To the man who taught me how to fish, shoot a bow, live off the land at age 6 (it was the height of the Cold War), waterski, hunt for morels, catch some fish and fry them up over a fire along the banks of the White River, how to live in an Airstream, how to drive an old WWII army jeep up some Ozark mountain paths, how to leave a javelina alone, and how to be a man’s man, may you rest in peace. He was married for 70 years and no matter what, he held my grandma’s hand as they went to sleep. He didn’t graduate from 8th grade. But he was a dairy farmer. He fought in World War II. He built gorgeous walnut furniture that was far ahead of his time. He worked at McDonnell Douglas and managed the team of laborers who built Apollo and put some men on the moon. He got to watch the moon landing live knowing that, without him and his vision for craftsmanship, those guys may not have made it up their safely. He never really bought meat, he lived off the land. He fished and hunted anything with a bow and arrow. He killed a bear and we made bear sausage pizza. He shot it right through the heart with that arrow and saved the heart and put it in formaldehyde to do a little showing off. He held a few world records in wild game. He always won gold in the national Senior Olympics for archery for his age. And when he got too old to climb a tree to go deer hunting, he bought a small motion-sensing digital camera and put it on a tree. Every few days, he’d go get the flash card, take it to Wal-Mart to get developed, and see what time deer would show up on the trail every morning. It didn’t take him long to snag a deer without being in a tree. And then he’d have food for a month or so.
But most importantly, my grandfather ensured every single one of his kids had their college education paid for by him. He didn’t want any of his kids to work as hard as he had to. And by doing that, he completely changed the course of this big branch of the Parkinson family tree. Education was everything to him. And he was so damn proud of me because I became a doctor.
Not everyone has the same opportunities, but absolutely everyone has the freedom to have a vision for what you want your life to be and how you want to influence your family and the world around you. He taught me that you didn’t need money or education to make a a massive difference in the world. It’s not about your profession. You could be a poor dairy farmer in the middle of Missouri and have a vision. You want a wonderful family and you want to instill the values most important to you in them and you want to lead by example. And by doing that, all of the generations that stem from you get to experience the world in a markedly better and more interesting way. When I hear people say something about how they want to do something with their lives and move beyond, say, serving as a hostess at a restaurant, I always correct them saying they have just as much a potential to make their mark on the world as me. Maybe it’s through just being kind to your family or strangers, or being curious and sharing ideas via sparked conversations that lead to something greater than you’ll ever know. Everything you would ever need can be found in your hustle and your vision for milking life and making this world a better place. My grandpa milked this life for all it could offer. I’d be half the person I am if it weren’t for him.
He told me once, “you know what son, if you sit down, you’ll never get up.” Gramps, you can sit down now. You won.
I made this video of him just a few years ago in what would be his last Senior Olympics competition. My dad and my brother and I flew to Houston to watch him compete. There wasn’t but a few people in that auditorium watching him practice, but I edited the video and threw in some stadium applause for effect. He sure did get a kick out of that.