Skills My Grandfather Taught Me

You’re a lucky person if you had a grandfather to help raise you. Grandparents can teach you things your own parents can’t. It’s a special gift for a kid to get the gift of 50 years of master from someone.

That was my experience. My grandfather was a farmer and a sailor and a river-man almost all of his life. He passing this week has jogged my memory as to all of the cool skills he taught me when I was a wee lad:

  • How to row a rowboat: His old wooden rowboat has featured heavily in family photos, family races, and moments of punishing physical exercise.
  • How to use a pocket knife: I guess this started when he would pare off chunks of apple for sharing using his Swiss Army Knife. He must have given a lot of those knives away to grandchildren over the years.
  • How to find historical artifacts: We had a big farm with a lot of buried Civil War bullets and artillery shells. He and I combed over our farm with our metal detector looking for treasures.
  • How to pick oysters: This was muddy business, and I often hated it, but I should have stopped to appreciate how cool it was to be able to get fresh oysters from a riverbank right across from our house.
  • How to throw a cast net: If you’re going to catch shrimp and other river baitfish, you’d better know how to cast a good round net. Thanks to my grandfather’s patient teaching, I can.
  • How to roughhouse: Wrestling matches at my grandfather’s house definitely helped to teach me how to throw my own weight around
  • How to set a crab trap: Essential low-country skill. I’d watch my grandfather stuff a trap full of chicken necks, lower it into the water, and raise it out a few days later teeming with blue crabs.
  • How to sail a sailboat: Catching the wind in your sail and feeling the danger and power is one of the best feelings in the world. Tipping over and bailing out can also be fun. I learned both from my grandfather.
  • How to drive a tractor: This distinction goes primarily to my own father, but I’m pretty sure I remember spending a good bit of time riding in my grandfather’s lap or by his side as he plowed and/or planted.

I really look forward to being a grandfather. I’m going to do my best to be as good as he was. But I’ll be hard pressed to pass on skills as interesting and practical.

Photo by manuelbund

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James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, intellectual explorer, and perpetual apprentice. He opted out of college to join the Praxis startup apprenticeship program and currently manages marketing and communications at bitcoin payment technology company BitPay. He writes daily at