Google Something Clever 2.0: My Grandfather's Legacy

Jun 3, 2013

My Grandfather's Legacy

My grandfather was a carpenter. Not by trade, but by design. He had a workshop in the basement. There was a rocking horse in my house when I was young, and I never knew which grandchild he'd originally built it for, but I knew that Grampa made it with love. He also built my sister a dollhouse.

My sister is 11 years older than me. Once she grew up and moved out, the dollhouse became mine. I loved that dollhouse. Even after I was way too old to be "playing" with it, I was buying new couches, re-flooring the kitchen... If grown men can have train sets, then 13-year-old girls can have dollhouses, right?

When my sister's daughter was two, she reclaimed her dollhouse to pass it down. Of course, I understood. It was hers, and it was a child's toy. But I was unhappy about it. Apparently, it showed, because my mother told Grampa, and he called me up and told me he was going to build me my own dollhouse. He even offered to let me design it.


Since I was a bad-ass 13-year-old, I designed it with closets and bathrooms so that I had spots to hide my cigarettes. He must have known. Why else would he not question a bathroom that opened to the side? Not only could you not see inside of it, you'd have to have very small hands to even reach inside. And Grampa was no dummy.

About a year later, at Christmas, he caught me on my way out the door and pulled me aside. He asked me if I was going outside to smoke. I dreaded the lecture I was sure to get, but I told him the truth. "Wait right here," he said. He returned with one of those little aluminum trays that frozen chicken pot pie comes in and handed it to me. He led me down to the basement and said, "I used to smoke a cigarette now and then," and left. That was it. No judgement.

Nine years later, at his funeral, I heard some great stories about him. Apparently, his next-door neighbor had been trying to grow tomatoes. Every day, she'd go out and check her plants, so disappointed that they'd yet to yield results. So one day, he bought some ripe on-the-vine tomatoes and laid them carefully at the base of her tomato plant. I don't know if she ever figured it out.

My favorite story was also vegetable-related. It seems that in another life, he'd been a door-to-door salesman. You know the type, back in the 40's or 50's, they'd try to sell the lady of the house a vacuum or a feather duster or something like that. It seems that when Grampa was making his rounds, he'd carry carrot seeds in his pocket. If a customer left him alone, or even turned her back on him for a moment, he'd poke a couple of those seeds into the soil of her potted plants. Just for the thrill of imagining that someday, she'd see a little greenery sprouting up from the dirt, pluck it, and discover a carrot.

It's now been 11 years since Grampa died. My aunt just moved, and my mother and their other sister have been clearing out her house before it sells. My mom texted me that my dollhouse had somehow ended up in my aunt's attic. My husband and I drove down the very next day to retrieve it. I was giddy with anticipation. What a fun project this could be for my son and me! We could wire it for electricity and install tiny little chandeliers...

As we were carrying the dollhouse down the narrow attic stairs, the back half of the roof caught on the railing and popped off. No big deal; it was all one piece, and we had a hammer at home. But when we got to the bottom of the stairs and the light hit it, I almost dropped it. Look what was inside the roof:

Sorry, I love you guys and all, but my maiden name
and my mother's maiden name just feels like a bit much.

He had no way of knowing that the roof would pop off when it was randomly caught on a railing twenty years later (to the month!). He wrote that, and had no idea if anyone would ever see it again. But I did. I just stood there, slack-jawed, and my husband told me matter-of-factly, "That's your carrot."

I've always admired that he could do that. Send a message in a bottle, with no expectation of ever enjoying the results. Recently, I was writing up the story of the time that I was arrested and spent the night in jail (don't worry; I was innocent). When I was in jail, I got so bored sitting in that cell, I made tiny papier-mâché animals out of spit and toilet paper, and hid them around the cell for future prisoners to discover. That's when I realized that I'd inherited Grampa's gift.

Do me a favor. Sometime soon, leave a surprise for someone. Tape a dollar under a park bench. Paint a beautiful picture on a rock, and leave it in a park. You'll never get the joy of knowing that someone found it, and it made them smile, but isn't just the thought of it enough? I think so. And so did Grampa.