First in a series celebrating the men who have shown me the meaning of dignity and courage, as well as giving me a love for books, skiing, and RVing (and an appreciation for wrench collecting).
The sun-baked sidewalk burned my feet, and I slipped my flip-flops back on. My sister and cousins scampered ahead, a blur of tan limbs and bouncing ponytails.
I struggled to keep up–at 7, I was the youngest of the bunch—but my grandfather John Walsh hesitated. Swinging a net, he reached his free hand out to me. “Come on, Erin,” he said. “We’ve got some butterflies to catch.” He smiled, his ever-present fedora tilting back on his head.
I skipped over to him and clutched his hand, infused with confidence by his simple touch. A few paces away, butterflies flitted among wildflowers. My sister and cousins bounded through the tall grasses, shouting, “Look at that blue one.” And, “Give me your net.”
John—all of his grandchildren called him by his first name, something started by one of my cousins—winked at me. Still grasping my hand, he raised the net and tiptoed toward a resting butterfly. It fluttered away, escaping capture, and John shrugged, pulling me farther into the field, farther into life, making me a full participant in the day.
It was always like that with John. Despite the responsibilities that he carried throughout his life—escorting the dead home from France during World War I, guiding students through their studies as a school superintendent, and devoting years of service to Idaho as its Adjutant General—he always had time for an encouraging gesture and kind word.
He enveloped people with his quiet enthusiasm. He had a gift for saying the right thing and an enormous sense of humor, singing, “laugh and the world laughs with you,” when someone grew weepy and chuckling along with movies like “Animal House,” which he took my sister and me to see when we were teenagers.
Our butterfly excursion ended in a grass-stained jumble—dirty knees, blackened feet, and sun-burned noses. As the butterflies soared over the field, John steered us home, where my grandmother waited, ice cream treats ready, and the fun continued into the night with board games. The next day promised the same endless playing.
Yet, among all the memories, butterfly-catching with my grandfather has remained particularly clear. It represents the many times he made his grandchildren feel like the most important people in the world. Even today, I can see him holding my hand and drawing me into the world, armed only with a wink, smile, and butterfly net.
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