Relationships with our grandparents are almost always something to be treasured. While relationships with our parents are sometimes more challenging than they ought to be, those with grandparents are usually all of the good and none of the bad. But how are we supposed to deal with grandparents that we never got to meet?
I have been blessed with some wonderful times with grandparents. And because of my father’s divorce and remarriage, I gained another set of grandparents, so I had more than my share.
Whenever I remember one of those grandparents, certain sights, sounds and smells come to mind. A breakfast of pancakes in my maternal grandma’s kitchen. The smell of my Grandmother Cavanaugh’s perfume and the way her sharp-edged personality was the total opposite of Granddad Cavanaugh’s gentle nature. Grandma Barkley makes me think of her fabulous chocolate pie and the way that an old-school Methodist lady did her best to put up with Grandpa Barkley’s occasional displays of his rebellious streak.
One grandparent, however, was always an enigma. My mother’s dad died at the relatively young age of fifty-six, a little over two years before I was born. As a kid inclined to listen to stories, I soaked up plenty of them about Albert Keck as told by his widow and his three daughters.
It was this way that I learned about his intelligence, his sense of humor, and his love for his family. And over the years I was able to piece together other bits, such as the way that he farmed only out of a sense of obligation to his parents rather than out of any choice of his own. I also learned that his real gift was with machinery.
I was reminded of this in a particular way over the last few weeks, where Grandpa Keck came to my aid once again. With a hand truck.
Grandpa welded-up this bit of equipment probably some time during the 1940s or early ’50s. During my own childhood it hung on the wall of Grandma’s garage and its only use seemed to be for grandchildren to take it down so that the older ones could give the younger ones rides around the yard, pulling it like a trotting horse pulls a sulky. It was a lot more fun being the rider than the puller, I eventually discovered.
After Grandma’s death, the hand truck was one of the objects that came into my mother’s possession, and eventually wound up in my own garage. As I have grown in age I have had more and more opportunity to use it for its intended purposes, and have come to know a little more about what made my grandfather tick.
An engineer once told me that everything that is made is a series of one compromise after another. Trade-offs must be made between things like light weight and cost on the one hand and durability and longevity on the other. My grandfather was truly a durability above all else kind of guy, because his hand truck is built like the proverbial brick house.
The frame is not any kind of thin tubing, but what appears to have begun life as galvanized plumbing pipe with a maybe 1/8th inch steel plate for the business end. Some thick pieces of bar stock make up the rest. The welds are not the prettiest I have ever seen, but they usually are not with such thick material, and besides, not a one has failed down through the decades. The solid rubber tires (Firestones, actually) are hard as rocks but show no signs of coming apart.
It weighs a ton, to the point that a guy of my age has to think just a second about how to approach hoisting it into the back of the minivan. But the tradeoff is that it has never, ever failed to hold anything I have ever tried to move with it. I had some warehouse jobs in my college and law school years and I used many of these during that time, but never a better one.
My office lease was up at the end of December and I decided to decamp to a new location. Let me tell you, an office move during the holidays is not something you should try. It is not made better when your spouse and helpmate is ill with the flu during the week before Christmas and some holiday hosting is on the menu.
Trip after trip to the van with stacks of five or six boxes instead of the one or two I could carry was a constant reminder that my grandpa was right there giving me a hand. And when I caught that flu right after the new year, that assistance became absolutely essential, as I would never have had the strength to move the final boxes out of the old space without it. Furniture, books, paper files – all of it moved with my grandpa’s help.
It was during one of those many cycles that I was struck with the way families provide us with certain kinds of support that go on and on. My grandfather probably built this thing for no reason other than to make some of his tasks on the farm easier. He probably had no idea that his labor, skill and ingenuity would be providing essential aid to others in his line many decades after his death.
Families are our foundations. Fathers and mothers pass things on to sons and daughters – most of it good, but certainly never all of it. Those gifts can build that foundation through multiple generations, and the most fortunate of us are born into a situation where things like thrift, hard work and decency are simply assumed rather than things that you only see rich people do on television.
It is funny that it took an old hand truck to make me see it. Thanks, Grandpa.