Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Saltines and Sardines: Memories of my Grandfather

My grandfather was simple high-school educated Michigan farm boy who would later go to work as a Senior Engineer for American Motors, working on cars like the Javelin, Pacer and the Gremlin. He loved to try to invent a better mouse trap and was constantly found in his workshop taking apart regular household items and improving their function. My family tells me I inherited his engineering skills and his internal drive to always make things better or at least tinker with them just a bit, thus my need to mess with any recipe I bake. I was his first grandchild and he and I have always been close to him, no matter the physical distance that separated us. We always talked on the phone at least once a week and when ever I was contemplating a career move, I would call him to discuss the pros and cons.

One of my fondest memories as a little girl was fishing with my grandfather. I was his little fisher-woman and when I was visiting his house, if you wanted to find us all you had to do was look down to the lake. There we would be, on the dock, in the johnny-boat (a flat bottomed row boat good for fishing), or if we wanted to get way out into the lake to where the "big ones were", the speed boat. Even in the winter we could be found out on the frozen lake fishing, either sitting on buckets just in front of where the dock was during the summer or further out over deeper water in his ice shanty.

My grandfather wasn't a gourmand by any stretch of the imagination but he did introduce me to a snack that I relish to this day; sardines on saltine crackers. When I was very little girl, I remember him sitting me on the counter in the kitchen when he would come home from work and watching him open a can of sardines. He would put one fish without the head on cracker because I thought the heads were icky, and hand me my snack. "Here, eat this. It will put hair on your chest", he would always tell me with a twinkle in his eyes. I would laugh and squeal about being a girl. He would tease me back about eating sardines with no heads.

Any time we went fishing, along with tackle boxes, rods and reels, he would bring a thermos of coffee and a wicker basket with three cans of sardines, a box of saltines and two apples. As soon as we got the bait on the hooks, the lines in the water and had finished enjoying the scenery he would reach into the hamper and start making sardine sandwiches for us to share for lunch. We would munch on the sardine cracker sandwiches, tell each other corny jokes and wait for the fish to bite. Sometimes they would and sometimes they wouldn't but that didn't matter, we were having fun together.

My grandfather passed away this week on Monday at the ripe old age of 92. He was lucky to have been good health all the way up to the end of his life and he died surrounded by his children, his beloved lake nearby. I have been blessed to have spent over forty years with him and, when I fly home later today to attend the celebration of a long and well lived, well loved life, in my carry-on bag will be a can of sardines and a package of saltines...