Today I am thankful for a reminder of my grandpa.
Over the years I’ve lost more things from my childhood than I (or my parents) would ever care to remember. Some of them were very important to me and yet they somehow escaped my possession. My class ring. The silver cross necklace from my parents. Countless other important things, now nothing but a faded memory. Almost all of the other things that have survived my childhood are very cool reminders of people, places, stages in my life and various events. All things that I cherish, appreciate, and bring me joy. There’s only one that comes to my head that is used on a fairly regular basis and has been as long as I’ve had it. It’s travelled with me to many places many times and has been used countless times in so many ways.
Of my grandparents, the one that I think of the least is my Grandpa Kreiling. It’s not that I love him any less than any of my other grandparents, it’s just that I lost him first when I was pretty young. Funny, one of the strongest memories I have of him was when my dad called me into his bedroom, had me sit on the bed next to him, and told me that Grandpa had passed away the night before. I still remember the confusion yet immediate and complete understanding of his words, the almost instantaneous tears, and then a big hug from my dad as I sobbed.
Fortunately, that is far from the only memory I have of him. Every time I see blaze orange for the first time during hunting season I think of him. When someone shows me a picture of a fish they caught I think of him. Occasionally when the boys are whining about something I can hear his voice saying “Quit your bellyachin’.” I remember him when I think of hunting and doing things in the outdoors. There’s also something that always makes me think of him every time I use it. The exact memory is pretty faded, so much so that I had to double check with my dad to make sure my brain wasn’t filling in the gaps… (Know what I mean? Ever have one of those memories that was so visceral that it had to be true, but because it was so age torn and year tattered that it had almost unravelled into nothing, and you couldn’t tell if the loose threads that were left were the real thing or something your mind built to make sense of the memory that was left?)
As Paul Harvey would say, and now for the rest of the story…
When I crossed over from Weblos (Cub Scouts) into Boy Scouts one of the gifts that I was given was a Boy Scout pocket knife from my Grandpa Kreiling. It was AWESOME!!! A sign of me being old enough to have some responsibility, I had a blade and tool of my own to use. I was almost a man!
Throughout Scouts many a stick was whittled (usually into a stick with a point and no bark), many cans of food were opened while camping, so many things were poked or pried, screwed or unscrewed, and sometimes there was a little accidental self-induced damage…
As life continued after Scouts the knife from my Grandpa stayed at my side. It has lived with me in Phillips, Houghton (MI), Minneapolis, and La Crosse. It has gone on vacation with me to many states. As a larger child (not sure my maturity would ever allow me to be considered an adult), the knife has continued to go with me when doing things outside, and I’m positive it will be with me when I summit Long’s Peak with some friends this summer. As a Cub Scout leader it has been with me at Pinewood Derbies, Space Derbies, Rain Gutter Regattas, and any event that involves being outside.
And that brings me to today. Earlier this evening we had a hike in the bluffs for Cub Scouts for our den meeting. As we were on our hike I put my hand in my pocket and felt the cool, welcome feel of this gift from my grandpa. As always, when I grasped it I immediately had thoughts and memories of him. In some cases they might be as fleeting as seeing his face for a flash of a second in my head, but in other cases, like today, I pause and think more about him. I thought about him and his love of the outdoors, I thought of him and his incredible work ethic, I thought about the incredible struggles he fought through in his life and I thought about him smiling at me. As I thought of all of this it also hit me that of all the things and stuff I’ve lost in my life, “how is it that this is something that has lasted?“. I’m pretty sure that me keeping this knife for all of these years is nothing short of a miracle.
Is it a miracle, or is there maybe something else that helps keep this gift so close to me? Something that knows that I sometimes struggle to find a memory of him. Something that knows that other times I feel guilty that I don’t have as many vivd memories of him as I do of my other grandparents. Something that knows that I grapple to remember more memories of him more clearly because I want to remember him better and I can feel my memories slowly fading. Something that knows I still love my grandpa and would love to have just 5 more minutes with him to refresh and clarify my memories of him.
Whatever it is, tonight I am so incredibly thankful to have such a powerful reminder of my grandpa to help keep his memory close to me. Through all the ups and downs of my life this knife has been with me, just as my Grandpa has been.