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Grover Always SaidA Taste of the Good Life
By Bob Hull
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 Bob Hull
All right reserved.
Dear Brenner and Shane,
I need your help to get an idea off the ground.
When the terrible events of 9-11-2001 happened, like a lot of Americans, I was angry. How could these so-called believers in God kill and maim so many innocent people and cause so much destruction? I spent most of 9-12-2001 trying to get back on active duty with the U.S. Army. Of course, with my age and health problems, I was turned down. I remember going to St. Ann's Basilica in Scranton, PA. I was too angry and too disappointed to pray so I just sat there in that big, cool, beautiful, old church. I don't know how long I sat there. Suddenly an idea popped into my head. In a flash I realized my anger at the hijackers and others like them and my disappointment in the Army's refusal to take me back on active duty weren't doing any good for anyone, including me. I decided to do something nice for someone, anyone, nothing spectacular, just some thing nice. Not just one time, I'd do something nice for someone every day. I've done just that every day since; and, where possible, I've asked that person to pass it on. I don't plan what I'm going to do in advance. Some days have more opportunities than others. In a long line of traffic, I'll let someone pull infront of me. In a restaurant, I'll buy a meal for a complete stranger. I make arrangements with the person's waitress, pay for the meal and leave the restaurant before the person does, leaving instructions for them to pass it on. They know only that someone bought their meal. They never know I was that someone. Sometimes, I see things you guys might like, so I buy them. Someone coined the phrase "Random Act of Kindness." That's what I mean, random or unplanned. But I'd like to add "Everyday." Random Act of Kindness Everyday which gives us the acronym RAKE.
On February 10, 1964, just before your Mother's fourth birthday, I went to work for the Prudential as an insurance agent. One of the people I worked with was a Claims Agent named Norman Rake. In the prime of his life Norm was stricken with polio which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Norm had every right to be angry. Instead, he was one of the nicest, most gracious people I have ever known. He always had a kind word for and about everyone. He went out of his way to be nice to people. He did a lot of favors for people he hardly knew.
So I need your help. Let's start a movement called RAKE, Random Act of Kindness Everyday. Talk to your Mom and Dad. Talk to your friends and teachers. Let's all try to make this world a kinder, better place for each other. Let's dedicate our efforts to all the Norm Rakes we've ever known.
Love and thanks, Grandpa
* * *
It was a hot lazy afternoon in late summer, right after the last bale of third crop alfalfa was put up in the hay mow, just before the first day of school. It was so hot that the checkers players and storytellers at A. J. Tull & Son General Store & U.S. Post Office moved outside to the front porch just in case a cool breeze might try to sneak through Michaelville, PA. Grover Cleveland Walborn was unusually quiet as he read the Lock Haven Express. In fact, Grover was so quiet some thought he might be feeling poorly. Grover just sat, arms outstretched, holding the Express wide open in front of him. Suddenly, Grover peeked over the top of the newspaper. "It says here," he began, "the Pope has eased the requirements on holy water. Catholics no longer have to get their holy water at church." I could see the twinkle in Grover's eyes that meant a good story was coming. And since he said "Catholics" I knew the story was for me because my family were the only Catholics in town. Grover continued, "It says right here, Catholics can now make their own holy water at home. All they have to do is take a pan of clean tap water, put the pan on the stove, turn the stove up to high and boil the hell out of it." Of course there were some who didn't know Grover was telling a story. They were the ones who leafed through the Express looking for the holy water story while Grover went inside the store to get a bottle of Nehi grape pop. But I didn't have to look at the Express. I knew it was a story, a darn good story. I had seen the twinkle in Grover's eyes.
* * *
Grover Cleveland Walborn told us his uncle went blind from drinking coffee. Grover's Uncle Link, A. Lincoln Walborn, always left the spoon in the cup.
* * *
According to Grover Cleveland Walborn one of the smartest personalities he ever met was Buster K. Hull, M.D. The K stood for Keaton. The MD stood for Male Dog.
Buster was a six-week-old bundle of fur with floppy ears when Kyle and I first saw him in late January, 1986 at the Lycoming County S.P.C.A. in Williamsport, PA. When the attendant brought him from his cage and put him on the floor, Buster walked briskly up to us, sat, and extended his right paw. He knew Kyle and I belonged to him right from the start. We completed all the adoption papers and took Buster home.
He was easy to train. From the beginning, Buster seemed to know he needed to conduct all personal business outside. We're fortunate to have a beautiful woods right behind our house. There's a paved path through the woods that makes walking enjoyable for both humans and canines. When we took Buster home from the S.P.C.A., after he had eaten and taken a nap, Kyle and I took him for his first walk through the woods. Buster had a lot of fun watching all the squirrels and birds. There must have been lots of glorious odors that only a puppy can smell. Of course, Buster met other dogs out for their constitutionals with their humans. One of Buster's favorite dog friends was a frisky, friendly Beagle named Kelly who was just a few weeks older than Bus'. Over the years Kelly and Buster ran many miles together through the woods and nearby fields. On our first walk, Buster discovered a cat hiding behind a bush near the Avis Elementary School. Every day for the next fifteen years Buster checked behind that bush but we never saw the cat again.
One of the best things a dog owner can do for himself and his pet is to enroll his dog in an obedience class. There are few things more enjoyable than a well-trained, well-behaved dog. There are both Basic and Advanced Courses. Some people train their dogs for Obedience Trials and Competitions. Kyle and I just wanted Bus' to be a nice puppy dog. So, when Buster was four months old, we enrolled him in a Basic Obedience class. There were twenty-four other dogs in the class, mostly Golden Retrievers, with a few German Shepherds, a miniature Poodle and an English Mastiff puppy who was a couple of months older and about a hundred pounds bigger than Buster. The big Mastiff became Buster's best friend in the class. Buster was not only the youngest dog in the group, but he was also the only mutt. The rest of the dogs in his class were all purebred, registered animals with pedigrees and papers a mile long. Each week Buster and Kyle and I learned something new. The course lasted eight weeks. At the End of Course Competition, Buster placed fourth. Not bad for a little mutt in the midst of all those pedigreed competitors.
To show our appreciation to Bus' for his efforts in the Basic Obedience Course, Kyle and I took him to a local drive-in theater to see an old Rin Tin Tin movie. Buster watched the movie attentively. He even woofed at Rinnie a couple of times. On the way home Buster said, "It was good movie, but I liked the book better."
Buster was my walking buddy. He and I routinely walked three or four miles a day in all kinds of weather. Buster was on prescription medicine for the last five years of his life, but he enjoyed a good walk almost to the end, still looking for that elusive cat he'd seen as a young puppy. In July, 2000, my employer transferred me to Scranton, PA. Buster and I kept up our walks when I was home on weekends. Kyle and Keith walked him during the week. In December, 2000, Buster began to have kidney problems. I took him to Doctor Reese who had been Buster's veterinarian since he was a young puppy. Doc Reese kept Buster at the hospital. I called Doc everyday from Scranton. A few days after Buster's fifteenth birthday, Doc said Buster's kidneys were failing. Doc said it was time for Bus' to go to That Special Place Where All Good Dogs Go, that Place where there is no pain or sickness and there are lots of squirrels to chase. With tears burning my cheeks I gave Doc the okay. It was the week before Christmas. I called my Mom. She and Kyle were with Bus' when he died. That evening, alone in Scranton, I cried myself to sleep.
* * *
Grover Cleveland Walborn would tell you that in January, 1979, he went to the sixty-third edition of the Pennsylvania Farm Show at Harrisburg, PA. According to Grover he'd been to all sixty-three Farm Shows except for a few years when he worked out West. The Farm Show is Pennsylvania's version of a State Fair and is held every January. Grover told everyone he was a Farm Show judge and that he had to be at the Show every day. His daily attendance at the Farm Show in itself was a Herculean feat since Grover did not own a car nor did he drive. Grover planned his daily two-hundred-mile roundtrips to the Farm Show weeks in advance by asking friends and neighbors which day they planned to go to the Show; then he would invite himself along. Grover always reminded people about his being a Farm Show judge, even though no one ever saw him judge anything at the Show.
A few years ago, Grover rode with me to the Farm Show and back. We attended several events together although there were times we went our separate ways. For example, Grover went to the Pie Baking Contest - Grover always liked pies while I checked out some of the latest farm equipment. One of the events we attended together was the Tractor Square Dance. It was a lot of fun to watch those drivers perform some fancy maneuvers on antique tractors while listening to a caller and square dance music.
Now, even city-slickers know Farmalls are red, John Deeres and Olivers are green and Allis-Chalmers are orange. At the Tractor Square Dance there was an old Allis-Chalmers named Alice, some elderly John Deeres, a couple of yellow Farmalls, an old Oliver and a pink Farmall named Rose. I enjoyed the show but I could tell Grover wasn't too happy. Anytime Grover doesn't have anything to say, you know he's upset. On the way home, Grover griped and groused almost the entire hundred miles.
"Just ain't right," he said.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Them tractors," said Grover. "I can understand an Allis-Chalmers named Alice. We always called them Alice. I can understand a yellow Farmall. PennDOT's had yellow tractors for years. But I just can't believe there's a pink Farmall named Rose. Why, that's an insult to the Farmall owners of America. 'Just ain't right. Next thing you know, they'll be ridin' purple John Deeres. I guess we'll have to name them Violet."
I chuckled to myself. I could almost see the Farm Show marquee: "Now showing- Grover Cleveland Walborn and the Riders of the Purple John Deeres."
* * *
Grover Cleveland Walborn often said, "When someone asks how you're doin', don't just tell 'em good or pretty good. Tell 'em you're doin' terrific even if you ain't. It'll make you feel better. And it'll make them wonder what you've been up to."
To this day, I always tell people I'm doing terrific even if I'm not. Most of the time I feel better. But I never knew if anyone ever wondered what I'd been up to.
By the summer of 1972, I'd known Grover Cleveland Walborn for almost twenty-seven years. One rainy day that summer, I stopped by A.J. Tull & Son General Store & U.S. Post Office. Grover was at the store, as usual, enthralling a bunch of people, young and not-so-young, with one of his stories. As soon as he spotted me, Grover stopped his story in mid-sentence and shouted, "Bobby-me-boy. (Grover always called me Bobby-me-boy) Long time no see. (Grover always said that even if he'd just seen me the day before) How're ya doin'?"
"Terrific," I said.
"Now who learned ya to say a durn fool thing like that?" asked Grover.
"Guess who, Grove'?" I said.
Grover slapped his knee and made that funny sound, half-giggle and half-cackle, that only Grover can make.
"How're you doin', Grove'?" I asked.
Grover drew me away from his crowd of listeners. "Bobby, I'm worried," he said.
I asked, "About what, Grove'?"
"Well," he said, "You and the kids you growed up with was always a bunch of good, hard workin', sensible kids. Ya respected yer parents and yer elders and never caused nobody a lick of trouble. But these kids today are a different breed of billy goats."
"How's that, Grove'?" I asked.
"Well," Grover said, "fer one thing, they talk funny. The young women and girls sound like chipmunks or squirrels. Chit chit chit, nyeah nyeah nyeah, chit chit chit, yeah yeah yeah. And the young lads call everybody dude. Why, just the other day, a young guy said to me, 'Hey, Dude.' Now, Bobby, I'm askin' ya, do I look like a dude?"
"You sure don't, Grove'," I said. "But don't worry. The kids today are good kids. They're just imitating their heroes, all the singers, movie stars and sports figures. Next time you watch TV take note how all the famous women sound like chipmunks and count how many times famous guys say dude. And, another thing, Grove', people say, when I tell a story, that I sound just like that Grover Cleveland Walborn fella. And, Grove', you're one of my heroes." For a second I thought I saw Grover's eyes glisten.
"Bobby-me-boy, ya just made my day," he said.
"Where'd you learn to say that, Grove'?" I asked.
Grover smiled and said, "From Clint Eastwood. He's one of my heroes, ya know." Grover turned away and wiped his eyes with his old red paisley handkerchief.
"Bobby, it was good to see ya but I gotta go," Grover said.
"Where're you headin' Grove'?" I asked.
Grover answered, "I got a speck of somethin' in my eye and I gotta run home and 'wrench' it out. (Grover always said "wrench" instead of rinse) You be good. Stay warm and dry." And he was out the door.
"Take care of yourself, Grove'," I said as Grover hurried down Main Street toward his house. I could still see the red handkerchief as he wiped his eyes again.
* * *
Grover Cleveland Walborn would tell you he wasn't big on luxuries. One of the few luxuries he did allow himself was a beautiful set of old fashion down-hill skis, complete with ski boots, poles, gloves and goggles. "My wife gave me these skis and equipment a long time ago. She loved to ski. She was a Colorado girl ya know. Her name was Alyssa." On those rare occasions when Grover talked about his wife he always got a misty, faraway look in his eyes. Some people said Grover's young wife and baby son died in the Flu Epidemic of 1918. No one knew for sure. But in the Fall of 1918 Grover moved back home to Michaelville, alone.
Although there were no commercial ski slopes in our end of Whitney Valley, there were plenty of places for Grover to ski. Some of the farms had long fields that went right up the sides of the mountains that surround the Valley. Before the advent of the tractor, when the only source of power was provided by horses, mules and oxen, farmers were able to till the much steeper and higher parts of the mountains. With tractors, farmers could not get to the higher and steeper fields and most of those fields reverted to forest land. The Mayes Farm out on the Michaelville-Repeat Road had one of those old high mountain fields. Often, on a bright, cold winter day, you'd see Grover Cleveland Walborn skiing down the Mayes Farm mountain field, going as fast as the wind with great plumes of snow spraying as he made wide sweeping turns down the mountainside.
I begged my dad for some skis, but there was no money for such a luxury. Dad said, "Let's try something else." He had several oak barrels that he used at butchering time to cure hams and other meats in salt brine. "I have this one old barrel," Dad said. "I've had it repaired two or three times and it still leaks. Let's take it apart and see what we've got." In no time at all Dad had the barrel apart. He selected two of the barrel staves, each about four inches wide. "I think we've got your skis right here," said Dad. Using short roofing nails, Dad tacked a pair of his old rubber overshoes to the middle of the inside curve of the staves. We sanded the outside curve of each stave and applied some of Mom's floor wax. I now had my skis. Dad made some ski poles for me from old broom handles. I raced up the hill back of the old farmhouse at Oakdell Farm. I set the skis down on the snow, stepped into the old overshoes, pushed off with the poles and started down the hill. I went about three feet and fell on my backside. Laughing, I gathered up the skis and poles, stepped into the overshoes and went three more feet and fell again. I fell at least twenty times before I reached the bottom of the hill. By then I was hooked on skiing. I was ten years old.
Excerpted from Grover Always Said by Bob Hull Copyright © 2009 by Bob Hull. Excerpted by permission.
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