Like Grandpa

workshopI’ve mentioned my grandmothers here more than once, but on Saturday mornings, I’m reminded how like my grandfathers I am. My maternal grandfather, in particular.

Grandpa D. was a veteran putterer. He had a workshop wherever they lived. He built houses. He built greenhouses. He built playhouses. He raised chickens. He made wine. We was always figuring something out and trying something new. And that, perhaps, is where I see him most in me.

Take gardens. My paternal grandfather, Grandpa S., had a huge garden that looms large in my childhood memories. They ate well out of that garden. It was a third of their small city lot, all vegetables, and if I was lucky, I got to pull the first carrot of the year. Grandpa S taught me about compost. The only thing that changed was the size of the garden; as his knees got bad, the garden got smaller.

Grandpa D., on the other hand, had gardens that were more experiment stations. Can I grow corn? I’ve never tried asparagus. Can I build a house with a greenhouse instead of a breezeway between the garage and house, and can I rig the ventilation system to pump the warm air from the greenhouse into the living room in the winter? (Yes, though it was actually too humid. Imagine…too humid in a Michigan January!) How about a banana tree and a tank of koi in that greenhouse?

I recognize this pattern in myself, and not just for gardening. The joy, for me, is in figuring stuff out. I like having a new “project” going. Once I’ve figured out the basics, I’d rather move on than maintain the original project. I’m that way with gardening – I’m always trying a new variety, technique, or plot. I hope I never “get it right” – I don’t want to grow the same garden year after year. I see this, too, in learning languages (once I could make myself understood in Spanish, I decided to learn German rather than becoming hyper-fluent in Spanish); in my choice of career (with both web design and instructional design, I help through planning and implementation, then hand off day-to-day use of the tools to other people); and even in the way I cook.

Grandpa D. loved to spin out a project to fill his retirement days. He’s wake up at some insane hour, ponder the day’s project over coffee and a cinnamon roll (he made great rolls, having owned a couple bakerys), then wander down to the hardware store or tractor supply company and spend an hour and a half selecting the perfect part. Eventually, he’d actually fix the wheelbarrow, build the birdhouse, or whatever – but the design process, seeing what he could make out of the materials at hand – THAT was perhaps the greater joy than finishing the project.

So this morning, with Grandpa firmly in my mind, I’m about to embark on my favorite Saturday morning, which I’ve been denied several weeks due to commitments and bad weather. I’ve had my breakfast (eggs and quesadillas, not sweet rolls) and will take my scrap of paper with my list (rain barrel, pie iron, pasta machine, anything cast iron, pork shoulder) and wander my favorite Saturday morning haunts: the Re-Store and the Kiwanis sale. Groceries on the way home, with a nod to Grandma D.

Maybe I’ll find something for the greenhouse irrigation system I was pondering last night. Maybe I’ll find some tools to further my cooking-in-the-fireplace project. Maybe I won’t find anything at all…but I’ll wander the aisles of junk and possibility, pondering my next project, and be my grandfather’s granddaughter.



  1. Dadly said,

    January 17, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Would you quit making me cry?

  2. Emily said,

    January 17, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Am I a horrible daughter that that totally made me crack up? 🙂

  3. Suzie said,

    January 17, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    So who in your family was the writer? 😉

  4. onestraw said,

    January 18, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Oddly enough I was just writing about the impacts of my grandfathers in my life. Though he passed when I was barely 5, it is amazing the ripples that a life well led can have.

    This looking back for lessons is distinctly “un-American” as it has come to be considered of late. All the more reason to look inward I say 😉

    Good luck rummaging – be it either in memories or at the Kiwanis.


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