I spent the weekend in gorgeous Southern Indiana with 200+ college students at our fall conference. The kids and I walked in the woods for several hours on Saturday. I say “walked” and not “hiked” because hiking implies destination and elevation change – neither of which I approve of. We just wandered and followed little paths here and there and headed home when we felt done.
My grandfather gifted me with a love of walking. Grandpa and I used to walk in the woods behind our property. Grandma and Grandpa had 9 acres and gave 2 to my parents and 2 to my uncle. Grandma called it Fiddler’s Green.
I don’t know how many times we walked together. Was it 20? Was it once? My childhood memory tells me it was often, but maybe that’s because the memory is so sweet and strong.
Along the way we’d get our story together. We had a fox friend, Sally, who we’d pretend to see and there were always funny details to plan – how her kits were, did she like the pear we brought, did the hunters find her den? The path opened up to a clearing with a pond. It felt like we were miles away from home. I never worried how we’d find our way. Grandpa would whistle and sing nonsensical songs to make me laugh and then we’d come into the clearing.
What I didn’t know at the time was that Grandpa was a recovering alcoholic, surrounded by alcoholics – his wife, his son. He must have understood people have to hit their own bottom – they don’t stop drinking because you want them to. He remained calm, serene even, a midst all the drinking. His presence stabilized us all. When he was alive the drinkers had boundaries – no one was mean, no one got violent.
I wonder if he liked to walk by himself. I think he did. I think he liked to check out of the crazy for awhile. I imagine him slowly rising from his red leather chair when voices started to rise, when Grandma began to slip into her angry, whiskey-driven rants. I imagine him walking calmly to the sliding glass door, maybe even as she was talking to him, and walking out and into the woods.
I’m glad he took me along sometimes. He never showered me with gushing praise laced with expectation like Grandma. He didn’t tell me he loved me. I knew he did. He welcomed my presence – running into his lap all wet after a bath, tagging along with him to the hardware store on Saturday morning, by his side on the swing near the pool.
I thought of him this weekend, walking with my kids in the woods. I could almost hear him shouting to me, pulling up in his little red Mercedes, seeing me standing on the hill above the driveway, “Hi-Ah!,” he’d say, and wave. I swing my little blonde self around the flag pole and run down to meet him and off we go – walking in the woods.