Grandfathers and Knuckleheads - Kris Vallotton

July 18, 2016

My grandfather loved me in spite of my continual stupid mistakes. He always called me “Knucklehead.” I think it was his way of showing me affection, and also a way to remind himself not to go ballistic on me.

In 8 years, I managed to tear the door completely off of his flatbed truck, bend the forks straight down on the farm tractor, and rip the siding off of the garage wall. Of course, these are just a few of the highlights…every week was a venture in destruction and a lesson in patience.

Every time I destroyed something else, he would just shake his head and say, “How the hell did you do that, knucklehead?!”  “I don’t know…” I’d respond. Sometimes I would try to explain to him how I managed this level of stupidity. But he would just shake his head and mumble something under his breath in Spanish.

Looking back, I have no idea why he believed in me so much. He never scolded me or made me feel stupid. His patience caused me to desperately want to please him. I actually think my desire to live up to his expectations resulted in me embracing his crazy work ethic.

My grandma and grandfather argued continually. They weren’t mad at each other most of the time; it’s just the way they communicated.  My grandma would ask him how his dinner was. “Terrible!” he would respond. Then he’d ask for more. It was kind of a game, with a little bit of truth mixed in it.


Once, my grandma was yelling at him because the front lawn was always brown. He didn’t really care about stuff like that, so he was just trying to give her the slip. But she followed him outside and punished him with her sharp tongue. (They argued in Spanish when they were mad, so I was never really quite sure what they were saying).  A few hours later a concrete truck showed up with green cement. Before the day was over, the lawn was gone, replaced with bright green concrete! When he invited my grandmother out to see the progress, well, let’s just say she wasn’t happy. Lol! “She wanted green, so by God, she got green,” he said with a smile. I don’t think the concrete was an honest attempt to please her; even I knew that she was going to freak out at the unveiling. But I think he was just trying to win. It was all a little dysfunctional, yet I always thought it was funny.

My grandfather and I would often look at each other and laugh. We never talked about it, yet there was an unspoken agreement between us that part of life was trying to outsmart the women. Needless to say, grandpa was pretty stubborn.


Last year, my 13-year-old grandson was messing around in my shop when he decided to close the automatic garage door on the lawn tractor. I looked up just in time to see it all happen. I started running for the door yelling, “Micah, push the button again! Micah! Push the dang button!”  He just stood there staring at me like a freaking zombie.

Five seconds before I could get there, the door slammed down on the tractor, bending the door and dislodging the thing from the rails. It just hung there by one roller, mangled! I stood there staring at Micah for what seemed like an eternity…struggling to find words that would convey my true feelings.

Suddenly I heard Kathy’s voice whisper, “Remember your grandfather.” I turned to see her standing behind me with a silly smirk on her face. I walked away mumbling some cuss words to myself, while Micah just stood there like he was in a coma.

That was the first time I understood how special my grandfather was. I grabbed a few tools from the toolbox and made my way back to the destruction site. Micah was still standing there staring off into space like teenagers often do. “What are you doing, knucklehead? Grab a wrench and let’s fix the dang door!”

He was instantly awakened from his coma and began to try to help. “What were you thinking, knucklehead?” “I don’t know,” he said with an awkward smile. I raised my eyebrows and rolled my eyes, remembering those same stupid feelings in me.

“Come on knucklehead, move the stinking tractor!” I stared at him, reliving a memory, while Micah and the tractor disappeared from sight.

This is the plight of grandfathers; this is the inheritance of the aged. Build monuments in their memories that will remind them someday when they have knuckleheads, to extend patience to them because they have no idea what the heck they were thinking!  May God bless our knuckleheads.

For more stories about my grandfather, check out my book Spirit Wars.

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