My grandfather, in the end, was a hunched man, balding, with gray strands sticking out the sides of his scalp, but he frightened me, with his questions: “You got a girlfriend yet?” I don’t remember him much. But my father, his youngest, once told me a story about when he and his brother Jim were digging a pit out back for the septic tank.

Spencer had run away from home.

Who was Spencer?

He was a friend—wild, jocular, in love with the world. He died young in a motorcycle accident, but before that, he ran away, and Spencer’s father had stormed into their backyard, looking for him. He threatened to beat my father and uncle within an inch of their lives if they didn’t tell him where Spencer had gone. But my dad and his brother refused.

My grandfather watched a lot of Westerns: Bonanza and Stagecoach, Johns Ford and Wayne. When he heard the ruckus, he stepped from his back door and stood watching. He was small, even in his prime, but he had cojones, and he spoke two lines I’ll always recall whether they’re true or not.

“There’s three on our side, two shovels, and one ditch. This comes to blows, who do you think’s gonna end up in it?”

And Clint Eastwood couldn’t have delivered them better if he had fifteen or even a hundred and fifteen takes.

That’s the kind of guy my grandfather was.