Brigid is a wordsmith without peer as anyone who has ever read her knows. I read her blog every day. Her recent post on Garage Memories really struck a chord with me, especially since I'm currently elbow deep in a remodel. The way she talks about her father brought up my own memories of the man who was the most important influence in who I am and the man I became. That man was my Grandfather. My mother's father.
I never really had a father. My male biological DNA donator essentially abandoned his wife and three sons when I was young enough that I have no independent memory of him. When I grew into adulthood he denied me a second time when I reached out to him so his influence on me is primarily negative. My step father was a horribly abusive man who did the world a favor when he voluntarily left it. Another negative male role model. Fortunately I was blessed with a grandfather who was everything an impressionable young boy could want. Especially one who badly needed a positive male role model in his life.
My grandfather taught me what a man was and what he needed to know. He was masculine, smart and honest. He did whatever he needed to do to get the job done and see to his family even when that meant taking his daughter and her three lost boys into a house he was still in the act of building. Where baths consisted of a large galvanized steel tub and buckets of water heated over a wood burning stove. He never complained or allowed the inconveniences we surely imposed on him to color how he treated us or how he went about his business. He was a farmer, a son and grandson of farmers, who actually homesteaded in Wyoming before going on to a career as an electronics inspector with Hughes Aircraft in southern California. He could inspect packages going to the moon then go home and build a sand rail from scrap iron and an old VW engine while simultaneously putting in an addition to his house.
He could build or fix anything (and I mean anything) and did his best to pass along those skills to us boys. All I know of such I learned from him though at the time I scarcely appreciated the value of those lessons. I think such comes naturally to us as we age. As children we're more interested in playing and whatever the diversion du jour is. Nuggets of gold cast before swine. It's only as we get to the age where we're now both engaged in such activities and faced with sons and grandsons of our own to influence that we appreciate their value and lean on the knowledge gained through pain and the singular application of will.
Grandpa never preached he just taught. By every word and action. Even after retirement he got up every day and worked at something. Fixing, improving, modifying. I learned so much from that man including the value of hard work and the idea that real men never quit. Never give up. Never stop moving forward. There is no task beyond the strong arms of a good man. Grandpa was a scrounger, one who never one threw away anything he thought someone might be able to find a use for one day. A trait I learned well and that chagrins Lu sometimes. I learned at the feet of a master.
Grandpa was a Mormon, a true believer. He never drank and I never heard him swear but once and Brigid's post brought that memory crashing back on me like a tidal wave.
As his spiritual child what he loved I loved. One of those loves was all things mechanical, especially cars. Grandpa loved his cars and trucks, the more broke down the better. He seldom bought new, in fact I am aware of only only new vehicle purchase he ever made. When he was young the Model T was still a viable means of transportation and though he went to his grave loving the Dodge brand (he was a stubborn man) he had a string of Model Ts and other old cars that he and his brother drove, fixed and modified. Nothing made him happier than to be in his shop, tools in hand and the guts of something with an internal combustion engine displayed before him. Didn't matter what it was either. Car, truck, tractor no difference. If it was broken he could fix it with a smile on his face and a satisfaction radiating off him like steam from a kettle.
We boys went through a wide variety of vehicles, none of them new and most much closer to junk than reliable transportation. But what we could always depend on was the magical touch, limitless skill and encyclopedic knowledge of my Grandfather. One evening I was ensconced in the bowels of his shop, a cinderblock and concrete structure I helped him build from a bare lot. I was elbow deep in the engine compartment of my 1963 Chevrolet Impala SS.
An aside. Man, how I wish I still had that car. It was a wreck when I bought and fixed it up but ended it's life at the end of a tow truck hook after I abandoned it in Sarge and MIL's apartment parking lot when Lu and I started down the military road. We all make mistakes and errors of judgement and that is hardly the worst of mine yet it stings still. But that is another story for another day.
On this evening I was contemplating the vagaries of a recently purchased, though very used, aluminum high rise intake manifold. 17 years old and more concerned with what I drove than just about anything else except maybe girls but bitchin' cars make that easier so win win. Go fast parts makes the car go cooler don't you know. Anyway. The installation was straightforward enough but there was a problem. One I wasn't sure how to resolve. See, that intake depended on valve covers that had openings both to put in oil and vent the crankcase. The problem was my covers had no such feature and neither did the intake. No way to put oil into an engine that used about a quart a week and no way to bleed off dangerous crankcase pressures that would eventually start pushing things like gaskets out from places where I really wanted them to stay. I could have purchased another set but for two things. First I had precisely no money (the intake was obtained through trade) and absolutely no patience to wait until I could procure a set of suitable covers. I mean, I was 17 years old. Enter my Grandfather.
He came down after dinner and inquired as to my predicament. I explained the problem and he said. "No problem." That was his usual and expected response to tricky issues. He took the intake and after studying it and the engine block pronounced that the way to fix the issue was to drill a large hole in the intake where we could install an oil filler tube with a filter cap that he had 'laying around'. He set up the drill press and made some marks. Then he did something he'd never done in my presence before. As he positioned the intake on the press and the machine began to whir he turned to me and with a positively wicked grin on his face he said
"Well, you ready to fuck it up?"
My Mormon, straight as an arrow Grandfather. I was shocked he even knew that word. I was flabbergasted. My mouth must have hit my knees because he started laughing and proceeded to drill that intake as straight and true as if it had been done at the factory. All with me simply staring at him and not helping a bit. My mind awhirl, wondering just who this man was, standing there in my Grandfather's skin. He was about 80 at the time. We finished the installation together and never spoke of it again. But I remembered.
As I grew up I understood that it was another lesson though you'd be hard pressed to have ever gotten him to admit as much. But that memory and the truths I brought away from it has followed me all the days of my adult life.
Words are just words.
It's not so much what a man says as what he does that's important.
A laugh before action can be a wonderfully calming thing.
Every once in a while a man just has to cuss and that's Ok.
I have since been fortunate to have been influenced by another honorable and much loved male father figure in my father in law, Sarge. Between those two men they have managed to wash away the stain the first two left on my soul. They have convinced me that the good men outweigh the evil, by influence if not sheer numbers. A hard target is so much more satisfying to aim for.
My Grandfather. Gone now these many years but his lessons never forgotten. Thanks Grandpa. I never said that often enough.