LBDA

My Hero - My Grandpa

  • Nicholas, being tutored by Grandpa Long on the art of turkey carving
Nicholas Cashman
Friday, April 20, 2018

My Hero - My Grandpa

 

Who do you think of when you hear the word hero? Maybe famous athletes, authors, or even politicians. My hero is a little more ordinary, my grandpa Long.

My grandpa is a sixty-four-year-old man who has always loved to hunt, fish, and work on his old cars. From the time I can remember, he was taking me out in the old, white boat to go fish the point, or any of his other thousand hot spots. The color, purple and white, is imprinted in my head as the only color jig that works on the lake of the Ozarks.

Not only was I with him when I caught my first fish, but he also took me on my first of many hunting trips. I may not have been the best hunting partner considering I could barely walk and kept snacking and falling asleep, but he made sure to wake me up every time he saw a deer. At the time, I was too little to shoot a gun big enough to kill a deer; however, the deer was filled with BB’s from the Red Rider that never left my side.

The most memorable hunting trip we ever went on was in Winner, South Dakota. Grandpa had been patiently waiting years for me to be old enough to go on this trip with him. We spent four days in a small ranch style house doing nothing but eating home cooked meals and walking the countryside shooting pheasants. I will always picture all the car shows and festivals we went to in his red ‘68 California Ford Mustang. Somehow I always ended up with the trophy his car had won and was just as proud as we were hoisting it up in pictures.

I was taught so much at a young age from going out on these outings with him. But I wasn't just learning how to fillet a fish, or shoot a gun; I was learning to do all that the right and honest way.
 
His entire life he worked as a lineman which meant he was the guy who would lace up his boots at 3 a.m. when the phone rang and go out in the thunder or snow storms to get your lights back on. He would travel to different states that had endured different storms and work hard for many hours a day restoring power. He is the type of person who didn't want to work on holidays, but if the chance were given he would take it because he knew that working a holiday meant more money that could be spent on his family.

One weekend a call rang out in the middle of the night, and it wasn't work. It was a call from his sister saying that his parents had been tragically killed in a home invasion. It changed him. He no longer wanted to go out and fish the point; he no longer wanted to sit in a deer stand, not even taking his car to a show sounded appealing. He did continue to pheasant hunt in memory of his father. He could barely function. He went on like this for years until he got word from my mom, she was going to be having a baby - me! It was almost like an awaking from a fog to him. He had a renewed interest in just about everything he planned to do with me.

In 2005, after my grandparents traveled to the United States Supreme Court, for a case on shackling, regarding his parent's murder, he noticed he lost his sense of smell. He began to kick at night and talk in his sleep. The doctors thought for sure it was PTSD resulting from his parent's murders.

In 2013, as my grandparents were on their way to their annual Cancun trip, (yes, I went there several times until my education interfered) when my grandpa had an anxiety attack that could not be shaken. His regular doctor ran some tests on him and sent them to a neurologist - his diagnosis - Parkinson's. A few months passed, and my grandma thought that it just did not seem right. They went to see another neurologist who ran more tests and came back with: dementia with Parkinsonism features but didn't know what kind of dementia. They took the test results to Washington University in St. Louis where that day the final diagnosis was Lewy Body Dementia. Lewy Body is the second most diagnosed dementia, after Alzheimer’s.

I found out one evening in 9th grade. My mother called me down to the living room and said we needed to talk; I figured I was in trouble or something. She tried to explain that her dad, my grandfather was ill. Little did I know, I was about to find out my fishing partner, my hunting guide, and my idol had been diagnosed with Lewy body dementia - an incurable disease of the brain.
 
Why is he, my hero?  Because not once have I ever heard him complain about anything. Never once has he complained to anyone about how stiff his joints are getting, or how some basic things will slip his mind every once in awhile. Never once has he used his illness, or the loss of his parents, as an excuse for something he can't do.  
 
To this day, even though each day may be a little more difficult for him, or he may not be able to do it as fast as the day before. We continue to wake up real early on brisk Saturday mornings during deer season—and while he may not be able to last long out in the cold, he never leaves my side, even if it means parking the truck next to my stand and running the heater at full blast. We also still enjoy going out to the point fishing for crappie on the weekends. Now his hands shake when he fishes, and he jokes the fish like it.

Now I drive the boat and remind him to put the life jacket on. He can no longer drive his truck, so now I drive it as well. He struggles with clothing and walking, but he still wants to go anywhere we go. Our roles are reversed, it’s my job to do what he did all these years, show me the love of the outdoors and keep him safe while we do it.