They told me at the house Grandpop had saddled ol' Blue and set out on a moon light trek to the campsite. That's all I needed to know something was bothering him. It was a two hour ride to the knob Grandpop called the campsite, and neither he nor Blue should make that trip alone, and certainly not by the light of a sliver of a moon. I hustled to the pastures behind the barn, caught the first horse I could, saddled in a hurry and rode out. Clouds covered the moon and I couldn't see the ground my horse trod over. But miles away I saw the tiny flicker of a campfire on the knob.
Most every horse Grandpop kept in his remuda knew the way to the knob. The knob was Grandpop's second favorite place on the ranch; he and Mom had picnicked there countless times and, until her final year, always celebrated their anniversary with a campfire taking in the view. His favorite place was anywhere he sat a horse. In recent years his trips to the knob had lessened, but every horse had been there dozens of times over the years. The last time I'd been to the knob was a year or so ago when Grandpop took a young reporter who had come to write a story about Grandpop and the ranch. I gave my horse a friendly pat on his neck, "You know the way, take your time old fellow. Watch your step but get us up there, gotta check in on Grandpop."
The final assent wound its way ever steeper between boulders, trees and drop offs. I offered no direction to my horse, he knew every step to take without interference from me. I chuckled when I remembered that reporter, all jealous of Grandpop's ranch, so certain someone had stacked the deck to give Grandpop an easy route to success, because that's how he "knew" things happened. I chuckled again when I remembered what Grandpop had told him as he guided the city fellow in the art of campfire building, and self reliance – "These days there's too much talk about some folks havin' more than others and being angry and jealous about it. There's an old cowboy sayin' … God put the firewood in the woods for everybody, it's up to each of us to gather it and build our campfire. That's the story you should write, young fella."
Grandpop's silhouette by the fire greeted us as we broke into the clearing. Without words, he tipped his hat and motioned for me to join him. I tied my horse next to ol' Blue, and settled onto the carved log bench across the fire from him. He tossed a split chunk of wood onto the fire sending sparks and crackles high. From the pile of freshly split wood I figured he'd worked out at least some of his frustrations. But by his silent stare out over the black valley below, I knew not all sat square with him.
"Sometimes I have a hard time figurin' out the new way of thinkin', Son." He pulled his hat and shoved gnarled fingers through his thin gray hair. His eyes sparkled with light from the dancing flames. His stooped shoulders told of decades of hard work. I knew he wasn't looking for a comment from me. I knew he was hurting.
"I lost a lot of friends over there fighting for what we thought was right. Fighting to protect freedom. Your mom and I tried our best to be good parents, good stewards of the land, and good citizens. Honor, respect, love for our country, Son, they used to mean things."
I watched his eyes as he spoke. I couldn't tell if the shine in them was firelight, or tears.
"I can't wrap my brain around this idea of our country being the cause of problems all over the world. Can't almost tolerate watchin' the news anymore, ruckus in the streets, folks hating each other. College professors and school teachers teachin' the youngins ours is an evil country that steals from every other country. Young'ins bein' taught what to think, not how to think. This group hatin' that group, and far too many folks who don't even know the meaning of respect, and love of country. Strangest thing of all to me is all these folks from all over the world breakin' their backs to get here, and folks born here can only see how bad a place it is."
He cradled his face in his hands, sighed then leveled the hardest stare my way I'd seen in years.
"Of course I love my country, I'm just not sure I recognize it anymore … Could be I'm just an old man whose ideas ain't worth much, but I reckon folks better soon figure out a way to love this good ol' United States of America, find some old fashioned patriotic spirit, or it's gonna fade into darkness and wither away like a passing day. Then what are they gonna have … ?"
I had no answer.
Gitty Up ~ Dutch Henry
This is the Eleventh in my series of Grandpop stories. I began writing about Grandpop, June 27, 2013, with what at the time I imagined what would be a standalone short story, "Perhaps I've Just Lived Too Long." You can read that story (and find links to go on) (HERE) Folks said they enjoy visiting with Grandpop, so I wrote more. Frankly, I enjoy him too.