Well that's what he told me and my brother anyway.
Poppy was my mother's mother's father. When my brother and I were young boys Poppy was living in a small room in my grandmother's house back east. He was bedridden. I'm not actually sure now how old he was then. But my grandmother was born in 1898, so he must have been born in the 1870's in Ireland.
When my mum would drive over to visit her mother, a few towns away, my brother and I would go with her. The best part of the trip for us was visiting with Poppy. Being bedridden didn't stop him from chewing - and spitting - tobacco. But his aim was shot and I don't recall his ever actually getting it into the spittoon across the room from his bed. So our Grammy kept the floor covered with newspapers.
For young boys that was pretty fascinating by itself, but the best part of visiting Poppy was his stories. He had plenty of them. He never ran out.
Poppy had a long scar on his calf, with cross-hatching along it. Now you might think that this was a cut that got stitched up. Oh no - this was where a sawfish cut him while he was swimming from Ireland to America.
He taught us how to make paper mache puppets. We saw photos of Poppy when he was an actor on vaudeville. There were pictures of him in various costumes. Before vaudeville he was an actor in Wild Bills Wild West Show.
He always told me that he was going to buy me a horse so that I could ride over myself to visit him. I knew this could really happen because my mother showed me the horseshoe over the door that had been on the horse that he gave her when she was a little girl. So I started paying a lot of attention to the route my mum took to get to Grandma's so I could do it myself. I wasn't sure how I was going to get across Route 1 though.
These proofs of the fantastic life he had left us with no doubt about his stories. It may have been however, that a few of them were a tad exaggerated. What do you think?
Another favorite (water-related) story was about the time Poppy was on a hunting trip in the wilderness with some friends. They were staying in a cabin on the side of a mountain when a tremendous forest fire swept down the mountain. They were rooted out and forced down the mountain and into a lake to escape the flames. All the animals were likewise driven into the lake. (I'm picturing a scene from Ice Age 2: The Meltdown.) Poppy reported that no one was bothering anyone else that day. The hunters, human and animal - and the hunted - all kept to themselves. There were cougars, deer, partridges, wood rats and all kinds of wildlife - even a couple of bears. This story, like the Wild West Show stories, I believe was true.
But as a young boy every story he told held me in thrall. What a joy for young boys to have the insights into life in a former time - told by a real adventurer. Told by a man who had lived a bigger life than we could imagine.