My grandfather was the editor of a local weekly newspaper in a mountain county in Virginia, up against the West Virginia border. My grandmother was a school teacher. She had been in college when they met, and dropped out when they married.
In the summers, she’d attend Madison College over in Harrisonburg (now James Madison University). We’d drive over to get her on Friday afternoons and then take her back Sunday evening.
That meant me—small me—and my grandfather were alone during the week, and had to cook and clean and drive into Warm Springs every morning. And were each other’s main company from evening through the next morning. He called me Mr. Brecht and I called him Mr. Cleek.
We had no television then, TV did not come to the county for a long time, the mountains were that rugged, and the nearest small town was many miles away. We had a radio that got a few stations. There was no internet, cable TV would not reach the place for years yet. So we’d build a fire in the fireplace, and listen to the radio. Maybe with a piece of cinnamon toast each.
We shared chores. I’d wash dishes one night, he’d wash them the next night. There was no trash collection, so we burned papers and such in the fireplace, and tossed the garbage down the hillside, in true hillbilly fashion, with a few shovelfuls of clay on top.
He is the wisest man I have ever known. It probably would have seemed very odd to other people, but there was small Mr. Brecht and aging Mr. Cleek, sitting in front of the fire. He treated me as an equal, although told his jokes that sometimes took me awhile to get. One was about visiting the zoo and seeing the dangerous. The joke was mispronouncing the word ‘dangerous.’
Since then, I introduce myself to children and to cats by saying hello kid, or hello, cat. All you have to do is treat them like real people, not like they were addle-brained babies or whiskery pets. Kids and cats both pick up on that respect. Kids and cats are just other people.
Deep knowledge,and happy reading.
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