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Sat, Nov. 16

Tradition of 'play' binds family together

Portuguese Proverb: "An hour of play discovers more than a year of conversation."

I say that parents and grandparents can't know what playing with their children means. This essay by 17-year-old grandson Rustin is for his college entrance. He was required to write about a family tradition. Here are the main excerpts:

"Early in the morning on a crisp spring day, all of the children in the family pile into my grandpa's car. We set out for the Trout Farm in Napa Valley. As soon as we turn off the main road and start up the mountain, my grandpa turns around and says, 'Oh oh, we're entering Big Bad Wolf territory.' He says this each year, at the same point on the journey. As we go up the winding, dusty road, he slips one of his wrinkled hands off the wheel and starts making tapping noises on the inside of his door, while pretending it is the Big Bad Wolf on our roof.

"I never saw this wolf, but I was so scared I watched outside very carefully. Then grandpa says, 'Look what I found,' and pulls Skittles, those little multi-colored fruit candies out of his pockets. That takes our mind off the wolf and we trade flavors with our brother, sister and cousins.

"Peacocks scurry out of the way as we pull into the gravel parking lot. The lake is small and shallow but in my memories it is wide and deep as an ocean. The path around the lake is covered in reddish gravel that makes crunching sounds as if we are walking on Rice Krispies.

" We each find a big rock to sit beside and he walks from grandkid to grandkid helping us fasten the bait on our hooks and telling us jokes he found on popsicle sticks. My fishing pole is about three feet long with Snoopy on the reel.

He would cast the line in to the lake and then give it to me. I would stand there holding the rod tightly with my eyes fixed on the bobber, imagining the fish and who knows what else lurking beneath the surface.

"I believe that my first rite of passage was when grandpa taught me to cast by myself.

"I think the reason grandpa enjoys taking us to the Trout Farm is because he was never able to do anything like that as a child. He and his brother were ages two and three when they were orphaned and grew up in an orphanage in Oakland.

After high school he joined the army as a paratrooper in the l0l st Airborne. When he parachuted into Holland he was riddled with bullets and lost one leg. The hospital gave up on him, but he wanted to be part of a family so much that he was determined to live.

We little kids would knock on his wooden leg and I thought it must be great to have a leg like that.

"Now that I am about the age he was when he lost his leg, I imagine what it would be like to go through the rest of my life missing a good leg. I never realized how brave he was.

"He settled in Napa, California, got married and had four children, and now has eight grandchildren.

I think that because he never had someone to take him fishing when he was a kid, it makes him feel good to know that his children and grandchildren have a better life than he did.

I'm proud to be related to someone who could come out of a horrific past and turn out so happy about life.

When I look in his eyes I can see what has kept out the sadness all these years. It is his pride in his country, in his life, in his family, and in me. When he looks at me after he has seen me singing in a musical or even just following a chat, there is something about his smile that says, 'My life was not a waste and you are living proof.'

"That someone takes that much pride in me makes me feel great. It makes me want to make sure that I build something in my life that makes the world a better place.

"While going to the Trout Farm and fishing is the actual tradition in my life, I realize now that the only thing that makes this event important to me is being with my grandpa."

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