For as long as I can remember, it sat on the top shelf of my grandfathers’ bookcase, housed in a clear acrylic box with an engraved brass plate at the bottom that said “Ole Tin-tin.” Next to it were several medals hanging from the picture of a young man. I didn’t know who the man was and I had no idea what the medals were for…they were always just there.
I asked my grandfather about the box once. I remember the sadness in his eyes when he looked at it and said, “that’s ole’ Tin-tin. One day when you’re older, I’ll tell you the story about it; and when I’m gone, I’ll pass it along to you.”
I didn’t ask where it came from or what that name meant, and it was certainly nothing I would long for in the years to come. I was too young to understand, and I really didn’t care. To me, it was just some old rusty piece of metal.
I spent every summer with my grandfather and those warm, lazy days and nights would leave me with some of the best memories of my life. I loved to listen to the stories he told about his childhood and he always had a twinkle in his eyes when he told me about the mischief he “got up to.”
He’d smile, shake his head and say, “my poor mother, bless her soul. She had the patience of Job. I don’t know how she survived raising me.”
Then he turned and said, “when I was a little boy, I was quite a handful, you know.”
As I grew older, I would come to appreciate the final five words he always said when it was time for me to go home. “Be good to your mother.”
Sometimes my grandfather and I would go down to the lake and throw little stones. He’d tell me to watch the ripples every time I threw one. “See?” he said. “Every time you throw a stone, whether it be little or big, it makes ripples in the water. That’s a reaction. It’s just like life. Those ripples might not seem noteworthy to you, and may even be viewed as beautiful, but it disrupts the calm of the water. Everything you do in your life will have a reaction. It may be insignificant or it may be life-changing, so just be sure that you always try to do the right thing, and cause as few disruptive ripples as possible.”
I loved our times late in the afternoon. It would be just the two of us, sitting on the front porch and drinking Dr. Pepper from the bottle. I listened intently to his famous stories and what he called his “pearls of wisdom.” He told me about how, as a little boy, he loved to run down the hill barefoot. “There was a method to my madness, you see,” he said. “If I could make it all the way down without stepping on a cow patty, I won.”
“Won what?” I asked. He looked at me and said, “why bragging rights, of course. Running all the way down that hill and making it to the bottom with nothing but a few grass stains on your feet was quite the conquest.”
“How many times did you win?” I asked. He laughed and said, “only once, but it’s something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. You see…sometimes, it’s the simplest, most innocent things from childhood that stay with you forever.” His gaze drifted away as he quietly said, “and the loss of childhood innocence is always such a tragedy.”
He was a wise man, and a good man. He never raised his voice, nor did he ever make me feel that I was anything less than the most special kid in the world. When he sometimes used big words I didn’t understand, he always took the time to explain what they meant and would then smile and say, “see? You just got a new wrinkle in your brain.”
The year I turned eighteen was the last summer I spent with my grandfather.
To be continued________________