Before he died, my grandfather once told me that everyone is supposed to stick to one thing in life. One thing. That, he said, was the secret of life.
He was in advertising, my grandfather, but youâ€™d never know it. He was a crusty old man, face lined like an old, leather saddle. Always wore a cowboy hat. Sometimes my brothers and I would be playing in the field when we saw him, out in the distance, riding in on his horse, heading over for a visit after a hard day at the office. He was a quiet one, not much for small talk. He always had this mean, stern look about him, as if part of his job involved killing people. One time, I asked him, â€œKill anyone today?â€ He just gave me this look and said, â€œDay ainâ€™t over yet.â€ Then he pulled on the reins of his horse, whispered, â€œYah,â€ and took off to roundup some strays or something.
One thing you should know about my grandfather is that he was a big outdoorsman. He wasnâ€™t too fond of the city, or people from the city, whom he called â€˜slickers.â€™ No, he preferred the country. Sure, he loved his office job, but he loved a campfire even more. More times than not, when I picture my grandfatherâ€™s face, I see it reflecting the shaky luminance of a lick of flame. Once, while camping, my grandfather was sharpening a large knife when I decided Iâ€™d play a little harmonica. â€œPut that away,â€ my grandfather kept telling me, but I played on. He looked at me, raised his sharp knife before him, as if he could see me better through its blade. Then, after a couple beats, he sat closer to me, angled back his head and started singing some song about tumbleweeds that I had never heard of. It was a beautiful, beautiful moment, especially considering how I thought he was going to kill me.
Did I mention my grandfather actually met Billy Crystal once? Well, he did. In fact, Billy Crystal was at my grandfatherâ€™s funeral.
I like to think that if it werenâ€™t for my grandfather, I wouldnâ€™t be in advertising. He taught me almost everything I know about the business. Sure, itâ€™s changed a lot over the years, but some things have remained the same, and thatâ€™s where his wisdom comes in. For instance, we were out roping cows one day and grandpa was talking about creative briefs, how they usually lacked the information you actually needed. He was saying, â€œSometimes, the job jackets have absolutely no information,â€ when it suddenly occurred to me that roping cows was silly. Why not just walk up to it and put the lasso around its neck? So I climbed off my horse and did just that. â€œNow whatâ€™s wrong with that?â€ I said. Then grandpa whistled loud as a steam engine and the cow took off, dragging my body over the hard ground for what was probably a mile, although itâ€™s hard to say because I blacked out.
There was also the one time he and I were delivering a baby cow right there in the field when he looked up at me and said, â€œYour portfolio is everything.â€ Then he got up and shot the mother cow.
My grandfather was a legendary ad man, to be sure. But to me, he was just Grandpa. Grandpa Dave. Or, as we liked to call him, Curly.
Actually, you know what, now that I think about it, Iâ€™m getting mixed up between my real grandfather and a character in this movie I watched last night. I think part of the reason I got it all jumbled up is because of this dream I had that involved both the movie and my grandfather (did you ever have one of those dreams?). But no matter. I think Iâ€™ll remember my grandfather this way anyway, because, really, I hardly knew the guy in real life. All I know is that he was in advertising for a little while and that he was halfway decent in it at best.