You donít meet many people named Harry anymore. I
donít know if it was ever a common name but itís
certainly less so now than it used to be. It was
my maternal grandfatherís name. I was named after
him and though Harry is my first name, I donít go by it
Ė even my parents have never used it. But it fit
my grandfather Ė itís a salt-of-the-earth name and he
was a salt-of-the-earth man.
I wasnít interested in woodworking when he died in 1982
at the age of 64. I was in college and had no idea
that someday making furniture would become a passion.
My grandfather, born in 1917, grew up at a time when few
young men continued their education beyond high school.
He was no exception and rather than pursue a prep course
of study he attended a trade school. He may not
have studied the classics but he learned to do
everything, including work with wood.
Having come of age during the depression my grandfather
believed a job was nearly sacred. I listened often
to his stories of trying to find work after graduating
in 1935, of working for 25 cents/hour and being glad to
get it. When he had an opportunity to get his
first good job, as a boilermaker at an oil refinery, he
sold himself as the best boilermaker they had ever seen.
The only hitch was that he didnít know what a
boilermaker was. But he got the job and kept it
until his health forced him to retire 34 years later.
That was an important lesson for me, a kid who grew up
during a time of prosperity. What I think about
now are the other things he could have taught me.
The conversations we could have had about woodworking.
The old-school lessons lost. If only Iíd been
interested enough to ask.
Last year my parents moved from the house they had lived
in since I was 15. The last time I visited they
were preparing for the move. From a closet my
mother had pulled a small chest her father had made
about 40 years before. He designed and made it to
store papers on his boat, a cabin-cruiser he named Loco.
For nearly as long as I can remember itís been full of
mementos. My mother and I spent some time going
through the contents. I enjoyed reading his high school
graduation program. Even my mother hadnít known
that he had won his schoolís carpentry award. But
what captured my attention was the chest itself.
An unremarkable design, this small piece is handsome,
well proportioned and very functional. Constructed
of mahogany it has a hinged lid and brass handles on
each end with a brass clasp on front. I discovered
details that I never would have noticed before I began
woodworking. What I saw was impressive.
years of use, many spent stuffed to the gills, the
well-executed joinery is still tight. The surfaces
are still flat. The original finish is still
perfect. The look is still pleasing. Without
a shop-full of tools, without a shelf-full of books,
magazines and DVDs and without Norm, he achieved exactly
what we all strive for: He made a cherished heirloom.
I hope, eventually, to have that chest. I have no
particular use for it but Iíd like to have it around.
And if I do my job as a father, someday my two boys, now
aged seven and five, will fight with each other to
decide which of them gets this small treasure made by a
man who died two decades before they were born.
I think Harry would have liked that.