All four of my grandparents were incredible influences, each in their own special way.
On Oct. 15, Dorlis Pearl Kurpis was laid to rest. With the passing of my mother’s mother, I lost my last grandparent.
Forty years of memories are flooding my mind, as I try to reconcile with the reality of life after grandma. Born deep in a holler on a 100-acre tobacco farm halfway between London and Corbin in southeast Kentucky, Dorlis was the third child, and the first girl, of Felix and Pauline Gilbert. Her childhood was spent helping raise the six more siblings that came after her and working chores around the farm. She didn’t know the luxuries of electricity or indoor plumbing until she moved to Gary right after high school at 18 years old to find work and a more modern way of life.
She met and married Martin Duies soon after she arrived. Together, they had two children; Joy, my mother, and Cassandra. My mother’s father left when she was 16, and he stayed gone. I only met him once, for less than an hour. Grandma stayed single for almost a decade, before she met and married Rudolph Kurpis a couple of years before I was born. They became inseparable. Fishing was one of their deep bonds.
I often tell the story of how my two grandfathers independently influenced my devotion to the outdoors. My father’s father used to escape for a couple of weeks every year to the Rocky Mountains with a few friends. They would load guns and beer into a motor home and hit the road. This was before cell phones and email, so they were able to really disappear. I know how much those trips meant to my grandpa. They were highlights of his life.
I learned from him the value of pals, and the value of occasional escapes.
My Grandpa Kurpis was different. He had been wounded badly by his first wife. She was far from what one would call faithful. Grandma had also been wrecked by her first husband’s abandonment. When these two beautiful souls found each other, they recognized the power of their second chance, and spent the next nearly 30 years nurturing and protecting their love.
They both loved fishing. Each year, they traveled north to Wisconsin and Minnesota for a weeklong fishing trip. These trips were so different from the ones my Grandpa Butler took out west. While he was looking to elude life back home, these two were building memories to propel them through the mundane cycle of everyday existence. These trips were all about them spending time fishing and exploring the outdoors together. Not only as husband and wife, but as best friends. It was such a special bond.
About the time I turned 8, I joined them on my first fishing trip. We went to Yellow Lake in Wisconsin. I tagged along with them every summer until eighth grade, when football got in the way. Grandma spoiled me so bad on these trips. Anything I wanted, from fried shrimp at dinner to lures in the tackle shop, she provided. Grandpa tutored me like I was his disciple. Every night we set up the gear for the next day. We calculated weather conditions to determine where we would fish in the morning and what we would use. He took it so serious, but rarely did it pay off in limits of fish. Most of his time was spent unselfishly fixing my tangled line and catering to grandma.
We went to Lake Osakis in Minnesota more than any place else. Each year, we’d rent the same cabin at Lakeshore Resort. They have a long boat dock, which at the end is lined with benches. Out in front of it, there is a steep drop off that holds a lot of fish. Fishing is often as good off this dock as it is anywhere on the lake. At night, grandma would sit down there under the florescent light catching crappie by the basket-full. I can see her there now, flashing her beaming smile. She’d use a simple slip bobber rig with a minnow. Occasionally, she’d have a wine cooler and would smoke a cigarette. Often just half, then she’d wrap the rest in tin foil and save it for later. She was so content and truly happy.
I learned so much from my Grandma and Grandpa Kurpis, and the love they shared. Of course, I’m only now, later in life, realizing it. What we absorb from those we are most influenced by remains inside us. Using that knowledge to live our own best lives is a choice we have to make. As I get on in years, I’m doing my best to draw from the memories of all the meaningful people who influenced me. I look for the best of what they taught me and ways to apply it in to my own life.
The older I grow, the more I recognize what a blessed life I am living. How so much of it is due to the early influences of my family, and fishing. I was incredibly lucky to have four wonderful grandparents, all who lived close and looked for ways to spend time with their grandchildren. Each of them meant the world to me in their own way. Now they’re all gone, and I’m left only with memories and the lessons they provided.
Maybe someday I’ll be graced with grandchildren. I certainly hope so. Given the chance, I’ll do my best to live up to the lessons and love I was given. I hope you are trying to do the same.
See you down the trail …