Monday, April 1, 2013

Remembering a grandfather

Today the only grandfather I ever knew would have turned 120. Andy Hoeme was one of those elderly icons every family seems to have: a good-humored, sometimes cranky man of simple tastes and uncommon wisdom who seemed torn from the canvas of a Norman Rockwell painting. He was a man who rarely had to search for an interesting story and, as one who died 100 days shy of 100 years, had more than a few to choose from.

As I learned shortly before he passed, Andy was something of a rebel as a young man. Born into a family of nine children on the Kansas plains in 1893, he ran off to see the world at 18 and lived by his wits for more than a year. He sailed on rat-infested lumber ships, rode the rails, sheared sheep Thornbirds style, hunted moose, and explored Yellowstone on foot when horses and wagons, not automobiles, plied its freshly-minted roads.

He maintained this spirit of independence even at age 24, when, as a deserter at the height of World War I, he left a Texas Army base with his newlywed wife for an Indiana Jones-like life on the run in post-revolution Mexico and the unsettled Canadian frontier. Even as a family man, inventor, and entrepreneur, Andy (pictured above at left) seemed more like a character from a Steinbeck novel than a family album.

Much of what I know about this remarkable man I learned in 1989, when I interviewed him over a span of three days. Even at age 96, he was able to recall events seventy years in the past with the clarity of a historian. I hope to someday turn his stories -- since verified by documents, news accounts, and statements -- into a non-fiction book.

But today, I simply want to remember the man who taught me to fish, appreciate patience, and see life as an adventure. You are gone but not forgotten. Happy birthday, Grandpa!

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