I have something to tell you that’s hard to admit, and if you know me at all, you know there is a story you’ll have to make your way through before I get to the point, indulge me.
My grandfather was an upholster by trade, he was exceptionally skilled in my mind, owned a little workshop downtown, in Los Gatos, where my Dad called home. The Shop, as it was referred to by the family, was located right behind their home on a quiet side street one block north of Santa Cruz Ave. Along the back fence of their yard was a rickety gate that led to the parking lot of The Shop which I imagine made work-life balance all the more difficult to maintain.
The Shop was old, cement floors, single-pained windows. I imagine it would have been dusty with strong odors of leather, stain, and freshly cut wood. Did he have a radio playing in the background or was that too much of an extravagance? What did my grandfather think about while he worked? Did he draw out his designs before building, or did he dive into a project, adjusting as he went along?
Over the years, just like people, the little shop would take on new personalities, it became a vacuum store, then a health food market, and today I believe it is the location of a fancy nail salon. I like structures and people that provide shelter for whoever might be in need. Don’t you?
Grandpa was adept at making furniture, as a testament to the natural pride he took in his craftsmanship some of his pieces have been passed from generation to generation, and still exist today.
He made a lounge chair for my aunt Neva, it was a cleverly designed rocker, the lines pleasing to the eye, and to this day I can not visualize my aunt without seeing her enveloped in the gentle curves of this chair, as if she were held in her father’s arms.
I didn’t know this man as well as I know his work. I was told his business was never short on jobs and he rarely turned down a charitable project when asked. A beloved family friend, Charlie Cole, once asked him to reupholster an entire bus needed to transport the Barron’s to and from events, this was a high school club to which my Dad belonged. Grandpa didn’t waste time complaining about the extra work or expense, he just applied himself to the project, until it was done.
Grandma also worked in The Shop because my great-grandmother lived with the family and prepared the meals. This allowed Grandma time to keep the ledgers for the business. I imagine she also swept the floors of the shop, greeted customers, maybe helped with the selection of fabrics. Did they labor in companionable silence, tease one another as they applied themselves to their work, or bicker when conflict surfaced?
Grandpa died when I was a baby, just two years after his beloved wife, my grandma, had passed away from a cancer that had metastasized in her spine. This is how disease works, it overcomes our barriers, and then destroys the systems it enters. It’s the same with disordered emotions, attitudes, and substances.
Maybe that’s why people say, “I’m sick of you.”
Be gentle with one another, even when someone is unrepentant, it’s impossible to know the daily battles we are all fighting, maybe it’s better to say, “how can I help or where does it hurt?” Apply pressure, stanch the wound, be a bandaid, not part of the affliction. Honestly, the only pain we can alleviate is to let each other know we’re not alone.
Grandma was in her late 40’s, Grandpa in his early 50’s when they died, and now that I have outlived them both in terms of years. I wonder what I have produced that will survive for decades, that people will look at and see my soul.
My whole life I’ve had this persistent inkling that I am a lot like my grandma. She was the storyteller, a woman who kept a hundred dollar bill in her pocketbook in case one of her four children needed her, she had the means to go. It’s something I’ll never know, only envision, but now I’m wondering if I’m more like my grandpa. He didn’t nail words onto a page, he nailed fabrics, but he was a thinker, constructing what he envisioned with his mind, and essentially this is what I do.
I’ve wondered what it would have been like to have grown up in the shadow of their presence, to have sat and watched grandpa create a piece of furniture that would outlive the hands that built it, to listen at the feet of Grandma to the family stories, to have shared a meal around their family table.
Neither of them made it to the age of retirement and I imagine the shop was left with reams of fabric, scraps of aged leather, old-fashion braiding, brass rivets, nails, various woods, and tools of a carpenters trade.
When I was just a small child, and Grandpa was in the last years of life, he built a small upholstered rocking chair for his grandchildren. I have pictures of Nancy and I sitting in the chair, followed by my own children, and now my grandchildren.
The poor little chair was beginning to wobble and had become quite stained from years of use. So I picked her up in my arms, carried her gently to the car as if a sick child, and drove to an upholstering shop in Campbell to see if she could be repaired. The man held her with such reverence and care looking her over as if he made the piece himself. I told him the story and he said, “we can bring her back to life, let’s go pick out some new fabric.”
He spent a half-hour sorting through rolls of fabric in the back of his shop until I found the perfect one. He beamed his agreement. Refusing a deposit he said he would call when the chair was repaired and ready for pick up. He would take special care to follow the same design as the original, replacing the brass rivets on the arms, repairing the wooden rockers to their former glory.
I was thrilled with the prospect, not the price, but as you know, “you can’t put a price tag on love.”
I tell you this because I’ve been thinking about legacy lately. The things we leave our children in the wake of our lives. Now that I’ve arrived at a certain age, I’m considering how I will be remembered, well past the time of actual impact, but better late than never. The hope is the good outweighs the regrets, as it is with all of life.
I think we all leave something behind when we die, my grandfather left his soul in his furniture, my grandma in her stories, and that hundred dollar bill.
So this is the very belabored point I’ve trying to arrive at, I’m in need of repair, some refurbishing if you will. I need to replace the squatters who have taken up residence in the empty chambers of my heart with life-giving occupants. It’s time to do a little spring cleaning and rid myself of the things that keep me enslaved instead of allowing me the freedom to become the full creation I was intended to be.
Do you ever wonder about the impression you have left on someone? Especially someone you love. Shannon Alder says, carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” says Maya Angelou.
So here’s the thing, I need to update my fabric, bolster my frame, maybe add some new rivets? I want my children and grandchildren to find comfort in my memory, to know they are deeply loved, and when they brush up against me I want the brushing to be life-giving, tangible, unforgettable in every way.
How do you want to be remembered? I’m tossing around what I can do today to create a legacy I’ll be proud of tomorrow. Care to join me?
I’m Living in the Gap, the space can be confining, join me in the comments.
- “Inside of all of us there is the need and the desire to be heard, to have our innermost thoughts, feelings and desires expressed for others to hear, to see and to understand. We all want to matter to someone, to leave a mark. Writers just take those thoughts, feelings and desires and express them in such a way that the reader not only reads them but feels them as well.” V. Vee
- “Wisdom is skill in living; it is living one’s life so that something of lasting value is produced.” Eric Mason
- “Within each human being exists a longing to live a life that matters, that makes a difference, that leaves a legacy.” Toni Sorenson
- “A mother knows that the voice of a child singing is nothing less than the heart of a mother that lost her voice. And so, rather than write such singing off to the ignorance of childhood muse, the wise mother learns to sing again.” Craig D. Lounsbrough
- “The things you experience are written on your cells as memories and patterns, which are reprinted again on the next generation. And even if you never lift a shovel or plant a cabbage, every day of your life something is written upon you. And when you die, the entirety of that written record returns to the earth. All we have on this earth, all we are, is a record. Maybe the only things that persist are not the evildoers and demons (though, admittedly, they do have a certain longevity) but copies of things. The original has long since passed away from this universe, but on and on we copy.” Madeleine Thien