Values – Yesterday and Today…what a difference…

April 8, 2013

I just finished reading an essay about growing up in WV and Ohio probably not far off of the period in which I was growing up in Baltimore, MD.  Opposite extremes of environment and sophistication, but so much of it seemed familiar to me that I thought of an essay that I wrote in 1977 for freshman English and after re-reading it, felt that it represented something very similar in spite of the geographic differences in location. I think this is primarily due to the ethics and traditional values that prevailed in the 50s and 60s regardless of where you were in America.  What I would give to see those values return to our culture.  So, here’s a little trip down my memory lane and hope that those who read it are made to think a bit about what could be again in America and enjoy the experience of a young boy and his grandfather.

POP

 The old frame house, standing tall but beginning to show the years, will always be his monument.  No inscription adorns its dark brown shingles.  No one but the family and a few of his friends will ever know the significance of that three-story structure.  No one will ever know the joys he brought to a young boy’s life during the years they spent together there.  To me, he was the closest thing to a father that I ever had.  To me, he was Pop!

 Pop was a craftsman.  By trade, he worked with wood.  However, he was not only a craftsman of hardwood floors, he was a craftsman in his ability to deal with people and communicate his feelings and values to people.  He was always there when needed and asked for little in return.

 My earliest memories of Pop were probably the numerous times I was allowed to “go to work” with him.  I was no more than seven or eight years old on the first of these occasions.  While he spent the day on his hands and knees sanding those portions of the floors that were inaccessible to the power sander, I was put to work with a ball of putty filling nail holes so they did not show after the varnish was applied.  Although I was too young to really grasp what he meant at the time, he would keep up a steady lecture on how his competitors used less nails per board foot of flooring than was his practice and why this made the difference in the useful life of the floor and prevented the floors from creaking as much.  I realized much later in life that the point he was trying to make was simple.  Anything worth doing is worth doing right.  I was treated to numerous other lectures on similar subjects over the ensuing years.

 The house he built for his young wife Amelia some sixty years ago was home to me for over twelve years.  I received a liberal dose of construction information as he described how he built it from the ground up.  No matter where he was – in his workshop behind the house or in his recliner in the first floor living room – he was always telling stories.  They would always seem to ramble but inevitably reached the conclusion and illustrated his point.

 His actions contradicted themselves at times.  He was honest to a fault in all his business dealings, but at the age of seventy, he still kept a bottle of whiskey hidden from my grandmother.  Gentle and soft-spoken in most instances, he would become enraged and quite vocal when treated unfairly by anyone. Yet my grandmother could manipulate or actually nag him into doing whatever she wanted him to do.  Oh, there was nothing but love between them.  Pop, in spite of his wife’s tongue-lashing, worshiped the ground she walked on.  I can still see the two of them at their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  The glow on Pop’s face was never brighter.

 Pop kept working until well past his seventieth birthday, but the years of crawling on his hands and knees began to slow him down.  His previously frequent trips to the barber shop each week were only memories by then.  This was partially because the distance was too much for his legs, and partly because the bookie joint in the back of the shop was no longer operating.  It took me a long time before I figured out why he got his hair cut so often and why the barber shop has five telephones and a chalk board in the back room.  The bookie was replaced by the less costly practice of picking “winners” in the sports page and checking his luck on the sports review each afternoon on the radio.

 From watching him shave in the basement bathroom when I was about ten to watching his eyes as he played with my son and daughter twelve years later, all I can remember feeling is the same mixture of love and admiration I have always felt for him.  The scratch of his beard as he kissed me each night those many years ago is still vividly remembered.  Just as vivid is the memory of the last time our eyes met and we shook hands.

 It’s hard to believe that over twenty years (now it has been over 50 years) have passed since I moved into that old frame house.  I owe him more than I ever realized.  I can see now the  deeper meaning of his little stories.  I can still feel the strength in that final handshake.

 The years following my grandmother’s death in the spring of 1969 seemed to take a lot out of Pop.  He would just sit and stare or watch television until he fell asleep.  I was three thousand miles away from him when he died on a summer day in 1974.  It was the first time I had cried in a long time.  I felt the loss of a friend but was enriched by having known him.  His original marriage certificate hanging on the wall in my bedroom is a constant inspiration.

 The old house was built to last.  It still stands tall.  A doctor’s office now, the house means nothing to the hundreds who visit its rooms.  Exactly who poured its foundations, who raised its walls, or who laid the ornately inlaid oak floors does not matter to them.  It does to me.  Thanks, Pop.

 Thomas F. Stark
1977


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