move, so he built the cottage around it. I still remember that one corner of each side room was angled off and bricked. He painted the bricks the same colors as the rooms, so one a soft pink, one white, another a pale aqua blue. The contrast of the soft colors on the hard bricks still plays at my fingers when I think of those rooms. I used to stand and touch them, trying to reconcile their polarities. In these rooms, as in his life, my grandfather was a springboard to love - - of him, of goodness, of reading, good food, solitude.
Across from the cottage, on the other side of the road, was a large wood. Whenever I went to visit, he would take me for walks through them, pointing out Jack-in the Pulpit, Cowslips, Trillium. Lady Slipper (the State Flower) and other wildflowers. We'd marvel at them together and he'd carry the conversation on to the wildflowers in his own garden, naturalized or appearing on their own, with stories and folklore of their existence. I remember the tiny pink bloomer-like flowers that he called "Dutchman's Breeches." Sometimes I happen upon one of these in the wildflower selection of some local nursery, and I still gasp in wonder.
His own gardens were full of flowers, all blooming at various times, some for most of the year. He tended these with love and patience, and my every visit with him included a walk through them while he cut a massive bouquet for me to bring home. He was the first man to give me flowers. He taught me to notice color and subtlety - to see them as shades and hues of difference, all massed together, yet each showy in their own wondrous presentation.
John took a lot of his food from his garden. Some of it was just regular fare - - Green Beans, Tomatoes, carrots, Peas. But, there were also the luxury foods - Asparagus, Rhubarb, Black Walnuts from the tree in the middle of his garden. And, much of his "meat" he took from the lake. He was a natural fisherman who taught me to dig for worms, bait a hook, catch, clean and cook fish - Crappies, Sunfish, Bluegills and Bullheads; luscious ordinary pan fish that sustained and nourished my growing. We spent hours pursuing this pleasure. He even built a dock, especially to my wishes, with the built-in bench I'd suggested for us to sit and fish from. He taught me that I could learn and contribute something of value.
My Grandfather is dead now. He was so central to me, so pivotal to my life, that I still find myself, at times, mystified as to why his life didn't go better for him - - why he didn't endure forever. He was such strength and goodness, and yet, a cruel stroke rendered him helpless and dying.
I try to deal with how changes in society or Geographic’s have nullified, in a physical sense, some of the wonders he taught me. The woods are gone - - torn down for upscale housing developments. The formerly-public off-shore fishing spots are staked out and fenced off. His land - - taken by the county to pay his mounting medical bills, now holds two houses and part of a marina/apartment complex. The reeds, the rushes, the gardens are all gone - - as are the Red-Wing Blackbirds, the wildflowers and the luxurious foods. Commercialism has eroded even his echo.
I am so much of what my grandfather taught me, and I am often confused and perplexed - - intimidated - - by the world today. So I guess I guard the ideals, the gifts, he taught me quite tenaciously, though I do so with a measure of dismay. All of the material, spiritual teachings, and "stuff" aside, even our hearts can't protect us and, though our souls can't be bound they can be crushed. He taught me to search beyond reason.

©1992 JM Shephard ~ JOY in the arts!

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