Tall Tales

We keep a box of toys at our house for the grand kids to play with when they come out. It’s mostly their old toys which are kind of new again when they haven’t seen them for a week. A week can be a long time when you’re less than five. One day my five year old granddaughter complained at me about the toys. “There’s nothing new to play with,” she said, in her cutest little voice. “I don’t like these toys anymore.”

Cute or not, I said, “What are you complaining about? Do you know what I had to play with when I was your age? Huh, do you? Dirt! I played with DIRT! That’s all I had. And sticks! STICKS! I had dirt and sticks. I didn’t have any fancy toys with video screens and buttons all over them! I had sticks and dirt! So go dig around that box and find something to play with and consider yourself lucky.”

Now my granddaughter Alaina, is five. She has the most beautiful red hair you’ve ever seen, matched only by her mother and my wife. And whatever you have heard about redheads, most of it is probably true but you really have no idea unless you live with them. I have been blessed in this way three times. Alaina put her hands on her hips, squinted her eyes at me, and said, “Oh Grandpa, you didn’t play with dirt,” and then went to find her little brother. She was partly right. I didn’t tell her about the Matchbox cars that I played in the dirt with.

I remember my Grandpa Armstrong telling us kids stories when I was little. He swore they were true. He told us a couple of tales about getting a deer without a gun. One time he was walking through the woods and came up behind a deer just standing there. He sneaked right up behind it and grabbed it by the tail. The deer took off and grandpa held on. That deer drug him for miles but after awhile it tired out and laid right down. Grandpa threw it over his shoulder and carried it home.

My grandpa lived in Upper Michigan, the “U.P.” to those in the know. The U.P. sits on the North end of Wisconsin between Lake Superior and Lake Michigan. Up there, there is a thing called “lake effect snow.” I’m not sure how it works but what it means is that if you live near the big lakes you can get twice as much snow or more than surrounding areas. My Grandpa told us about a winter when they had to go in and out of the second story windows to get in or out of the house. “There was ten feet of snow,” he said. “We kept a pair of snowshoes on the roof so we could get down.” That story was probably true. I have a book about Upper Michigan weather stories and you wouldn’t believe what they can go through up there.

Another time my Grandpa was walking in the woods by the lake. Again he came up behind a deer. This one didn’t have a tail so Grandpa said, ” I stuck my finger right up that deer’s butt.” Holding up his hand he bent his finger into a “u” shape. “And I crooked my finger just like this so I could hold on. That deer was so surprised it took off like a shot and ran right out on the lake.” (Lakes freeze over up there in winter. It was winter.) “That deer skittered around on that lake with me holdin’ on until he just couldn’t do anymore and dropped right down on the ice.” Grandpa picked up that deer and took it home.

Story telling is great fun. I make up stuff all the time to get a laugh out of my grandkids as I’m sure my Grandpa did for the same reason. They know I’m telling tall tales but it’s fun anyway and helps build their imaginations. And the wonder in a child’s eyes when they hear stories is something to behold.


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