Life

Gifts from my Grandparents

My grandparents in front of their cabin.

When I think of my grandparents I think of sunshine and saltwater and long days spent staring a bobbers bouncing around on the surface of the water.

I wrote a while back about my first mountain bike ride and how it began a lifelong obsession with all things outdoors but the truth is that it probably all started a lot earlier than that. I come from a long line of people who absolutely require time in nature to survive and if I had to guess it all leads back to my grandparents.

They were the kind of midwesterners you hear about all the time. Hard working people from big Catholic families where absolutely nothing went to waste.

My grandfather wanted three boys but instead he had three girls, all a year apart, so he raised those girls like the sons he had always wanted. My mom and her sisters grew up hunting and fishing and camping all over the midwest. They were tomboys in the truest sense of the word and they went on to have tomboys of their own.

My grandparents owned a cabin on the Platte River where they’d host family get togethers and have cookouts and entertain the grandkids. We’d fish in the river and swim in the lake and end the day roasting hotdogs and marshmallows around the big fire pit out back. It was the stuff dreams were made of for a little girl that loved nothing more than to be outside playing in the dirt.

For much of my childhood I lived half a continent away from my grandparents but the memories were no less vivid and the impact was no less strong. Every year they’d come down to Florida for a few weeks and we’d spend our time doing all the things that make childhood memories great. I grew up on a little golf course  pond where I spent pretty much everyday chasing the ducks, hunting for snakes, and catching bugs in the murky water. It didn’t matter that there were well-dressed golfers just 50 yards away. That little patch of pond was my idea of wilderness.

When my grandparents came to town we’d spend day after day down by the pond fishing for catfish and cutting free the softshell turtles that we’d inevitably catch instead. On the very best days I’d get to skip school and we’d head down to the St. Petersburg Pier and drop lines into the Gulf of Mexico. We’d make bets that the first person to catch a fish would get a bottle of root beer. I almost never caught a fish but I got the root beer anyway.

When we started pondering parenthood so many people told us that we’d never go camping or spend time in the outdoors again. I had to look no further than my own family to see that this was complete and utter crap. My grandparents were getting their girls out in the wilderness before there were books and blogs telling you how. To do otherwise would have been against so much of what they stood for.

Our interests were different, for sure. They loved hunting and fishing. I grew to love bikes and hiking and donkeys. The subsets of people who partake in these activities may be stereotypically very different but the motivation is always the same. We all love time spent in the outdoors and drinking beer around a campfire and recalling the day’s adventures.

Last week my grandmother was laid to rest in a cemetery outside of Omaha next to my grandfather who passed away a couple years earlier. Sadness was replaced with gratitude as I realized just how much of our lifestyle we have those two to thank for. So many my best memories have happened because I absolutely had to be out in the world doing something, anything. We are doing our best to pass this passion along to the next generation.

Thanks, Grandma and Grandpa.

Me, circa 1983, fishing at the lake. Not much has changed from this picture. I still love cowboy hats and playing outside.