I’ve never really had much use for mirrors. Sure, they help me see the pizza sauce on my face or a hair out of place, but in the end they only ever show you who you already are. What I would like much more is a window. This is a formidable metaphor. Windows, as it turns out, are an excellent basis upon which to build a picture of my grandfather.
Some people sit in a stuffy room in their home and think how sad their lives are. Clarence was a man who wouldn’t tolerate inaction. If there was something worth doing, he was doing it. He was always looking for opportunity, seeking paths to improve his life and the lives of his family. He knew how much better things might be if we could see beyond the walls. Rather than hiring someone to cut a hole in the wall and install a window, he reached for the toolbox.
He gave me a toolbox when I graduated high school. He hand-made the toolbox and filled it with functional antiques, living relics he found at garage sales over the years. I felt honored, doubly so years later when he told me he had given one to my son as well. Liam still speaks fondly of that toolbox. I’m proud to know my son has embraced the tradition of fixing old things, rather than replacing them. This is a strongly held belief in my family.
His was not a short-term perspective, which is no criticism of his appreciation of the now. He had a remarkable ability to enjoy the moment while also being very focused on the horizon. You might find him in the garden, planting or harvesting or battling weeds; or you might find him in the shed, cutting wood for a birdhouse. If you asked him what he was thinking, he might tell you about his paying off the car next year. Truth be told, I never actually asked. He always seemed so content and peaceful working with his hands.
He built the house I grew up in with his bare hands and a limited set of tools. He and my father laid every brick together. He taught me the value of hard work. More than that, he helped me see some things are worth a little blood. I have spilled blood many times building and/or fixing machines. To this day, if I don’t bleed a little when I work with my hands, I feel some sense of disappointment, like I didn’t try hard enough.
This was a man who, after falling off a ladder at work and breaking his back, he drove nearly an hour home before considering going to the hospital. When he told me about the experience, I barely believed it. He said every so often, he would hit a bump on the highway, and the car would bounce. The resulting searing pain left him momentarily blacked out. Somehow, through blinding pain, he made it home and then quickly to the hospital. The man was a tank.
Maybe not always the easiest person to be around, he definitely had his gruff moments. Still, no amount of momentary vitriol could ever outweigh his relentlessly progressive spirit. The words “heart of gold” simply do not suffice here. He would – and occasionally did – invest everything he had to protect and secure his family.
To me, he will always be the foundation of my pyramid, the ground that supports my home, the rock upon which my entire existence is built. He bestowed upon me a most welcome gift. While we can build windows to gain perspective on the beauty of the now, he gave me a magic sight glass to know my future long before it happened and to be ready for it, even if I didn’t always like it. As I write this, all I want in the world is a window on the past, so I can look upon him in his prime and wave. He wouldn’t notice me, though. He’d be too focused on keeping his hands busy, planting next season’s crop or building another birdhouse. As it should be, his own special blend of zen.