In his ninety-eight years Grandpa learned all sorts of things.
He knew Finnish and English, cattle and crops and engines of all kinds. He knew fishing and hunting, woodworking and welding and would talk bees with me whenever I started asking questions.
Just a few years ago Grandpa had a bad spell that put him in the hospital. My Dad and I headed north to visit, worried what sort of state we would find him in. After his usual welcoming smiles were delivered from the hospital bed, conversation quickly turned to current international news and how events in Russia might affect his stock prices. I was out of my league. It was clear that Grandpa still knew his finances and he was feeling better.
Grandpa’s eight children eventually brought him fifteen grandchildren and fourteen great-grandchildren, all of whom made their way onto his lap. As he bounced those babies of the family on his knee, played giggling games of peek-a-boo and made funny faces, it was abundantly clear that Grandpa also knew babies. By the time Ivy showed up in the world as great-grandchild number six, he also knew all about mothers.
One day while we were visiting, Ivy was Unhappy. It wasn’t the first time he and Ivy met, but it was the first time he met Ivy while she was teething. At his request I passed her over anyway and while Grandpa bounced her on his knee she cried. He made faces and she whimpered while chewing on her fist. Then Grandpa stopped, dug in his pocket and pulled out his old pocket knife. Small, brown and worn, he held it out to me for inspection. All babies love chewing on this he told me. See, he demonstrated rubbing his thumb across it, it’s nice and smooth, nothing to hurt her. And then, after I nodded my consent, he handed his knife to Ivy. She gratefully grabbed it, stuffed it in her mouth and set to work gnawing, no doubt just as those of us who came before her had. My grumpy girl was back to happily bouncing on her smiling Grandpa’s knee.
If you’ve never been a new mother, or it’s been a long time, let me remind you of the uncertainty that accompanies it. Everything your baby does is new, and it’s either amazing or worrying or both. At the same time it seems that everyone who talks to you already has had kids and they are neither amazed or uncertain. Most all of those same people seem happy to not only tell you what to do but start doing it for you without so much as a by-your-leave. But not Grandpa. Grandpa knew babies and new mothers. That extra moment he took to show me his knife touched me so deeply I remember how the tears welled as I sat on the sofa across from him.
He gathered knowledge and used it well for ninety-eight years and the tears have done more than well in my eyes in the days since he’s been gone.
Edwin J. Eloranta