Five Meaningful Words Heard 63 Years Ago That Lasted A Lifetime

YOUR TURN

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I owe Zane Grey a lot.

For one thing, his books got me interested in this part of the country and ultimately led me to the place where I'll plant my bones one day, becoming part of the countryside I love. For that alone, I owe him a lot.

But there's also the enjoyment I've gotten out of reading his books, many of them back when I was a boy, at a time of life when his style of writing suited me perfectly.

Even now, I still read Zane Grey, although I am more likely to be rereading his "Tales of Lonely Trails," an autobiographical look at some of the things he did around these parts, than I am to be reading one of his novels.

I just bought a new hardback copy of "Tales of Lonely Trails," in fact. You ought to read it. You'd love it. But there's a third thing that Zane Grey did for me.

Being a reader, the Christmas when I was 12, I was given, among other things, three of Zane Grey's books.

One of them was "Betty Zane," a fictionalized story of his early Ohio ancestors. Along with it were two other exciting novels about the same Ohio frontier, and about a character I grew to love named Lew Wetzel.

Fascinated with the pioneer life along the border contained in the three novels, I was sitting in our living room in New London, Conn., hunkered down in a wingbacked chair close to a happily hissing radiator while snow fell outside the window at the rate of about an inch an hour (we ended up getting 14 inches, which gave me a day off from school the next day).

My stepfather, Harry Johnson, a stern old New Englander, came into the room.

Now, Pop Johnson, as my three brothers and I called him, was a great old guy, and I had no memory of my real father -- who died when I was 4 -- to muddy the waters.

But Pop Johnson and I were two very different people. He was an old nose-to-the-grindstone Yankee whose horizon had been ground down by the Great Depression through which his generation lived.

His thoughts rose no higher than the necessities of life -- family, home, food, a few decent clothes and not much more.

I, on the other hand, was lucky enough to have been the youngest of four brothers when Daddy died. Billy and Frankie had to quit school when Daddy passed on, just to bring in a few dollars a week. They worked nights and still managed to graduate, for which I am proud of them.

I never knew the true meaning of poverty. I was too young.

Oh sure, I knew that we were poor, but so was everybody else, even though no one seems willing to admit it these days. And I didn't have to scratch for money. I didn't have any, but that just seemed to be the way things were. As a result, I looked upon life with the naturally romantic attitude of youth. I loved to read, to swim, to hike the trails of the Connecticut woods around New London, to play football and baseball and to just live life, which I thought was (and still think is) wonderful.

So, Pop and I were two very different people. He didn't say much to me, not very much at all. In the first place, he was old and I was young, and in the second place, I was a dreamer and his dreams had been ground to dust in the jaws of the Depression.

But that snowy evening as I sat reading, Pop walked into the living room, looked at me with a Zane Grey novel sitting on my knees, and said five words I've never forgotten, "You're a good kid."

I am now 63 years older than I was that evening, but I still remember those five words and the way I felt when I heard them.

What will your children or grandchildren remember about you?

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