When I was born, the only child of older parents, my family lived in an upstairs apartment over the house where my father’s parents lived. Both of my parents worked, so I spent a considerable amount of time with Granddaddy and Nana. I was their only grandchild, so you can imagine how they doted on me.
My grandfather spent many years working for the railroad. He was retired when I was born, as was my grandmother, who had been a church secretary for many years. I can remember eating many meals on their white enamel table in the kitchen. The one food I distinctly remember was the rectangular glass dish of pickled beets that they always kept in the refrigerator.
Granddaddy was well known as a carpenter. Numerous church nurseries and several homes in our part of town had a children’s kitchen play set crafted by my grandfather. (Similar stoves and refrigerators sell for a LOT of money through Pottery Barn these days.) He routed out concentric circles for the eyes on the stove, and used real faucets – but no running water – for the sinks. We had a life-sized Santa and a three dimensional sleigh that he made for our front porch decoration during the holidays. He would enter his work in the state fair and always won blue ribbons. Every year he had a booth at the fair to sell his work, and he did very well with that.
Their home had a detached garage in the backyard, and behind that was my grandfather’s workshop. You had to step up one stair to enter, so the ceiling seemed a little lower than the one in the garage, even though there were open rafters above. It was small and dark with single bulb lights hanging by wires in strategic spots. The walls were lined with shelves that held unfinished projects, pieces of wood, supplies, baby food jars of nails and screws, and small tools. There was a table saw, a jigsaw, a workbench, and other well-used tools.
The workshop was always filled with sawdust. That smell remains with me and always reminds me of Granddaddy. Sawdust smells like wood, of course, and heat, and hands, and sweat. If it is fresh it fills the air, and your nostrils, with its dust, and if it has been there a while, it smells like something settled and content.
My grandfather was a hardworking man all of his life. When my grandmother developed what was then called “hardening of the arteries,” similar to Alzheimer’s, he cared for her in their home even when she couldn’t walk, talk, or swallow solid food. In his younger years he had been known to have a quick temper, but the years of caregiving mellowed that. After my grandmother died he moved into a garage apartment at our home (we had moved away a few years earlier). He continued to be industrious, and he was always working on something in the yard and around the house.
Granddaddy was born 124 years ago, into a world that would be almost unrecognizable today. He tried to change with the times all through his life, just as we do today. Even though he was always old to me, I appreciate the traditions he represented and the things he taught me to love.