Growing up as a boy, some of my favorite memories came from times with my Grandpa.
Gramps VE was a hard-working, kind man. A proud Dutchman and a grateful American, he was a “draftsman” by trade, helping to engineer projects (including bridges) for a firm called Worden-Allen Company. A master craftsman, his hobby was to serve people through carpentry – sometimes “one-off” projects like my school show-and-tell projects (lol), but preferably projects that required design templates, which could be replicated at scale.
Gramps loved templates.
The workshop in his basement was well equipped with jigsaws, drill presses, mitre boxes and more. Vices and other items hung from the rafters, and the workbenches had lamps that created an ambiance I loved. There were rows and rows of nuts, bolts, nails and widgets of every kind – kept neatly in well-labeled cardboard or plastic cigar boxes, or wooden drawers, and bottles of a common kind.
Gramps loved symmetry.
When he would ask me over to help him on a project, usually on Friday nights, he would have me sit on a high wooden chair at the main workbench (a chair I now have in our workshop here). Gramps wore horn-rimmed glasses and usually a shirt from work or from his bowling league with his name sewn onto the space above the pocket: Herb. He smoked a corn cob pipe, and I loved the smell of the tobacco. He got me a miniature corn cob pipe to suck on while I watched his every move and did the tasks he gave me. It was never boring. Never. His delight in the work was infectious. The night would end with vanilla ice cream – always vanilla – topped with raspberries from his garden. Later, we’d enjoy a Brach’s Butterscotch or Royal candy from the bowl on the coffee table in front of the TV, where we’d watch a show together before bed.
Gramps loved routine.
On Saturday morning, we’d wake up to fresh “horns and rolls” and donuts (including the raspberry-filled variety, of course) from the local Polish bakery. We’d eat them all except the very last half of a roll. Gramps would have me butter it, roll up the white paper plate with all the crumbs on it, and pour those crumbs onto the well-buttered, last half of a roll. It was a “Crumbie Sandwich,” he told us. When we finished eating that, he would tell us (over and over and over again):
“Now, you’re part of The Clean Plate Club.”
And it never grew old. I later came to realize the virtue being passed to me in that simple ritual from someone who learned (in his generation) to be grateful for every crumb.
So many other oft-repeated quips from Gramps have stuck with me through the years. “The right tool for the right job.” “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” “Nothing worth much comes without a cost.” And, that recurring affirmation of identity and responsibility: ” Remember, you’re a Van Eerden, and that means something.”
Sometimes the things he repeated took me years to understand. One example came home to me just recently – a statement he made to us again and again, especially when we were on fishing trips in Canada. It flies in the face of the “BE SAFE” zeal of our present day, I realize, but it gives Rachel and me comfort when we see pics of our grandkids in the midst of dirt and the stuff of earth. Now there’s science, our family doctor tells us, to support what Gramps liked to say:
“A little dirt ain’t hurt nobody.”
Far more important were the words he left for all of us, sitting in his favorite chair while interviewed by my oldest brother just weeks before he died, on the legacy of faith. Those words rocked me then, and still encourage me to this very day.