Friday, November 28, 2014

A new home for Gumpy's workbench

Gumpy and I working on The Workbench.
My grandfather loved his click clack couch. While it was never intended to be a focal point of any decor, especially not after it was reupholstered in a hideous golden mustard fabric, it ended up being the focal point of the front room of my grandparents' farmhouse. During my lifetime, it never moved out of that room, or from its usual position against the west wall of the room unless we were vacuuming underneath it.

I remember Gumpy telling me on a few occasions that he named that sofa The Workbench because that is where he did his best work. And he considered his daily nap some of his best work.

Gumpy worked hard at all three jobs he held down, and certainly deserved to nap. When he would conk out, nothing would wake him up. My Uncle Jim helped my sister and I prove that by helping us tie Gumpy's chest hairs into knots one afternoon. When he woke up and stretched, the painful howl caused by the chest hairs ripping out could be heard throughout the house.

When he wasn't napping, The Workbench was in the middle of all the action. It was positioned so you could lay down and still watch the television. It was across the room from a Ben Franklin stove that Gumpy loved stoking with wood until the stove itself seemed to glow. If I was spending the night with Ema and Gumpy, I loved to sit under the hanging lamp that was positioned just above it, reading until Ema told me to turn off the light.

The farm was sold a few weeks before Gladys and I closed on our new house. A lot of the furniture we inherited works well in our 1926 Colonial, especially the dining room table my great-grandparents had received as a gift when they were married.

But the one piece of furniture that feels like it's right at home is The Workbench. The library in our house is lined with a light wood panelling that just needs a few more coats of lemon oil to really stand out. The beautiful wood doesn't make The Workbench look any better, but it feels like it belongs in a room like this. With books lining one wall, it makes a great place to curl up and read for a few hours, or to type out another blog post.

I claimed the library as my room. I don't need a man cave, I just need a place with my books and a desk to feel like I can get things done. The Workbench is a perfect compliment, even in its golden mustard glory, for as hideous as it looks, it will always remind me of my grandparents. I just hope I get the chance to do some of my best work on it for as long as Gumpy did.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The press conference that reminded me of Gumpy

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was in Detroit yesterday, announcing a grant of $25.9m that will go toward purchasing 50 buses for the City of Detroit. The announcement itself is great news for the city, but Foxx told a story of his grandfather that reminded me immediately of Gumpy.

Here is Foxx, talking about his grandfather at roughly 17:34 of the video:

His story immediately reminded me of the story Ema told about Gumpy at his memorial service.

When Gumpy was in the Telegraphers Union, the railroad he worked for was merging with another railroad, and there were a few men who were going to be laid off as a result. Gumpy calculated how much those men would make, and volunteered to be laid off instead so a few of those men could keep their jobs. He went in to work at the right intervals to keep his leadership role with the union, and eventually went back to work full time at Grand Trunk.

It was a story he never told, and Ema would only tell once. I asked her about it a few times afterward, and she would only tell me that it was no big deal, that he didn't do anything really special. They had her income and the farm income, so they could make ends meet. My mom and her siblings were pretty young at the time and had no recollection of the story either.

That story, even if I don't have all the details, is still emblematic of who my grandfather was. He believed in the brotherhood of the union, and fought fiercely to make sure everyone in his union received a fair shake. He never bragged about his accomplishments either. To him, it was just a part of putting food on the table for his family. His favorite stories were about the people he loved and the fun he had with them.

While the events of the day were momentous for the City of Detroit, that is not why I was wiping away tears during the Secretary's speech. He reminded me a a generation of men that did what they thought was best for their families and communities without the need to boast or brag. That memory was worth the tears.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

As a new father, I appreciate my Grandfather's level head even more

Gumpy and I napping when I was six weeks old.
Four years have passed since Gumpy passed away and there are few, if any, days that go by without me thinking about him even for a minute.  Unable to sleep on the eve of my first Father's Day, happy memories keep occupying my thoughts.

Our trip to Idaho is one of those memories. Specifically, after the first four hours on the road, my sister and I began a rotation as trip navigator in the front seat of the 1984 four-door, extended bed Chevy Silverado with a 454 big-block engine, pulling a 30 ft. Carrie Lite fifth-wheel.  We would be responsible for reading the atlas and suggesting routes, finding gas stations that could accommodate our rig, even calculating how many miles per gallon we were averaging so we knew how many miles we could eat up before our next stop.

When we would get to our destination for the evening, I was on trailer leveling duty.  By the end of the trip, I knew exactly how to level the trailer on many different surfaces and how to guide Gumpy in backing the truck up to hitch the trailer back on the truck so we could get back on the road.

I look back on that trip now and immediately think of two things.  One, I wish I wasn't an angst-filled teenager who's father had just left the family a few weeks before the trip.  We stopped at so many amazing places, like the Crazy Horse Monument, Dwarshak Dam, Yellowstone National Park, the Cowboy Hall of Fame and Wall Drug among many, many others; that I didn't appreciate at the time because I was focused on feeling sorry for myself.

Two, I can't help but remember just how much trust Gumpy gave me.  Or at least it seemed like he did. I remember reading through the owners manual of the truck, trying to determine if one tank of unleaded gas would kill the engine because we were having trouble finding leaded gas coming down Lolo Pass into Idaho from Missula, MT.  While I'm sure he knew exactly what he was doing, he let me do my research and consulted me before making the decision to use the unleaded gas so we wouldn't be stranded.

As I approach my first Father's Day as a father, what I appreciate most is Gumpy's consistency on that trip. When I would pout or sulk too much, he would replace me in the front seat. When it was my turn to navigate, he would consult with me and accept my council.  When it was time to set up the trailer for the night, he would always inspect my work after letting me give it my best shot. He wore the same belt with the horse standing on his hind legs with the fence running behind it on the belt buckle whenever we were on the road.

As trite as some of the memories might seem, and as cliche as this might sound, in a time of my life full of questions and uncertainty, his consistency was a rock I could lean on.

I am thankful for the example Gumpy showed me of how to be a compassionate, consistent father.  And I'm thankful I have the opportunity to prove what I learned from him.