As a young boy I got to go camping with my grandparents, my sister, and two cousins. Billy and Fern, my grandparents, were, and are, salt of the earth people. They were always inclusive. There was always room at their dinner table for one more. My sister Wendy was the oldest, 20 months my elder. Wendy and I were the ones that tanned up quite easily. My cousins Dennis and Trudy were three and four years younger than me, respectively. They were the ones that sun-burned quite easily. Funny how difference works, even in family.
We all piled into Grandpa’s Chrysler each summer, three in the front seat and three in the back seat, to make the drive from Edmonton, Alberta into the Okanagan area of British Columbia. With our pop-up tent-trailer in tow, it’s a 50 year-old trailer that I now have, we did this for eight or nine years, each for a week or two at a time.
These were fantastic formative years for all of us kids. They were rich times with our grandparents, creating an important bond that has remained with us through our lives. We took turns planning the days and meals. Swimming in the lake was our primary entertainment, most often at Skaha Beach in Penticton. We picked cherries in the orchards, often eating as many as we picked of course.
It was on these trips that we learned some key values that remain with me today. One of those was to leave the campground better than we found it. In Penticton, this meant that when it was time for us to go, our job as kids included picking up little bits of trash, candy wrappers, and cigarette butts. As kids, we complained. Of course there were things that we didn’t’ drop there. But my grandparents were clear and committed. We need to leave it better than we found it.
Last week, that Grandpa, Billy Gould, passed away. He was 98, which is rather impressive longevity. Grandpa’s death was expected, yet of course, impactful. As a family we will be celebrating his life later next month. Stories. Memories. Toasts. Tears. Laughter.
Grandma Fern is 94. She remains impressively sharp. I call her pretty much every week. We talk about sports — Grandma knows a lot. We talk about gardening. We talk about the kids, her great grandkids. Sometimes we talk about old camping stories. We talk about her adjusting to Grandpa’s passing, which I believe she is doing quite well.
My Grandparents continue to mean much to me. Grandpa was born April 10, 1917. I’m told he was a 15 pound baby. He died April 21, 2015, after a full life. He most certainly left me better than he found me. Thank you Grandpa.