I spent most of my childhood disillusioned with my maternal grandfather. He was a man of few words and even fewer emotions. I personally never felt comfortable around him, not because he was physically or mentally abusive, but because he never seemed that comfortable around me. In contrast, my relationship with my grandmother his wife was full of love and adoration.
Whenever I visited my grandparents farmhouse, I instinctively knew where my grandfather was at all times and avoided that area with great care. I was constantly afraid that he might reprimand me for doing something he considered useless, like building a tree fort or playing with my army men.
My grandfather was the quintessential Vermonter: hardworking, weathered by time, and staunch in his beliefs. He spent his entire life in one house, working the family farm, running a sawmill, managing his property portfolio, and generally keeping busy with projects. Not surprisingly, there was little time for fun in my grandfathers world.
Most of my cousins grew up on farms and were used to a more chore-orientated upbringing. I was the grandson who grew up in the big city (were talking Rutland, by the way) and who spent his time playing little league baseball, flashlight tag, and visiting the municipal pool. My grandfather considered me spoiled (which, compared to my cousins, I most certainly was) and thereby spent as little time as possible acknowledging me.
For twenty years my grandfather basically ignored me, but on the eve of my first big foray into the world (I was driving across the United States to spend the summer in California) he asked me to sit down and talk. He told me two things that I have never forgotten: Youll know someone is your friend when you can hand them your wallet and Dont go climbing up every tree that looks good because eventually one of them will have a bear in it.