“Grandpa wasn’t a carpenter by trade, but he always loved working with wood. So, it only seemed natural that the room next to his garage would be used for this purpose. The makeshift workshop was dusty and loud, full of saws and hammers and, of course, wood. Piles of it.
As a child, I distinctly remember plugging my ears as I drew close to the garage door. The screaming of the large saws sounded their familiar hellos as Grandpa passed lumber under their large sharp blades, which dropped onto the concrete with a startling thump.
In time I adjusted to the noise and slowly removed my hands from my ears, making myself at home in the dusty quarters. I’d fetch a piece of plywood, a hammer and nails, and pound away.
The funny thing is, I never built anything in particular. In fact, I can only recall hammering nails into boards and using my vivid imagination to pretend I was constructing something of great importance. Perhaps, if I had been able to see from a different perspective at that time, I could have seen I WAS constructing something of importance—a relationship with Grandpa.
Grandpa was quiet in the shop. He never said much unless it was of substance. He didn’t gab about things that didn’t matter. Although I hear stories of his lively sense of humor, I recall a much quieter man. Oftentimes we worked in silence. He never corrected my lack of skills; he just allowed me to be there and imagine. He also never said he approved of his Granddaughter in the workshop where the other men and boys filtered in and out talking car parts and engines until dinner was ready. But for me, his silence and quiet nods were all the approval I needed. I loved the feeling of being there with him. I loved watching him work on his latest wood projects. I was in awe of how he could turn a piece of plain ordinary wood into furniture.
Yet despite his skill, he was a simple builder. Partly because of his limited means and upbringing. He appreciated functionality and practicality over beauty. It was important to him never to waste but make do with the scraps of wood and other resources he had around the shop. Frivolity was a sin. So, when Christmas came, another may have chosen to make his granddaughter’s memory box from exquisite wood and bronze hinges. But using what he had on hand, Grandpa constructed my box from two-toned wood and previously used stainless steel hinges.
And it was beautiful!
I remember admiring it all Christmas day as I planned what I would put inside, while my fingers, sweet and sticky, stuffed my face with as much of Grandpa’s ‘famous’ homemade divinity as my happy belly could hold.
Thinking about the box, I suppose one might have seen the disparities and considered painting to cover the so-called defects, but not Grandpa. I can’t think of a project he constructed that ever had a coat of paint. I honestly think he just loved wood, especially that with imperfections.
Varnish, however, was a staple. Likely because it served multiple practical purposes—sealing, protecting, shining, and allowing the wood to still play center stage. Not to mention it was cost effective since a little went a long way.
When I became a teenager, I spent less time at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and even less time in the garage. Now I was the quieter one. Yet whenever I came to visit and I hugged that man, I could still feel our bond, the special relationship that required few words.
When I was sixteen, we moved out of state. It broke my heart to say goodbye to him. Then I moved even farther away after I married. I still thought of Grandpa often, but life got busy with kids and bills and work. In those days it was very expensive to make long distance phone calls, so our communication became an occasional letter or card at Christmas. But I always knew in my heart that that quiet man loved me. And I loved him too.
Then one day as I was sitting in my garage, the postman pulled up with a package. When he handed me the box I immediately broke into tears. I knew before I opened it that it was from Grandpa because instead of the typical brown cardboard box most packages are mailed in, my box was nailed together with mismatched nails and plywood and particle board and sealed with wood glue. The underside even looked like it had been varnished for extra protection. I took the package into my garage and carefully opened the box with the back of a hammer. Inside, layers of waxed paper encircled my gift—Grandpa’s homemade divinity. I paused for a few minutes before taking a bite of those decadent candies as I considered the effort Grandpa spent in his workshop making the practical box that would carry my gift 1000’s of miles to land safely and securely at my doorstep.
When I finally bit into the divinity, I could almost taste a tinge of saw dust. I thought how appropriate it was that I was sitting in my garage when the package arrived.
There I sat, on a stool pulled up to the work bench with the light streaming in and tears running down my face as I ate. There, I felt his love. There, no words were needed.”
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