When I was little and we visited my grandparents in rural Fulton County, Granddaddy Kearby would take me out to the henhouse each morning to collect eggs. For a city boy, this little treasure hunt was big fun.
At some point, though, I noticed that the chickens who had been there on my first few visits had disappeared. It took a while for me to figure out that Granddaddy was now going out each morning before me, hiding store-bought eggs for me to find.
Grandfathers have been on my mind lately, because, in another month or so, I will become one. My older daughter and her husband are having a boy in late July, and I could not be happier.
I will have one advantage that my grandfathers, and my daughters’ grandfathers, did not have. Rather than living a day’s drive from my grandson, I will be a five-minute walk around the block. I want to make the most of the opportunity.
As Father’s Day approached, I was thinking about the role of grandfathers and the relationships that I had with mine.
Researchers point to all kinds of health and emotional benefits derived from strong relationships between grandparents and grandchildren. Grandparents can have more relaxed relationships with children than parents can. That is because they are not the primary caregivers and disciplinarians, with all the stress that comes with those roles.
A grandparent can be a less-intimidating teacher, mentor and sounding board for a child. They often have less energy than parents, but a little more free time. They can pass along wisdom and experience and provide a personal connection with the past.
My grandfathers were kind-hearted men with very different personalities. They had adapted in their own ways to their long marriages to strong-willed women.
Granddaddy Kearby was outgoing and curious. A retired railway postal worker, he was a New Deal Democrat who loved to meet new people, talk politics, tell jokes and read newspapers. He enjoyed playing with his grandchildren because he was basically a kid at heart.
He had grown up along the Mississippi River. His father, as Fulton County judge, built the old courthouse that is still the most impressive building in Hickman. He told us about swimming across the wide river as a boy, and of seeing Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.
My grandfather Eblen, whom we all called “Pa,” didn’t talk as much, but when he did, you listened. After working more than four decades for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in Eastern Kentucky and Lexington, he moved back to the Henderson County farm where he had grown up.
Pa loved to fish, and he built a big pond to indulge his passion and pass it along to his grandchildren. He and my father were crack shots, and they taught my brothers and me how to shoot and respect firearms. I learned a lot about patience by being around Pa, whether it was fishing or enjoying a blazing fire on a winter evening.
When I could get him to tell stories, he had some great ones, especially about working on an Army railroad during World War I, shuttling men and munitions to the front lines in France.
People learn a lot from role models. I think that a big reason my wife and I have been good parents is that we had good parents. We will be good grandparents because we had good grandparents. Still, I know I must temper my expectations.
Granddaddy Kearby and I had another egg-hunting game when I was little. When he came to visit one Easter, I convinced him to hide my plastic eggs in the back yard so I could hunt for them — over and over and over and over.
Finally, as he sat in a lawn chair reading his newspaper, I searched my back yard for a long time without finding a single egg. Eventually, I discovered that my weary grandfather had hidden my eggs below the fake grass in the basket I was carrying.
The moral to that story? Grandfathers don’t need to have unlimited patience, but a good sense of humor is mandatory.