My grandfather is my hero.
At this point in my life I can say that I’ve met a good number of old-timers, and while I can’t claim to know their battle, I do know an all-too-common outcome – Dissatisfaction.
They may be dissatisfied with the relentless urban sprawl. They may be dissatisfied with the rise of Corporate America. They may be dissatisfied with the frantic pace of the Age of Information. The list goes on, but not for my grandpa. As far as I can tell, he couldn’t be happier, and his optimism is not rooted in aloofness. When I visit him every now and again to shoot the breeze he has a thoughtful opinion on every current event I bring up, and if there’s something he hasn’t had time to receive and debate with himself, he’s the kind of guy that will explain that to you straight off.
No, I think his positive attitude is a result of having a wide perspective. It’s a result of being a kid during The Depression and a medic during WWII. He experienced the Civil Rights Movement and survived Rock and Roll and the Counter Culture. He was a concerned father through the Cold War and a concerned grandfather on 9/11.
Obviously these experiences are not unique to my grandpa, but his outlook despite them is a little bit of magic. The tough times allow the good times to be etched in greater relief.
My grandmother is probably rolling her eyes by now, but I kid you not – every time I type to him, talk to him on the phone, or hang out in person, everything he says and does is in warm interest. And every so often, usually after a well timed quip during a family get-together, he’ll shoot me a wink, which I roughly interpret as “What could I possibly have to complain about.”
He taught me everything I know about how to give a proper hug.
My grandpa grew up in the rural agriculture town of Enderlin, North Dakota, and while I was there he made arrangements for me to meet up with a few of his friends.
My grandpa’s nickname is “Hooky” to anyone who knew him from Enderlin, and mentioning him by his birth name “Charles” or “Chuck” doesn’t get much response out here. I stayed with his high school friend, Ralph Oehlky (pronounced “elky”), and when I got into town Wednesday evening (7/10/15) Ralph offered me his comfy chair, a beer, and a croissant roast beef sandwich – in that order. Ralph is subscribed to JP (Jeep) Magazine and his glasses were secured behind his head with a strap made from daisy chained rubber bands. He concludes his voicemail messages with “over and out”, and he issued me a flashlight before we turned in for the night.
The next morning over breakfast I asked him how he met his late wife, Pearl, who he had mentioned a few times the night before. Sitting back in his chair, he explained that she was the neighbor’s daughter, and he began to take notice of her during her daily 2.5 mile walk to school each morning (distance is easier to estimate out here because farmland is usually divided up into square mile sections).
He started by making her aware that she was welcome to cut kitty-corner through the Oehlky family farm to save herself a half mile of walking. The benefit of seeing her more frequently was not lost on Ralph. Their conversations became more regular, and Ralph began to time his tractor rounds so that at 4:30pm he could give her a ride back towards her house. He began taking her to shows (movies), and for less than $1 he could afford two tickets and all the popcorn they could eat. As they say, the rest is history. “Nature brought us together”
After breakfast, we re-installed his American flag outside his front door and headed out to tour the landmarks of Hooky’s upbringing in Enderlin. We drove by Hooky’s old home, their school, the Methodist church, and most importantly the very baseball diamond my grandpa played on.
We met up with Hooky’s other friend Jack Armstrong over dinner (which is what I know to be lunch, served at noon) and we three walked to the Enderlin Museum where I was able to get a few pictures of Hooky and Ralph in their football uniforms.
After leaving the museum Jack showed me over to the Enderlin Independent, where I was interview by a woman named Jenny for an article in the local paper. Being a writer himself, Jack and I enjoyed getting to know each other. When people ask me why I took this trip, and my answer “for fun” doesn’t do it for them, I wish I could show them the way Jacked looked at me after I had finished retelling my story.
Earlier in the day I had driven four miles west of town to meet with another friend, Doris. She offered me tea and cookies while we talked about my tour and the 44 members of her family, 43 of whom live in the area. She owns a good bit of land, but as is becoming more common, she leases it out to be farmed by someone who has a large enough operation to make it economically viable.
The Olsen Farm stretches over 6,000 acres (there are 640 acres in a square mile), and in descending quantity they farm corn, soybeans, and wheat. I was surprised to learn that a farm as large as theirs was operated by only a handful of people – even during the busy harvest time. Mark Olsen’s wife showed me around their equipment including tractors, combines, semi-trucks, a corn drying tower, and storage silos. When Mark returned he took me to the highest point of the facility – “the leg” is the vertical lift that distributes the corn, beans, or grain to any of the silos. We talked about the details of farming, when and how to seed, fertilize, harvest, dry, store, and export the product to the railroad station in Enderlin.
Later that day I rode out with Mark’s son, Taylor, to a pair of irrigators he manages.
An irrigator is a long pipe with sprinklers down its length, suspended above the field and mounted to tractor tires. It swings around in a circle which can take up to 24 hours per rotation. I was impressed to find out that Taylor monitored and operated the irrigators through an app on his phone. He could change the water flow rate or the rotation speed. The app would also tell him if the irrigator had to unexpectedly shut down because of high pressure, or mis-alignment. He turned it on for me from his phone. He took a few moisture samples by stabbing a cylindrical probe 12 inches into the ground and crumbling the soil core in his hands.
It was a lot to take in on a subject I don’t know a lot about. The more you look the more you see.
I left Enderlin in the early evening.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is up next. Love you Grandpa!