My Grandpa Charlie and Grandma Jewel lived more than a thousand miles from us, and we only saw them once a year, but they were a great influence on me as I struggle to get “off the grid.” Ever since I knew them, Needles, Arizona, was Grandpa Charlie’s home. When you think of Needles, Arizona, it doesn’t seem so unusual that a retired couple would move there. Located along the shores of beautiful Lake Havasu, many retirees make this community their home.
But Grandpa Charlie had a different idea about retirement. He moved fifty miles south of Needles into the Mojave Desert, next to an Indian reservation. He tanked his water from co-op hydrants that dotted the scenery, and he grew everything from fruit to tomatoes on that fenced in two acres of desert. He lived among the burrows, the rattlesnakes, and the Indians.
Grandpa lived off the grid in an area where it was a very difficult thing to do. They only got rain there once or twice a year, and by the time a storm got big enough to cross the desert, it was not the kind of storm that plants or people would want.
It was rough terrain. I remember Grandma Jewel shooting a rattlesnake off the fence line with a flashlight in one hand and a .410 shotgun in the other. She was a tough woman. She had to be, living in those conditions.
My father was a pilot, and back then we traveled in a small Piper Cub six-passenger plane. When we would visit, we would fly low over Grandpa’s home, and then we would land a few miles away at a local airport and wait for Grandpa to pick us up. There were no phones out in the desert.
Grandpa had a cabin cruiser that he and my dad built from the ground up, tucked into a cove on Lake Havasu. He and Grandma Jewel fished a lot, mostly at night. When we would visit, Grandpa would take us out on that big old lake, and we would stay out all night. This was before the days of GPS, but he didn’t need all that fancy technology. I remember him eyeballing the shore, lining up objects until he was in the exact spot, then dropping anchor. That’s when the fun began. Those catfish came fast and furious, and some were over fifteen pounds.
When I was ten, grandpa gave me a real nice fishing pole with a Mitchell reel. I caught many a catfish off that pole. One day back here in Illinois, I set that pole down for a just a minute and a big fish pulled it into the water, never to be seen again. I found another pole that looked just like it, put an old Mitchell reel on it, and I figured Grandpa would never notice. I was wrong.
The first time Grandpa saw that pole, he lit into me. “That’s not the pole I gave you,” he insisted. I tried to lie my way out of it, but he would have no part of it. When my father got wind of my lie, he had me go out and get a switch. I went to the back yard and pulled a branch off one of Grandpa’s trees and commenced to get a whoopin’.
As I was taking the stick back out, Grandpa saw me and asked me where I got the stick. “Off that tree out back,” I said, still sniffling.
“Do you know how long it takes to grow a tree around here? Bend over!” he said, and I commenced to get another whoopin’.
Yes sir, things sure have changed these days. Corporal punishment was a part of life back then. Whenever I did something that I knew was wrong, there was no doubt that if I got caught I was in for some real punishment, not a “time out.”
While I’m glad most people don’t beat their kids for their wrongdoings, I can’t help but to think we are losing control over our children because this type of punishment is no longer accepted. As children growing up in the ’60s, fear of punishment was a great motivator.
Have a great week, and we’ll see you next Saturday!