I remember my Grandfathers Hands. I used to stare at them sometimes in awe. I haven’t thought of it for more than 25 years now. The other night I picked up the few tools of his that I posess and began to reminice.
He was a large German man from the Pennsylvania Dutch community. Ruddy complection, barrel-chested, fingers like bratwurst. I have a ring he wore on his index finger that is too large for my thumb. But this man who grew up on a farm, shoveled coal into an early model ford truck every morning in cold weather then drove it 10 miles to the school and shoveled back out into the shute which led to a boiler room: the same boiler he maintained 24 hrs which paid his way through college. He became the first college educated man in our family.
Thirty years later, when I came along, he would end his day as a professor and minister and then my time with him began. He loved all things in creation as was taught to him by his father. He was multi-talented. He played piano, was a great writer, but where he and I met was in his small woodshop, in the garden, behind a fishing pole, (and over his knee sometimes) but all places where I saw his hand at work. While the latter could wax humorous it is just as applicable. I felt his hand in discipline some times but those same hands could select the smallest of seeds to sow or carve the most intricate design. I can see the finesse he displayed as his fingers would sweep across the keys of his piano; this was the same finesse he flicked the fishing pole with and the same finesse he pulled a brush full of stain across a board or rubbed the finishing touches with the finest grade of wool on a piece of furniture. I learned to love the use of my hands from watching his.
I also learned patience. It didn’t sink in until I had children, the glue that makes it stick in a father and the same which causes a previously patient woman to come unglued about 5 minuted before I get home. His patience with every mark and cut, his patience with every swing of a maul, his patience with every coat of stain or paint or unnumbered other works of his hands. I know that often he was tired both in mind and back but he always had time to show me how to make something with my hands. Regardless of scuff or splinter he would come alive when at once he employed his own.
Now that I am a father, a husband, both teacher and student in many places, I realize the value of time in the shop. As I’m sitting here writing I see my grandfather in me. I see the seeds he planted coming to fruition. I’m passionate about the many things I do with my hands. I teach my own children or council a friend over woodshavings and in woodlands. I love working with wood, gardening and playing music. I teach my children all manner of lessons as we create these things together. Though I don’t posess the stature of my grandad, I look at my own hands tonight. They’re red and leathery, full of scars. I have one finger that isn’t shaped the way it came. I have another that doesn’t bend the way it should. He loved me and taught me through the moxie his hands posessed and now my hands have become like his.