I was about 8 years old and heading home from a fishing trip with my grandfather when I had my first incredibly useful life experience. It was many years ago, but I remember it something like this:
After several days of bobber-watching, trolling, fishing before breakfast, and no baths, we squeezed in a last morning of fishing before setting off in Grandpa’s ‘65 Chevy pickup equipped with a cramped camper topper. After driving for about an hour he pulled over to the side of the little-used 2-lane highway, probably so I could pee on a bush or something.
When I hopped back in the truck, Grandpa was intently studying his road map. I’d seen him look at this colored sheet of paper before but had no clue what he was doing. So, I asked my 300th question of the trip. I sensed that Grandpa was a little peeved at me for asking so many questions. He turned, thought for a moment, and handed the map to me. “Here. You be the navigator and read this map to figure out our way home” he said calmly, putting his hands back on the steering wheel. Did I hear him right?
This was the most “grown-up” task ever asked of me. My eyes scrunched while scanning the colored lines, tiny numbers, and odd symbols. I was both excited and befuddled but happy that a few town names were familiar. He pointed to our location and destination on the map and said the bold lines represented roads between places, and the shorter the line meant the less the distance.
He began driving and told me to pay attention to the road signs. After a few apprehensive minutes, I saw a sign with “5 miles” to the next town. He told me to look at the map and find the town. I did, and it started making a little sense; but then Grandpa went silent.
Occasionally he’d ask how far until we turn and what direction. He told me about the little mileage numbers next to the lines and the difference between the red dots and black arrow points. He showed me the little green and white mile-markers signs. As we continued, he let me make a few mistakes like mixing up my easts and norths. I’d then see my error, but, YES, I was getting it!
After about 300 miles, my nervousness was replaced by a confidence unlike any I’d ever had. I don’t know if he’d planned on giving me a lesson that day or if he just wanted me quiet for a few hours. Nevertheless, both things happened, and decades later this is still one of my fondest memories. Thanks Grandpa!