Grandpa’s Workshop: A Memoir
According to Oxford University, grandchildren are happier with the presence of grandparents. Often grandparents have more time than working parents to provide support, advice and problem-solving for children, especially those grandparents who are serving in any type of caregiving capacity, whether it be full-time provider or part-time childcare.
Grandparents are essentially an extension of the parental role and can provide integral insight to grandchildren.
My grandfather was the definition of this study and taught me many things.
His hands were slightly puffy but moved quickly from one tool to another. He made everything shine – windows and especially the chrome of your bicycle or car – and insisted old newspaper was the best way to remove a smudge. His reflection darted back and forth across chrome as he worked below a scrap board sign affectionately christening the garage, “Grandpa D-Don’s Workshop.” I’m still not sure what the extra “D” was for in his name.
There’s an old mini-fridge humming in the corner, topped with a thin layer of sawdust waiting to be wiped away. The fridge is full of cold soda.
“Grab you a ‘sodee,’” he chimed, “But make sure you drink it all.”
The sharp scent of Brut announced his presence and his eyes twinkled with 3 of his grandchildren underfoot.
My grandfather often pretended to be stern. “Yeah right,” my sister snarked. If a grandfather and granddaughter could be twins, it was those two. He appears through her from time to time and I can still see them snuggled in his recliner.
“Let me check the air in those bicycle tires before you go,” he said as he made sure the pressure was perfect and the chain was well oiled.
“Now ride up to Finnegan’s and come back. Make sure I can see you. Don’t go past Finnegan’s!” he hollered as my younger brother and sister and I sped away across the gravel. “Watch for cars!” he added.
We never went past Finnegan’s white mailbox.
My grandfather would settle down in his lawn chair to wait and pick up his book of “word-finds.” His cap would often be cocked to the side and his skin was dark, a permanent impression of sunshine.
Before he knew it, we were zooming back to him, only to head back to Finnegan’s white mailbox as fast as we could.
This was my childhood in a nutshell – summers, winters, springs and falls with my grandparents. Yes, my parents were just as active in our lives, but we were also just as happy at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is correct. I was lucky my village was filled by 2 sets of grandparents, all bringing unique skills and qualities to my life.
“The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy.” –Sam Levenson
Sara Moorman, an assistant processor in the Department of Sociology and the Institute of Aging at Boston College, notes, “We found that an emotionally close grandparent-adult grandchild relationship was associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations.” In addition, according to the American Sociological Association, “Grandparents and grandchildren have real, measurable effects on each other’s psychological well-being long in grandchildren’s adulthood.”
Furthermore, Dr. Karl Pillemer of Cornell University says, “The relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is second in emotional importance only to the relationship between parent and child.”
If I thought back to my most perfect day, it would be any day at my grandparents’ house. My grandfather taught me to drive in his old blue, but impeccably clean, pickup. These long drives down gravel roads seemed insignificant at the time, but I’d go back in a second for one more drive down a gravel road.
He taught me the importance of family and working hard. The last piece of advice he gave to me was more of an order, and it was to take care of my brother and sister. He winked at me and settled back into his hospital bed. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the last time I would speak to him. It was his final gift.
In 2006, I had just finished my freshman year in college. I was working at my part-time job and I received the news that he had peacefully passed away after a long battle with heart disease. Although my world darkened a little that day, the lessons he’d taught me lit my path to the future and I still hold them tight to my heart today.
Charles and Ann Morse said:
“The history of our grandparents is remembered not with rose petals but in the laughter and tears of their children. It is into us that the lives of the grandparents have gone. It is in us that their history becomes a future.”
If you’re like me, and lucky enough to still have grandparents, give them a hug. Ask them to tell you a story. There’s so much to be learned from a long drive in an old blue pickup with Grandpa and snapping beans with Grandma.
And when you get to Finnegan’s mailbox, come on back. I’ll be watching.