His name means “gift.” Grant really was a gift from God to our family. He is two years younger than me, and the oldest of my seven brothers. Now that we are grown, he is the “big brother” all my friends wished they had. His work ethic, integrity, and mechanical genius are legendary. He skillfully shares his analogies of logic and philosophy, if only around the family room at Grandpa’s house. But things were not always this way.
Mama said he should have been an only child. She said she just kept saving his life . . . and saving his life! Angels in heaven worked over-time to see that he grew to adulthood. Earthly angels also came to Mama’s rescue for his sake. This is the story of Grant’s relationship with one of those.
Cliff and Gertrude Cockayne lived with their elderly black cocker spaniel, Shane, in the red brick house they had built many years earlier. Their children were grown and lived so far away they could only come to visit in the summertime. They worked hard and kept a busy, predictable schedule. Cliff was a handyman and gardener and spent weekends on his picture-perfect yard.
When our family moved in next door with two little girls, Cliff smiled and thought of his own grandkids as he quietly swept our sand off his driveway. One by one four boisterous boys joined our family and a redwood fence went up between his driveway and ours. Grant was first, arriving in the spring of 1965.
Grant was hardy and rambunctious and we adored him. Mama called him a “little opportunist”. When she carried him into church he grabbed onto people or doorways and about knocked her off her feet.
Some of our friends called him “The Tank.” Mama said he should have been named “Houdini”. He disappeared once in the middle of the night and was found sleeping soundly behind the sofa.
Once Mama and Daddy were awakened in the night to the sound of a bear cub rummaging through the kitchen cupboards! Grant was caught red-handed on top of the counter with his fists full of squishy butter and sugar! Another dark night they heard sounds of a burglar in Daddy’s office. Again, it was little Grant, emptying the desk drawers and carpeting the floor with papers.
He was a fearless explorer. In spite of Mama and Daddy’s warnings of danger, we spent countless hours combing the neighborhood for him.
Mama had to put him in a harness to save his life. She strapped it on him and fastened it to the door handle of the car in our driveway. He cried like a puppy on a leash, but he could not convince Mama that he could be trusted with his own freedom.
Mama encouraged Tammy and me to defend ourselves when he bullied us, but we were too tenderhearted to hurt him and no match for his strength, anyway. In the end there was nothing for us to do but watch out for him.
Grant was not naughty on purpose. He just didn’t know how much damage he could do while satisfying his enormous curiosity. He had to figure out electricity, gravity, and motors.
The first two words he ever spoke were “vacuum” and “twuck.” His energy exhausted Mama.
One day Grant wandered next door into Cliff’s tool shed and found the door open just a crack. It housed everything from hand tools and hoses, to power tools and mowers. He had never seen so many useful gadgets! There was also an open barrel of acid used for cleaning the driveway. The fluffy powder reminded him of sweet brown sugar. He touched it then licked his fingers. Before he knew it, he had popped a whole handful in his mouth.
Uh oh! He spit it out. His eyes watered. His mouth stung. “Bees,” he cried, racing to Mama, “Bees!”
Grant had to stay in the hospital overnight. The nurses assured Mama and Daddy that even a monkey couldn’t escape that crib with the net stretched across the top. But Grant was not a monkey, and they would have to secure him better than that! As they walked toward the exit that night, Mama and Daddy heard the patter of little feet and a pathetic cry. “Wait fo’ me!” Grant had shimmied over the rail, squeezed under the net and was running down the hall after them.
Mama and Daddy were not surprised that he had his own private nurse when they returned in the morning. He was on a tour of the hospital in a tiny wheel chair, wearing a straitjacket!
On Easter Sunday of 1968 a magical spark of friendship was lit. Daddy was chatting with Cliff after church services when Grant tugged on his suit and said in his outdoor voice, “Hey Cliff! How ya doin’?”
Daddy whispered a reminder to be respectful. “Children call him ‘Mr.’ or ‘Brother’ Cockayne.”
“Oh . . .” he hesitated only a moment, and in a lower tone said, “how are ya, Mith-ter?” Cliff was enchanted.
A new shadow followed Mister in his yard from then on. “Does your mother know where you are?” he always asked. Grant helped him plant petunias and refill the bird feeder.
The sound of Mister’s tiller, as he wheeled it out of the shed, was irresistible. “Can I help you, Mith-ter?”
“Here, hold this funnel while I pour gasoline into the tank” Mister’s voice was a bit gruff and he spoke with a lisp, too. Grant was fascinated with the flexible metal spout on the gas can and the visible vapor. The smell of gasoline pleased him. He watched Mister tighten the cap on the tank and check the oil. Mister adjusted the choke and yanked the cord. The motor sputtered at first, but was soon roaring loudly. It was thrilling! Then Mister lowered the throttle. Grant and Shane followed while he walked the tiller on its rotating tines across the lawn to the garden plot.
Mister always had important jobs for Grant like holding the gas cap or turning the water faucet on and off. Grant was expert at turning the faucet on to soak himself and his sisters.
“Grant! Come here!” Grant obediently stepped up to the redwood fence.
“Whadda ya want, Mister?”
Mister placed a small wind-up alarm clock on top of the fence.
Grant carefully turned it over in his hands, looking at the knobs on the back. He wound the key, and looked at the hands. They were still. He put it up to his ear. Just as he suspected–silence.
The back of the clock came off easily with help from Daddy’s screwdriver, and within just a few minutes it looked like Humpty Dumpty scattered all over the front porch. Then Grant’s little fingers meticulously put the pieces back together again, as good as new. There were only a few extra pieces left over.
It wasn’t until he gave the clock to Mama, and she thanked Mister for it that anyone realized that Grant had repaired it.
After that, Grant was our official handyman and Mister nicknamed him “Doc.” That was a good name, he thought. It made him feel important.
Over the next few years their friendship grew. Grant thought Mister knew everything; he could answer every question and showed him how to use all sorts of tools. He held his head high when Mister sent him alone on an errand to the tool shed. Mister was able to persuade him to obey, often when Mama could not.
Mister did more than teach yard work and mechanics. He saved Grant when he stuck the dandelion digger through his sneaker. When he and Kent blistered their hands on a hot exhaust pipe, Mister was there to the rescue. It was also Mister who drove Grant and Mama to the hospital when his little finger was nearly severed while flying too high on the glider.
Grant couldn’t resist asking Mister how he got the deep dimple in the middle of his chin. With a wink he described falling on a rusty nail–as a boy just Grant’s age.
As the boys grew older, a new tradition was established. Before he took his lawn mower out early each Saturday morning, Mister tapped on Grant and Kent’s bedroom window and kept tapping as he walked around the house to the back door. “Doc! Clem!” Like a pair of jumping beans they were out of their covers. “It’s Saturday!”
They bounded to the back door in the kitchen.
“Mister’s here, Mama! Can we go, Mama, Please?” She nodded, as usual, and smiled at Mister.
“Get dressed!” he said, “Have you had your breakfast?”
A little while later they scrambled out the door and into the front seat of Mister’s car for the short drive to the corner drug store.
Mister popped the cap off a bottle of soda and chatted with the pharmacist while the boys pored over the candy counter. They were each allowed a ten-cent treat, or they could share one that cost twenty-five. They agonized over the choices: caramel sugar daddies, candy nickels, bottle caps and bubble gum “gold” nuggets in a drawstring bag. Sometimes they got an ice cream or soda pop, but Mister would never allow the boys to drink cola. “You’re too young! Root beer for you,” he said, resting his RC Cola on Grant’s head. With their treats in hand, and a pretty good idea of what they were going to get next Saturday, they tumbled back into the car for the drive home.
And that’s how summer weekends always began. No one knows who missed Saturday morning outings more when our family moved away.
One day Mister presented Grant with four little goldfish in a bowl to be shared with Kent and us girls. We each quickly named our favorite—bright golden orange for the girls and a sleek black one for Kent. The last little creature to be chosen was a stubby army green and gray stripey one. It didn’t move gracefully through the water like the others. We couldn’t help feeling a little sorry for it. Grant loved it and proudly picked it for his own.
Anxious to take proper care of our new pets, we took turns giving them a pinch of food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Within just a few days the elegant ones went the way of all goldfish. It wasn’t fair! Grant’s fish thrived.
Week after week we gathered around the bathroom sink to watch while Mama cleaned the bowl for the lone survivor. One day it accidentally slipped between her fingers and swam free down the drain.
In the cooler days of autumn, Mister lit coals in his back yard fire pit and let them heat up while he harvested vegetables in the garden. Doc and Clem helped him unearth a few big baking potatoes from his patch and brushed the fresh dirt off. They watched carefully as Mister inserted a long nail into each one and covered the bare potatoes with perfectly heated coals.
“Is it time yet?” they asked. Mister said the potatoes would be done when the garden had been tended. Doc and Clem turned their attention back to weeds and earthworms. When Mister finally got to the end of a row, he scooped the three black blobs out onto the lawn. Doc and Clem had the job of rolling them around in the damp grass until they were cool enough to eat. Nothing in the world tastes better, when the work is all done, than steamy, white, magic-nail-cooked potatoes with just a pinch of salt.
One breezy afternoon a bold and beautiful bird happened upon our yard. Mister threw a piece of dog food onto the lawn, then gave Doc and Clem each a small handful of nuggets and a fishing lesson. To their delight the bird hopped closer snatching up the treat until it was only a few feet away.
Mister suddenly threw a laundry basket over it, “Gotcha a Magpie!” he announced. “Clip its tongue and you can teach it to talk.”
Talk? A talking bird? Is it true? “Really, Mister? Can it really talk?”
The bird squawked loudly and fluttered its black and white feathers under the basket for a few minutes. They watched closely without the slightest idea what to do next. By the time it settled down, they had envisioned life with their beautiful new bird conversing with them like a good friend and eating out of their hands.
Grant cautiously picked up the corner of the basket and in a split second the magpie and his plans vanished together.
Mister’s voice broke into the silence. “Look what it’s done.” He observed. “You let it fly away.”
“Yeah, it’s free.” He wasn’t sure if he was more disappointed for himself or glad for the magpie. He wondered if it could have lived up to his expectations, anyway. Together they watched the bird light on a branch near the top of a tall tree.
In time Grant came to realize that the real treasure Mister gave him never was a bird, after all.
Our family moved away from the old neighborhood in the spring of 1973. One day over a dozen years later Grant returned and knocked on the Cockaynes’ door. Though Gertrude looked into the mature face of a tall young man, he knew she recognized him. He felt as though he had been expected. She turned to her husband, “Look who’s come to see you!” From his recliner he smiled and motioned him in. Their final visit was brief and reminiscent of days long gone. It was no surprise to Cliff that Grant had become a man of stature and character.
Grant lives with his wife and one young son in Utah, in a home where Mister’s legacy thrives.
Cliff’s weakening heart slowed him down a bit, but he kept up his gardens and good works as long as he lived. A heart attack took him from this world at the age of eighty on January 18, 1990.