Much can be said about Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Shot over the course of twelve years, the film follows a young boy (and his family) from age six to eighteen—through childhood to the first few steps of collegiate freedom and early adulthood. It is an achievement, a narrative unlike any other seen in cinema before, and it is led by remarkably careful and attentive direction and supported with wonderful performances. It’s also evocative—beautifully, painfully, and poignantly reminiscent as its scenes recall insignificant memories of our own innocence past.
I’ve been thinking about my childhood lately, possibly since before I saw Boyhood, but certainly in the weeks after. And in this quietly-sustained reminiscence, it has become difficult to separate memories of my grandfather (who passed away last weekend) from this fuzzy but formative period of my life. I suppose it’s natural (I’m 24 now) that most of my memories of Grandpa Boettcher would come from my childhood—that period of time when innocence was abundant and the constraints of busy schedules, long drives home, and Grandpa’s fading health were but a distant concern. And while it’s special to have so many rich recollections tied to my younger years, it’s sad to know that there won’t be any new memories of Grandpa during my married life or with the children I hope to father someday. (Although, he did get to spend quite a bit of time with my fiancee, Stefanie. It was always hard to catch Grandpa with a smile on his face, and in his older years, he didn’t get out of his recliner for much—but when Stefanie walked into the room, he’d perk right up and [in a sign of true adoration] even walk over to say hello. He really liked her, and that pleasant knowledge will stay with me forever.)
Certainly, I’m lucky to have so many great memories with Grandpa. I’m lucky to have spent a few days every summer—at almost the same ages portrayed in Boyhood—traveling to Starbuck, Minnesota, with my father to go fishing with Grandma and Grandpa Boettcher. As if from a montage of my own childhood, I remember snippets of scenes that blur between the years: riding in Dad’s truck and pulling into Hobo Park, rolling over the numerous speedbumps until at last, we’d reach the last stall before the fish house and find Grandma eagerly awaiting our arrival. For whatever reason, Grandpa seems to elude these memories; perhaps because he’s tending to the coals on the grill or over by the boat preparing for tomorrow’s venture with an attitude of, “right then, you made it. Let’s get on with what matters.”
And for Grandpa, the fishing always mattered.
Of course I remember fishing with Grandpa. I remember the dynamic in the boat, with Grandpa manning the motor, Grandma on her seat, and Dad and me up front on the bench. I remember the carefree joy with which Grandma fished, and the way it contrast Grandpa’s quiet satisfaction. Grandma might catch the biggest fish, but Grandpa would remind us that it was he who brought us to the fish in the first place.
And so it was. Grandpa taught us all how to fish. Dad says he’s forgotten more about fishing than most of us will ever learn. When it all began no one can say for sure. With Grandpa and fishing, there is no beginning, there just always was.
Like so many men of his age, Grandpa loved baseball too. He was a Minnesota Twins fan—and so is my father, and so am I. At home or away fishing, it seems like Grandpa hardly missed a game. I can recall many late nights in the camper listening to the distant signal of WCCO on his AM radio, the steady static and laid-back Herb Carneal commentary a perfect bedtime story—after a few hands of cards, of course.
I have many camper memories, but perhaps none greater than those of breakfast. Camper breakfast at Starbuck is still the greatest I’ve ever known. Fried fish, runny eggs, and toast well-done. Seems like Grandpa always took care of buttering the bread. On Sunday, Grandma read Portals of Prayer and us boys sat quietly listening.
For as long as I can remember, Grandpa was a man of few words. When he spoke, people listened, and when he didn’t, I swear there was just as much going on in his head. Perhaps the most words Grandpa ever used was when he was arguing. Grandpa liked to argue so much—even well-past the point of being wrong—that I swear he did it for sport. Of course, he liked to win; and you’d be hard pressed to ever find the satisfaction of hearing him admit that he was wrong.
Grandpa was also a man of sharp wit, one that stuck with him till the very end (my parents told me the story of a hospital visit during Grandpa’s last week where, after sitting silently through a long list of medical-history questions answered by Grandma and my dad, Grandpa jumped at the chance to answer a question about any history of physical or mental abuse: “constantly,” he dryly joked without missing a beat). Over and again, Grandpa proved that language is a virtue. Some might laugh at the thought that Wayne Boettcher had a way with words, but I believe he did. He knew not only what to say, but how and when to say it.
In addition to all my memories of fishing with Grandpa up north, I of course remember Christmas Eves out at the farm. We’ve got a pretty large family—at the time of his death, Grandpa had five kids, twelve grandkids, and twenty great-grandkids—so most of my Christmas memories consist of grandchildren and great-grandchildren running around and filling the old house with youthful fervor. But of course, there’s also Grandpa, sitting quietly in his chair—the contented patriarch perhaps so overcome by the joy of his creation that it’s just too hard to speak.
In his last few days, holding Grandma’s hand as she sat next to him in the hospital, Grandpa turned to her and said, “we’ve had a good life.” Yes, by all means, you certainly have. And so have we—your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And look how much we owe to you.
For teaching us how to fish—in more ways than we will ever fully realize—and for bringing us to the fish in the first place, thank you.
With love and gratitude, from your grandson whose childhood was so blessed by your presence,