My grandfather was a carpenter who built single-family homes for a living, then transitioned to making handcrafted furniture — like my little sister’s rocking chair, shown above — and whittling knick knacks later in life.
When I think about him now, almost 25 years after he passed away, I instantly remember his fingernails.
They were permanently stained. They always looked dirty. When we would go up to visit my grandparents at their farm in Wisconsin, and Grandpa would come in from his workshop and wash his hands for dinner, he would scrub them with the little brush my grandma bought from the Avon lady and kept by the kitchen sink. But I could still see a thin black line under those nails when he sat down at the table.
I’d stare at Grandpa’s weathered fingers, my little kid brain straining to imagine how much hard work it would take to brand the body like that. I knew he’d renovated my parents’ house back in Illinois, and built the farmhouse we were sitting in — hell, I pretty much assumed he built every house everywhere — and it amazed me that a person could make an entire beautiful building with his bare hands.
I also remember where Grandpa did his work. There was a big, red, aluminum-sided barn on the farm, and we called it “The Morton Shed.” I now know it was a prefabricated shed built by the Morton company; back then, I actually thought the white ‘M’ high above the door was put there by Grandpa, who came up with the name himself, because he was basically omnipotent. 🥰 The inside of the shed smelled like freshly sawed wood. And oil. I remember feeling at home there. There was a lot of heavy equipment I was afraid to go near, but I would regularly rummage through toolboxes and scrounge around for wood scraps, sloppily banging nails into bits of 2×4 to make “jewelry boxes” or “birdhouses” that looked more like Homer Simpson’s handiwork.
It’s a good thing I don’t actually have to build things myself in my new job. Starting next week, I’m working in marketing for a company that does custom mill work. We (ooo, it feels good to say that!) make premium-quality shutters and garage doors, and as I’ve begun preparing for my role as a social media copywriter/coordinator, I’ve been flooded with memories of my grandpa and my roots in the world of construction.
I come from a family of builders; Grandpa on my dad’s side was an iron worker in Chicago, and both my parents were/are avid DIYers who are basically allergic to hiring out for home improvement projects.
I haven’t built much in my life — unless we’re talking about sentence construction — but things are rapidly changing. I’m in the midst of a career transition as I edge closer to my second sober anniversary (I’ll hit 22 months on Day One of the new job), and I will begin pursuing a graduate degree in counseling psychology this fall.
At 43, I’m rediscovering who I really am, which involves reconnecting with where I came from. The process has been nothing short of a spiritual experience.
“I feel like Dad is definitely looking down on you right now,” my mom told me on the phone the other day. We were bonding over my newfound obsession with architecture, a passion my mom had long ago inherited from her father and, in my view, forced on her daughters through a seemingly never-ending series of renovations at our modest suburban homestead. (I grew up believing that a sawhorse was a legit piece of furniture.)
Safe to say my mom is pumped about my new gig. When I told her about the care package I received from the “Director of People and Culture” (they actually care about people and having a culture! 🤯) filled with gourmet coffee, and a Yeti and mask branded with the company logo, along with a personal welcome note, I think Mom wanted to come out of retirement and take the job for me.
In one of my first interviews for the position, my soon-to-be boss asked me to discuss my interest in home design. I laughed and said, “Well, I’ve personally only lived in shitty apartments and townhouses with overzealous HOAs, but when I was young, my mom used to take us house-hunting on weekends — but not to buy anything…like, as a spectator sport.” 😂
Later, on a visit to company headquarters, I was treated to a tour of the mill. When I entered and smelled that sawdust, I immediately flashed back to Grandpa’s workshop in the Morton shed. I thought about all the wonderful items he made for me — my first “big girl bed” with the heart cut out in the center of the headboard, the detailed dollhouse (shown below) with the working front door and the year it was built (1980) painted on the tiny address plate, the ornate Victorian wardrobe for all my American Girl doll clothes and accessories (Team Samantha!)…
I hadn’t thought about any of that in years. I wanted to run over and grab my tour guide and say, “You want to hear about my interest in home design?!? Let me tell you about my grandpa!”
Never did I expect to find such a meaningful link between my past and future, or that a job in social media in 2021 would make me feel closer to my old-fashioned grandfather, a World War II veteran who died in 1996.
(Can I just add that he passed on the day of my first official victory as a collegiate softball pitcher? 😭 And that it was one of only four victories TOTAL in my brief career? 🤣)
I think it’s quite clear that the universe was working some mystical magic when the Director of People and Culture sent me the Indeed invitation to apply for the position. This job opportunity arrived at the perfect time in my recovery process. I feel like I’m finally beginning to blossom, and being able to work in a wood shop where beautiful things are built every day has opened up a whole world inside me that I’d long ago forgotten was there.
Not to be cheesy, but I think what my mom said was true. Grandpa really is looking down on me as I attempt, in both my personal and professional pursuits, to live by his example. My family of builders laid an incredible foundation for me, and now that I am sober, I feel ready to take the gifts I’ve been given and the tools I’ve acquired and construct something truly meaningful from the ground up: a purposeful life.
It’s time to dig in and get these hands dirty. 🤲🏻🔨🏠