Patient’s Grandson: How My Grandfather Inspires Me

Many young boys have special relationships with their grandfathers. Few express their feelings as eloquently as young Oliver Parry. Inspired by his grandfather’s work and his battle with cancer, the nine-year-old penned the essay below, winning a regional award from the 2013-2014 Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Reflections contest, and potentially qualifying for a national competition.

Oliver’s story reminds us that cancer’s reach is wide, and it affects the patient’s whole family. The essay is as inspiring to us as Oliver’s grandfather is to him, particularly given the year that Oliver went through; the young boy lives in Newtown, Conn., and lost friends in the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The national PTA competition is later this spring but how the essay fares there is almost inconsequential. As his mother, Comfort Shields, notes: “We’re very proud of him.”

 How My Grandfather Inspires Me

My grandfather makes me dream that I can do great things that will really matter in the world. I call my grandfather “Pop pop” and other people call him Jeff Shields. When I was little, he went to China and made a speech about not using coal in factories. I think he made that speech because the skies were getting polluted, the animals were getting hurt, and he wanted to stop it. He really cares about the environment and set up a special new environment law program in China where Americans and Chinese could have big talks about laws that can work best.

Oliver, enjoying the outdoors on his bike
Oliver, enjoying the outdoors on his bike

My Pop pop used to go on the public radio station a lot and tell people about things that he cared about. He also makes a lot of jokes on his radio talks. Once on the radio he talked about using local food at his law school. He got the chef to stop using canned frozen and out of season foods to using mostly fresh food from farms around the school. Another time he told the radio listeners about the special meaning of sitting by his pond and watching the heron swoop down and the reflection of the apples on the water. Pop pop has a nice deep calm voice and I love listening to him talk when we go on long hikes up to the waterfall at his farm. He points out birds and deer and tells me about the trees. He asks me a lot of questions and tells me that the most important thing in my life is to be kind to other people, to the environment, and to myself.

When I was born, Pop pop got a job as the Dean and President and Teacher of

The essayist, Oliver, hiking with Pop Pop.
The essayist, Oliver, hiking with Pop Pop.

the Vermont Law School. He really wanted to work there, because that school was one of the top schools for law for the environment. My mom has pictures of me in the baby carrier when Pop pop was making his first speech. A couple years ago he retired. He went to a university in England called Cambridge where he was a visiting professor. He got to give lectures there and have talks with other teachers and students. Pop pop talks to me sometimes about how important it is to work really hard if I want to do well in life. He tried really hard at football and his high school team kept winning first in his state. They called him Geronimo. I love it when Pop pop throws the football with me. Pop pop worked his hardest in school, too and went to Harvard first and then Yale for law school but he said that he wasn’t always good at everything and that that was okay. He told me that he had a really hard time with Spanish, even though other subjects like Math were easier for him. When my mom was growing up Pop pop used to do a lot of volunteer work to help other people. He volunteered for the aquarium and helped the whales and sea life and he volunteered for a university, and the type 1 diabetes Foundation, and for hospitals. He was given a doctorate for all of the help he gave.

One of the best things that my Pop pop did was to marry my grandmother. I could write a whole essay about her too. She is an artist and has written books. She has an art studio up on a hill behind the fruit orchard on her farm. She teaches me all kinds of new creations like popup cards, stamping, painting, and sewing. She makes me feel like with a little bit of my imagination I can create anything.

Oliver and Pop Pop on the porch on a summer's day
Oliver and Pop Pop on the porch on a summer’s day

A few years ago Pop pop got cancer. He had something called chemotherapy, which is a type of medicine for cancer and lost all of his hair but he kept working anyway. Last winter he had a bone marrow transplant. There was a donator that donated his stem cell blood and gave it to Pop pop to make Pop pop feel better for his cancer. The transplant is starting to work against the cancer, but for a while, it was fighting his body, too, and making him really sick. It has been hard for him. This summer I went to visit him and he could hardly eat. Even though he was sick, he still sat on his porch and watched the animals through his binoculars. I feel really bad for him, but I think he has been very brave because he never complains to me about his cancer and he keeps fighting it. This year has been so hard for me and it helps me to think about Pop pop and all he has been through. Even when I can’t see him, he calls me on the phone or Skypes me to check on how I am.

Pop pop doing so much and having cancer makes me think that I can do anything if I believe I can. I dream about being a lot like Pop pop when I grow up. I am hoping that I never stop learning in life and that I always take time to enjoy the things around me like Pop pop does. I want to really think about the people and the trees and the animals and try to help make life on Earth better for others. My Pop pop has helped make laws better to protect the Earth. I am very proud of him.