PUBLISHED: 4:01 PM on Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Celebrating 99 years of a life well lived
It's easy to fret these days about oil and taxes, market and the price of real estate.

But there are some things just more important.

Like birthdays.

Specifically, my grandmother's birthday. Grandma Leschper is celebrating her 99th birthday this week.

As I'm writing this, down in Texas there's a Leschper family celebration of Grandma's birthday. There always is, among the family members living nearby in Sealy and Houston.

There'll be barbecue and lots of pies and cakes, happy talk and maybe dominoes.

Being 3,800 miles away makes it impossible for my family to see Grandma Leschper very often. But I've spent a lot of time this week thinking about her, and about how much influence she had on my interest in the outdoors.

Grandma Leschper still lives alone on the sandy plains west of Houston, in the house that she built in the 1970s, when she told Grandpa she didn't want to live her whole live in the unpainted wooden farm house at the end of the lane.

She was the teenage bride of a WWI veteran rock hard German farmer. She never strayed far from home or the life dedicated to her family. She had raised nine kids in that old wood house and nobody disputed she had earned a new place. Grandma finally had a brick house with air conditioning and real heat (not wood stoves and space heaters).

That new house was the base of operations for most of the outdoor adventures of my teenage and college years. And Grandma had a major impact on my love of the outdoors, without even realizing it. None of my grandparents, including Grandma Leschper, hunted or fished.

They were too busy scratching out a living and raising kids to bother with much recreation. But they lived close to the land, understood that guns and hunting and fishing were as much a part of life as raising chickens and calves to eat.

They were also willing to let us roam over thousands of acres of woods and fields, stock tanks and creeks around the homestead.

But my relationship with Grandma was really forged and strengthened during the fall of 1975. That was my freshman year at Texas A&M and I spent almost every fall weekend at Grandma's. It was only 70 miles from College Station, so it was a lot quicker than driving home to San Antonio.

Besides, it was hunting season and Grandpa's land was my deer and dove hunting spot.

Grandma always had a bemused puzzlement over my adventures. She never could understand her grandsons' fascination with hunting.

"You like that wild meat?" she must have asked me a hundred times.

Yes, a 19-year-old with a boat of a '69 Dodge could probably find other ways to spend his weekends of freedom, away from home and at college for the first time. But it was just plain fun. And I discovered how much of what I am came from both my parents and grandparents.

I'll always treasure that fall. Not many kids get to spend real time with their grandparents.

My kids missed that chance. They also missed the sheer freedom of wandering over hill and dale with no mission except maybe finding an unlucky rabbit or squirrel.

For most youngsters, the chance to roam the fields with a .22 or .410, unencumbered by time or responsibilities, is an impossible dream, an unmatched opportunity to see how the natural world works. And our world is poorer for it.

Grandma will likely never see Alaska. But much of the love I have for this land has to be in part because of the lessons I learned a generation ago on that old farm.

So Happy Birthday Grandma! I wish we could be with you. And thanks for the time we spent together.

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising director of the Juneau Empire. Email him at