by Nic Olson

His hands. He did more with his hands in his lifetime than most men would do in ten. The garden–each step, from dropping seeds into the earth to dishing out creamed corn onto the plate on Sunday dinner. The machinery–every lawnmower we ever owned was at one time fixed by Grandpa. There was never any doubt that he’d be able to diagnose the problem and repair it quickly. The wood–he dabbled in creativity, making wood sculptures of landscapes and birds and yard decorations, intricate as they were handsome. And the popcorn balls, which I at least always thought he made, but for all I know Grandma may have made them. Of the garage, his domain that spilt over with equipment and utensils, his hands were his greatest tools.

I had a child-like fear of him, not a fear of discipline or fear of disappointment, but a fear of his size and strength and person. A fear that one shows one’s elder. This may have been born out of the fact that when I used to enter his house as a kid he would greet us with, ‘Oh, not you again,’ which seemed to become a running joke. It very well could have been a genuine reaction, and likely justified, because if I was around, it meant there was at least three more little shits running around his house, moving the furniture, making a mess of the basement, eating his candy, and making Grandma spend money on phonecalls to the Nintendo hotline.

And when I remember him I try think of the things that he must have seen in his years–the droughts, and the war, and the span of technology and the changes in the places he called home. An exhausting range of years that could do nothing but yield a man of strength, which he proved to be. Towards the end, when he slowly lost the basic use of his hands, it obviously frustrated him. A life spent being useful and fixing problems with his ten fingers, and this was taken away from him. He still kept his sense of humour and his sharp mind, but at the end of the slow process of losing his dexterity, he lost one of his greatest tools. His mind was sharp as a saw blade–when we had to take family photos you could always tell that he disliked posing and getting his photo taken as much as his grandsons did, but always said something witty to motivate us to hurry up and something smart to get us to smile in the photo.

He was well-equipped with evident tools which made him a great man. He provided his children with the tools of strength and ability that he had, and he did the same with his grandkids.

If I end up a half as useful as Grandpa in my life, I’ll consider it well spent.