How many of us know that little old man from the neighborhood who is the “Grandpa” of the neighborhood ? They are not related by blood…..they are just that sweet old man down the street who has a life time of experiences and wisdom…and they picked you to share it all with.
Mine is a man who is fast approaching 90…but still has the heart and spirit of a big kid…his name is “Spec” (His life long nick name). I met Spec at our local church many years ago…he was one of those men that EVERY church has…a tinkerer and fixer, always trying to save the church money by fixing things and making things.
When I first met Spec, he was around 80, and hanging off of a ladder fixing something at church. Of course I was shocked to see a 80yr old man 30ft in the air working on something and wanted to help. But we all know that men like these are proud…and if you even “Hinted” that they are to old to do something…they would probably snatch you by the ear and let you have it. So when he came down to get some tools…I “Lied” by convincing him I would like to learn what he was doing…and could he teach me from the ground while I was on the ladder….all it took was the word “Teach” and he was all for it.
Of course it did not take him long to find out that I remodeled homes and was a furniture builder…to say he was a little miffed would be putting it mildly…but at the same time he respected what I did and how I did it by not making him feel old…...We built a friendship from there and he invited me to his shop to help him do some things for the church. Basically, Spec took me under his wings to teach me what he knew…and teach me he did. Spec is a great woodworker…and even though I was no slouch…he taught me things I would have never even thought of. He has a good set of old power tools, (most older than me) table saw, RAS, routers etc etc etc. But his real gift was hand tools, planes, jigs and carving etc.
When ever I go to his shop…he would show me some long lost trick with a plane, or a “Secret” way to carve something…and while we worked…he would always share some story from the past…maybe something that happened during the great depression…or a war story from his time in Europe (He is a WWII vet). His wife (Who has also become my “Grandma”) pulled me off to the side once and gave me a big hug and said “Thank you” She told me that Spec had been feeling old and useless for along time now….but since he took me under his wing…he has become the “Old Spec” again…even the war stories he told me, he had never shared with anyone other than her.
She told me that while he has a large family…with several sons, daughters and grandkids….and he loves them all dearly and they him…none of them took a interest in woodworking…they all work in the business world, wearing suits and such..and just never cared for woodworking. She also said ” Spec was feeling useless because he felt he had a life time of experiences and skills…and no one wanted his old school skills in a high-tec world…now he has you to pass them on to…he feels needed again”
Needless to say, while I am a crusty old fart who does not like to show emotion…But when she told me this…it brought a tear to my eye…and made me grow even closer to Spec. Now it is ten years later, and he has truly became my Grandpa….I go by his house as often as I can…and even if I am busy…I at least go by once a week…way more if I can. I tinker on his house, mow his yard…and we ALWAYS find time to sit in his shop and tinker…we make Christmas gifts for his family, and toys for Grandkids. His hands shake way to much now to even hold a tool….but he looks over my shoulders and tells me every stroke to make.
He still tells me stories from his past…many, many I have still not heard and I enjoy hearing them…and as time goes on…and the memory fades….sometimes he will tell the same story he told me the week before, or even the day before…and I sit and listen to them…acting as if I have never heard them before…and enjoying them as much as if I had heard them for the very first time.
As I said….Spec is almost 90 now…and his health is failing, and it’s as if he seems to know his time is growing short, he is at that stage in life where he could pass away tonight…or last for another year. It seems as time grows shorter and shorter…he feels the need to share as much as he can as fast as he can. And as corny as this sounds….the only gift I can give him, to make his last days as happy as possible for all he has done for me and shared with me… is to just be there and listen. To take the skills he passed me long ago and pass them on to my son…and one day my grandchildren. To remember the names of people long forgotten…buddies killed in battle, like Sargent McKinney, who climbed out of a fox hole to drag Spec in when he was wounded ….and died doing so. Who had no family to remember him and received no medal for his bravery…who is only remembered in Specs heart.
Spec has entrusted me with his skills that took a life time to develop and his most cherished memorys….In the hopes that they will not die with him…or me..but be passed on to the next generation. It is a trust I will not fail.
So why am I sharing this story with all of you ?? To remind you that “The Greatest Generation” is almost gone…gone and forgotten. They lived in a time before TV, video games, telephones etc. They went to war and died by the hundreds of thousands so we could have the freedoms we have today. To remind you that they have skills and stories they are dieing to pass on. Believe me…there is nothing like sitting and listening to a man tell of the first airplane he ever saw fly over head… the first time he ever saw a TV….the fear he felt sitting in a landing craft as it raced toward the beach…hearing the bullets hit all around him….Now imagine hearing all this while a old man teaches you how to hand cut dove tails..trying to see all of this through his eyes…I promise you…it is a amazing thing.
Every neighborhood or church or community has a “Grandpa” like Spec…who is about to go away forever and take a life time of experience’s and stories with them. All they want is for someone to share them with. Spec has passed on to me woodworking skills long forgotten by most…skills developed before power tools, and when money was so tight every scrap piece of wood counted. And even more important than his skills…he passed on his life to me….Can you imagine what a shame it would be if Sargent McKinney’s name was lost in the sands of time…or the names of all the other hero’s he lived and fought with that you will never find in a history book.
Take my advice…find “Your” Spec….”Your” neighborhood Grandpa…let them take you under their wing and share their skills with you…and more important than that…let them share their life with you….do it before it’s to late, because once they are gone…their kind will never walk among us again.
-- Don S.E. OK