Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lessons from my grandfather.

Post 548 - I was thinking this morning about my grandfather on my mother's side, Paddy Sutton. I was very close to him when I was growing up. He was a small farmer and also a blacksmith (as was his brother) and I was remembering how hard he worked with never a complaint. On the farming side, his efforts were always at the mercy of the weather and thus out of his control. So he did his best and always hoped for the best. I don't remember him as a very religious man although he went to mass every Sunday and said the rosary every evening before retiring. (My father went to mass every day and twice on Sundays plus he spent two hours in private prayer and meditation each day of his life - that set the standard for being religious in our house). My grandmother had a stroke in her early forties and lost the use of her left side. So she had to be carried or rolled around everywhere in a wheelchair after that and I'm sure this was a big loss to him. He and my grandmother had seven children before her stroke, one of whom died in the big Spanish flu epidemic around 1918.

But even though he had a hard life, I never remember him complaining about anything. He just worked hard and tried to make the best of whatever came his way. His philosophy was that when things didn't turn out well, you had no one to fall back on but yourself and your family. The time he spent working on the farm was primarily governed by the amount of daylight available and the need to take care of the various animals, all involving tough physical work. This made for very long days in summer when the sun rose early and it didn't get dark until after 10 pm. Of course it was equally short in the winter when it didn't get light until 9 am was dark again by 4 pm. However, the cows had to be milked twice a day, in good weather and in bad. One of my jobs when I visited was to bring in the cows early in the morning so they could be attended to and then herd them back to the field again after they'd been milked. I also helped with the milking which was all done by hand in those days.

My grandfather mostly worked in the fields by himself. I think he enjoyed blacksmithing for the creative and social aspects of it. He always started his day by downing a raw egg in a glass of Paddy's whiskey. I've never tried this myself but it seemed to do him a power of good. He was hardly ever sick, even though he had to be out in both good weather and bad. He said he couldn't afford to be sick and that belief, together with the whiskey, seemed to work for him. Maybe because of my grandmother's condition, I remember him regularly chasing around after whoever was the maid at the time. Screams of delight would ring out from various parts of the house whenever this took place. Whether the maids were actually 'caught' or not I never knew. As a young lad, I just took it all as a sign of high spirits, just another way that grownups let their hair down and had fun.

I slept in my grandfather's bed when I came to stay, in a room over the kitchen which was always warm and cozy. Since I went to bed before he did, I remember being tucked in so tight I could hardly move. I was always asleep by the time he turned in. However, I got up when he got up, usually at 5 am, and he'd sometimes send me out that early to roam the fields and pick fresh button mushrooms which were then cooked in milk for breakfast.

From these early experiences, I learned the comfort of being part of a loving family and the value of independence and hard work. I also learned not to complain when things didn't work out but to roll with the punches and quickly make other plans. And I learned that you can never trust the weather. So the best strategy is to always do your best and stay optimistic.

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