‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘is for Irwin.
Albert Byron Irwin, my maternal grandfather, a child’s larger-than-life hero, was a master of the teaching moment.
The summer of 1958 was the summer Grandpa parked his Air Stream travel trailer in the small orchard behind our house at the farm. He loved swimming and often took us to Veterans Memorial Beach on the Russian River in Healdsburg.
“Want to go swimming,” he’d ask. Gaynl, Mike, and I, ready in minutes, piled into his big tail-finned, green 1957 Plymouth sedan and off we’d go.
A dam made Memorial Beach an ideal swimming place. Grandpa usually took us swimming during the week. Weekdays at Memorial Beach were never as crowded as week-ends.
After we swam for a couple of hours—Grandpa was never in a hurry—we were ready to leave.
“Who wants ice cream?” Grandpa asked as we passed the snack bar on the way to the car.
“I do! I do,” we shouted.
At age 13, cool from swimming, enjoying an ice cream sandwich and time with my grandpa was as good as it gets. I leaned back in the seat—the front seat because I was the oldest—totally in the moment. Finished with my ice cream, I let the wrapper fly out of the open window.
The car veered off the highway to the shoulder of the road, coming to an abrupt stop.
“Did you throw that wrapper out of the window,” Grandpa asked.
“Yeah,” I said, clueless.
“Well,” said Grandpa, his voice calm and matter of fact, “get out of the car and go pick it up.”
Without question or hesitation, I got out of the car and walked back up the busy highway shoulder until I found the wrapper. I returned to the car and got in, saying nothing.
“See that,” said Grandpa, pointing to the small gray plastic bag hanging from the cigarette lighter knob, “that’s a litter bag. It goes in there.”
I put the wrapper in the litter bag. Grandpa eased the car back into the stream of traffic. Nothing more was said of the incident.
As an adult, I have related the litter bag story many times. With each telling, I marvel at the power of Grandpa’s lesson. It didn’t occur to me, even as a smart-ass adolescent, to challenge Grandpa. His approval was important to me. And he knew it. It wasn’t necessary for him to raise his voice, to humiliate me, or to mention the incident ever again. And, I think he may have felt confident I would never litter again. Ever. I haven’t.