The first story I want to tell is that of my Grandpa Milt. He's was born in 1924 as the youngest of three brothers... only to be followed by a sister a couple of years later. Like many young men of his generation, he enlisted in the Navy at age "18" and then miraculously turned 18 for the next couple of years. He came back from WWII, married my Grandma Mary, and proceeded to have 5 kids, a career, a tavern, a woodworking hobby, and lots of friends, laughs, and hard work mixed in there.
I was the first grandchild and have always had a special relationship with him. He's the only person in the world I let call me "Mandy." As long as I can remember, he's always been gruff. Never mean. But tough. My brother and male cousins always claim that he scared them. Maybe he did... but all I knew was that he and I had lots of time to bond over summer trips to New Jersey and afternoons enjoying a birch beer and a Slim Jim.
As I grew older, he was always tough on the boys that I dated. In Nate, he finally found his match... over a stack of wood, a trip down the hill, and a stiff drink before 10a. Since then, they've bonded over a shared love in tools. Nate's always wanted a wood shop just like my grandfather has out back... full of lathes, drill presses, various saws... and always, always he talks about having a radio always on - no latter the time of day or night - with the local country station playing. Just like Grandpa Milt.
After Nate and I got married, Grandpa Milt has been a generous source of beautiful woodworking. I have a couple of inlayed cutting boards that I cannot bear to blemish, wood bowls and serving utensils, and of course, the duckie stepstool. I think that he takes a lot of pride in producing his beautiful pieces, and most of my aunts and uncles have Grandpa Milt originals in their homes!
As everyone does, Grandpa Milt has been having a tough time with aging. Bouts with severe back pain and dizziness have limited his walks out to his wood shop. There is no doubt it has made him sad, as in my farthest memories, I can remember him making his slow walk to the wood shop several times of day.
Grandpa Milt's love of working with his hands has reached several of my uncles, as well as family in my generation. I think somewhere along the line, he decided that he wanted his collection of shop pieces to be handed down to people who would love them like he had.
While we were visiting this weekend, Grandpa Milt offered Nate one of his radial arm saws to help get his shop started. Nate was both flabbergasted and honored. After much discussion and affirmation, Nate and my uncle started to dismantle the saw to pack it in our van for the long drive back to North Carolina.
Grandpa Milt had spent most of the afternoon in a shady spot on the porch. But I noticed that shortly after the saw started to be dismantled, he got a bit antsy. He shuffled across the porch. I asked if he wanted any help getting down the stairs. He told me that he'd be fine if I'd "just get out of his way." That's Milt for you.
He made his way down the steps and across the well-worn path to the wood shop. He inspected the saw dismantling process, but didn't have too many words to say. I genuinely think he came over to make sure that the saw was being treated the way that she should be. Perhaps to say goodbye.
Without a word, he turned around and started his trip back to the house. Nate, my uncle, Will and I turned our attention back to the saw. Luke broke free from our group. I looked up and saw this:
There were no words exchanged. Just love. Understanding. How could Luke have possibly known that Grandpa Milt needed love and support after his weighty and solemn goodbye? Can you teach a 4 year old to be compassionate?
I had a lump in my throat as I watched them walk slowly and carefully back to the house. I got Nate's attention, and he just smiled watching the scene. It was truly touching. What a kid. What a genuine heart.