Grandfather and Grandson (by Sibylle)

Summary: Adam and his small grandson make some discoveries about what really matters in life.

A response to the “Thinking Man’s Challenge”

Rating:  K   (1,600 words)

Grand Series:

Grandfather and Grandson

Grandfather and Grandson


“Grandpa, what’s that? The thing on the cupboard?” The black-haired boy had tilted his head back as he sat at the table in his grandparents’ parlor. “Can you please show it to me?”

The old man opened his eyes and had to grab for the book that threatened to slide out of his lap. “What did you ask, Mark? I…uhm…didn’t understand you.”

“You were asleep, weren’t you? Grandma said it would be better for you to sleep at night.”

“Oh, did she? I only ….” The man’s right hand was on its way to his left earlobe but stopped to rub his chin. “No, you’re right; I was sleeping. You caught me, but small children and old men need a little nap – sometimes. My 75-year-old bones tell my eyes to shut themselves.” The man winked at his grandson. “But now,” and he ran both of his hands over the thin white ring of hairs from the temples to the back of his head, “I’m fully awake. What did you ask, child? Are you finished with your homework?”

“Yes – well, mostly. Please, grandpa, can you show me that thing on the cupboard? I’ve wondered about it for a long time.”

“You’ve been wondering a long time? So why can’t it wait a few moments longer now while you finish your homework? You know I promised your father to make sure that you did it, and you know why I had to.”

The boy looked down at his work with a sigh. Listlessly he picked up his pencil and went back to scrawling numbers on the paper in front of him. When he heard a soft snore he looked back over at the window where his grandfather sat in his chair, waiting until the book once again began to slide out of the old man’s hand. “Grandpa, grandpa!”

His grandfather stirred and clutched at the book.

“Grandpa, sometimes my nine-year-old body tells my brain it needs a little break. Like it’s doing right now.” The boy’s grin quivered between mischievous and pleading.

Adam Cartwright’s effort to look stern – or at least to look wide awake – wasn’t successful at all. With a shake of his head and a roll of his eyes he surrendered. “All right. Go bring it here – but only for a little break, you understand?” For a moment the two sported a matching pair of conspiratorial grins.

The item the boy took down from the top of the tall cupboard was a good foot high.

“Put it down here – and be careful not to tangle up the strings.”

After the boy had set the item on the small table next to his grandfather’s chair he stared at it intently. The tower was intricate as filigree but sturdily built all the same. It reminded him of the wooden frameworks he had seen at barnraisings.

“It’s a model,” the man explained. “I made it in college. It was an assignment in an engineering class. We were learning about engineering in ancient times, especially poliorcetics.”

“Poli – ?”

“Poliorcetics is the art of constructing and using siege engines. They were intended to destroy city walls.”

“Where are the strings for, and all those little round things? They look like the pulley we use to lift the hay, only they are all set in rows.”

“Yes, you’re right, I used many sets of small pulleys, and I was very pleased with this little tower. But it also caused me a lot of trouble.”

“Didn’t it work?”

“Sure it did. And I think it still does. If you want to see, go bring me some of your little brother’s blocks.”

Five minutes later grandfather and grandson had built a wall of wooden blocks in front of the small tower.

“Look, pull here on these strings. You see, the stick – in a full-size machine it would be a beam as thick and long as a tree trunk – will rise up. The pulleys make it easy to lift it. And now – pull this string and it will go into motion – forward and back.”

With a crash the block on the top of the wall fell down.

“And now we will get the next. Pull on this string now and the beam will have the perfect angle for the second highest block.”

Woom. The boy laughed with glee and positioned the small battering ram all by himself for the third block and pushed it down.

“But grandpa, it works just fine. What was wrong?”

“On the top of the cupboard there’s another little model. It’s so small you can’t see it from down here. Bring it over here and I’ll show you.”

Adam Cartwright had set up the wall again by the time the boy came back with the second model. This one was roughly built, not much more than a stick hanging from a little roof by a set of knotted strings. Like the first model, it had wheels under the floor plate so it looked like a tiny wagon.

“Now let us see how this ram handles the wall.” Adam Cartwright positioned the little thing next to the stack of blocks and looked encouragingly up at his grandson.

The boy gave the stick a hard shove. It swung forwards and thumped against the block at the bottom of the wall. The block moved back, and when the ram hit the same block a few more times, it was pushed out of position and the whole wall came tumbling down.

“Oh!” the boy exclaimed in surprise.

“Very effective, this little ram, isn’t it? All the pulleys and ropes to adjust the beam to the proper height in the other model weren’t necessary, you see? If you can knock out the stone at the bottom all the others will come down, too. The roof here will protect your men against the defenders, and the whole thing is easy to pull into position. As I said: effective!”

The boy nodded.

“I got a D for my work, and my friend, who constructed the little ram here in one afternoon, got a B. The professor at college told me, ‘When I gave you the assignment to choose one of the ancient texts about poliorcetics and build the machine it described, I didn’t say to choose the largest, or the most complicated, or anything like that. I said choose the most effective one. You made the same mistake the Greek engineers did. The simpler ram is Roman. Romans ruled the whole world in their time because of their effectiveness. Not everything an engineer is able to construct is appropriate. Don’t let your education interfere with your thinking, Cartwright; that’s a lesson every engineer needs to learn.'”

“Were you very sad about that D? Was your father very angry? Dad always makes a fuss when I got one,” the child asked sympathetically.

“I never told my father about it. Not because of the D, I was old enough not to need my father to tell me I could have done better. No, it was more because of other circumstances.” The old man hesitated, but when he met the questioning gaze of the child he went on, “I was very proud of my work in those days, and I made a bet – much bigger than I could afford – with another student whom I didn’t like. I bet that my ram would get a better grade than his, but his machine also earned a D, because it was badly made. It took me almost half a year to save and earn the money I owed him without my father and grandfather finding out. It was a hard time.”

“Couldn’t you tell even your grandfather about the bet? Maybe he would have helped you.”

“No, I didn’t want to. I was too proud and too stubborn, and maybe I thought grandfather would be disappointed in me. Would you have told your grandfather?”

The boy looked sheepishly under his long lashes at the old man, “I guess I would, if I were in trouble.”

“I hope you will, Mark.” The man patted the boy’s back. “I hope you always will!”

The boy looked again at both the models, and then touched the tiny, meticulously carved pulleys. “Grandpa, your machine is a lot more beautiful and more fun to use.” The boy smiled consolingly at his grandfather and snuggled up against him.

The old man put an arm around his grandson’s shoulder, and squeezed it briefly. Then he turned the boy around, pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, spat on it, and began to clean away from his face the tear streaks which the last clash with the boy’s father had left on his cheeks.

“You know what, Mark,” Adam Cartwright admitted softly, “It took me many years to realize what you did so easily – that my professor wasn’t right. Effectiveness shouldn’t be the only measure of all things – not for engineers, not for buildings, and surely not for people. Beauty, joy, and being good and kind is more important. And in the case of weapons of war, effectiveness might be the last thing you would wish for.” Then he pulled the face of the boy against his crisp shirt whispering, “Don’t ever let your thinking interfere with your feelings, my lad.” And he gave the black curls a long kiss.

Thank you, Sklamb, for your help.

Next story in this series: Partners


Tags:  Adam Cartwright

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Author: Sibylle

22 thoughts on “Grandfather and Grandson (by Sibylle)

  1. This was charming story about Grandfather ad Grandson. Nice interaction between them.The little one seems to be as smart as his Grandfather at that age. Thanks

  2. I read this gem when you posted it, but I was not part of the library at that time. I’m so glad it came back around. The scene you created is so easy to imagine. Adam, always the teacher, like his father, but also wise to see what his grandson has learned. One of my favorite parts was Adam helping Mark to see beyond pride and stubbornness. A beautiful family moment.

  3. Thank you, faust. I’m so happy, you liked the story, and “my Adam”. (And the “feelings”)

  4. Loved Adam’s last line. There’s much truth in that, oh yeah.

    Glad to see him with his grandson – it means he finally found a woman to settle with and have that family he always wanted. Gives me happy feelings all over.

  5. A nice Post Timeline story. I could see Adam as the wise and loving grandfather. In this way I always see the Cartwright men in their future. Their role model was Ben and he taught good.

    1. Thanky you for your comment. Yes, it wasn’t so easy to write the story but the hardest for me is always the language, and that my stories are in the end English and not only a stammering that’s always Sklamb’s work. I’m so grateful to have her!

  6. I enjoyed this short story that gave a glimpse of Adam as a grandfather. The scene when Mark tells his grandpa his brain is telling his body to take a break was cute. I easily pictured Adam and Mark grinning at each other.

    1. Thank you for reading and reviewing, Chavel! I’m glad you liked the story and these details.

  7. Thank you, Betty, I’m happy that you refered to the “loving way’. I intended to show just that.

  8. What a sweet moment between grandfather and grandson, and life lessons were taught in a most effective and loving way.

  9. Well done, Sibylle! I really love how you twisted the sentence at the end and gave an even more important lesson to Mark!

    1. Thank you, Cheaux, for reading and reviewing, and for this challenge that inspired me to a story when I thought I had run out of ideas.

      I’m glad you liked the last sentence because it was really important to me.

  10. A wonderful story combining past and present into a moment of priceless family! Well Done!

  11. Thank you for your lovely comment, Sklamb, and that after you spent a lot of your time betareading. You know what your praise means to me. 🙂

    In my mind Adam’s son and grandson are alive now, and I think they will convince me to write a story about them.

  12. A delightful glimpse of Adam as a grandfather–and as a student of engineering! How well you were able to combine both parts of his life into one charming and thought-provoking story. Some day I hope to learn more about Mark’s relationship with his grandfather, and how Mark’s father interacted with both of them. Thank you so much for contributing this to the challenge!

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