I never much like being a child. It’s not that my childhood was difficult. Some were better, others worse. It was my role in life as a child I didn’t care for. I also really didn’t enjoy hanging out with other children. But in the world I grew up in, kids played with kids, and the adults hung out around the table telling stories, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol.
I was usually more interested in what was going on around the adult table than the screaming and crying going on out in the back yard. Kids were loud, cried for no reason, and always wanted to change the rules.
If I tried to loiter at the fringe of adulthood, eventually one of them would detect my presence and I would here those words.
“Billy, go outside and play!” Oft times followed by. “Kids should be seen and not heard.”
But in those very early years, there was a very bright spot in my life, my grandparents. Particularly my grandparents on my mom’s side. I was one of those weird kids that had multiple sets of grandparents. There were two sets of Muir’s, with one those sets being great grandparents. One Hathaway set, and a solo grandma Hathaway. A solo great grandma Stein, and the aforementioned favorite set, the McDonald’s. Most of my grandparents were too far away to be a big part of my life at that age. Maybe that was one influence on my pick for favorite. I saw the Muir’s and Hathaway’s once a year if I was lucky, and grandma Stein was just plain scary.
Grandpa McDonald was my mom’s stepdad, that fact might give a clue as to why I had so many grandparents. For those of you thinking that I have just a we bit of Irish in me…um no!
Grandma and Grandpa McDonald introduced me to things in my young life I would never had experienced if they were not a part of my life. Grandma McDonald was the one who did her best to drive me nuts by telling me she was, “Playing pinochle with the boys down on Lake St.” She had another phrase she would use often that would leave me wondering what was wrong with the world I lived in. “Billy, you make me so mad, I could eat a banana, and I hate bananas!” To this day, I have no idea what that means, or how anyone could hate bananas. Especially a crazy old lady who always had a bundle of them on her kitchen counter top!
Grandpa McDonald taught me everything that mattered in life. He was kind, patient and let me stick around to ask questions. Never once did he say. “Kids should be seen and not heard.” I don’t think I was a big talker, maybe more of an observer. Questions only came when the wheels that spun in my head would not catch on an idea, or an answer. Most of the adults in my life answered questions with “I don’t know!”, but not grandpa. If he knew the answer, he offered it up.
They had a lake cabin in Wisconsin. It was there I learned what an outhouse was, and in the winter we melted snow for cooking. The sink drained into a five gallon bucket stowed below. I learned to swim at a very young age at this lake. Grandpa would toss me out several feet and tell me to swim back to him. It sounds harsh, but it was effective, and because of his demeanor, I never felt unsure. I learned to swim and love water because of that man, and his rustic old cabin.
I only saw him get mad at me twice in those early years. The first time, he kicked me out of bed because he was trying take a nap and allegedly, I was kicking him in my sleep. I woke up to him cursing and telling me to get out of his bed. At the time, I was devastated because I never saw him get that angry with me. Looking back, I probably had it coming.
A couple of my mom’s boyfriend’s introduced me to truck driving, but grandpa McDonald showed me what it was really all about. He was an auto mechanic in my first memories. Another thing he introduced me too. Then, when their youngest child flew the nest, they sold their house in Bloomington and bought a farm up north somewhere. I spent a couple of summers up there and learned the meaning of the phrase, “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”
But the farm soon went away and my grandpa bought a truck. At first, my mom’s boyfriend drove it for him until he could get his truck driver’s license. Later, when I had my own truck, I met my grandparents at a Hardee’s in Thief River Falls. Grandpa shared stories about those few short months that that guy drove my grandpa’s truck. Amazing how much of an ass one person can be. Let’s just say that blue GMC cabover wasn’t a welcome sight at many docks across the state.