Running with my Grandfather

If (god help you) you are a long-time reader of this blog, you will know that one of the things I do in addition to writing is distance running. I started running for pure recreation (it being a kind of fitness activity that is incredibly easy to get started on) and over time this worked its way up to doing some organized races of various distances. I’m certainly nothing remarkable as a runner, but I enjoy challenging myself to do a little better and seeing if I can improve my own performances over time.

Spring here has been (and continues to be) very reluctant in really arriving properly, but it has (mostly) gotten warm enough that I’m back to running outdoors and getting ready for my first race of the season in a few weeks. I think I’ve mentioned before on here that I do a lot of thinking while running; I write things in my head and my brain wanders all sorts of places.

One of the things I think of most often is my grandfather.

My grandfather was way more of an athlete than I could ever hope to be; he did (and won) competitive bicycle races and canoe races and snowshoe races, as well as being a runner and speed walker himself. I remember when we would visit his farm in the summertime, sometimes on the drive in we would meet him on the road training. No gym or workout program for him, just hard miles on the road. I keep meaning to try using a bandana instead of a headband myself, sometime.

Sometimes on a difficult run I will think about my granddad and things from his athletic career and somehow whatever I’m doing doesn’t seem like such a big deal any more. Sometimes if I’m doing well that day I’ll also think about him and wonder if, somehow, a little bit of my performance has come down, through the slot machine of DNA, from him. I like to think Granddad might have been interested in some of the runs I’ve done.

He lived a very different kind of life than I have. He raised his family on a farm with no electricity and no running water, supporting them with his own hard labour. The last house he lived in, he built himself, from cutting the trees right through to the finishing touches. He went to war and came home. My grandfather was never wealthy, never had much in the way of luxuries or Stuff, but he lived a long, full, remarkable life surrounded by people who respected him (he held several local government offices) and cared about him.

I am constantly in danger of feeling hard-done-by in life and thinking that I’m not enough of a success and haven’t, I guess, racked up enough of a high score in life. My grandfather reminds me that basically none of it matters if you have what you need (and you need a lot less than you may think you do, and certainly less than you’ve been told you do) and that life probably doesn’t need to be as complicated as we are often determined to make it. I’m doing all right, and more than all right by most standards. I shouldn’t let other people’s standards and the loud, loud world take that from me. Granddad never did.

I keep thinking I should write a book about it all, except for one problem.

The thing I regret is that despite everything I’ve just written, I never knew my grandfather as well as I would like. When we visited, I remember him being very quiet. He would sit with us all (when not working), but usually silently, watching much more than he spoke. Every so often he would, quietly, share a story or a memory and then let the conversation slide away from him again. He had a broad smile that appeared infrequently.

I didn’t understand until much, much later that the thing was that Granddad was shy around people he didn’t know very well, and he certainly didn’t know me well, seeing me a couple times a summer. I’m not surprised, thinking about it now, that he wouldn’t have known how to relate to me, coming from a very different lifestyle than he had ever led, interested in all the weird things that have always interested me, and of course being shy and quiet myself, and so unlikely to reach out from the other direction. I hope that he was nevertheless happy to have us kick around the farm on our visits; certainly those visits will always be part of my treasured storehouse of memories and, I suspect, they continue to affect the kind of person I am today.

I do wish that we’d known each other better. I wish I had made a really good try to engage with him, once I was old enough to know what was going on, although perhaps that wouldn’t have worked out. Working out that Granddad had some of the same issues with people that I do made me feel a little closer to him, in the end, even if it maybe kept us from knowing each other real well in actuality.

I’m not sure where this particular entry is going except that I’m grateful to have known my grandfather as well as I did and to have had his example to draw on from time to time. I suppose I’ll always have some regrets about lost opportunities in the past, but I also have treasured memories that never fail to make me smile and glad I was there.

Thanks, Granddad. I’ll see you on the road.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve got for you this week. Thanks for reading.

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