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All About Grandfathers

August 7th, 2020 by dk

Last week was all about grandfathers for me. Both of my grandfathers came to mind as I labored over some overdue summer chores, and my sons lost the only grandfather they’ve ever known after a prolonged decline.

The week started with me painting a few bathroom doors. I have always succeeded in avoiding this particular task because there’s always something else that also needs doing. Painting is always dead last on my list when dividing chores comes up.

I had an abusive grandfather who deployed his grandchildren as free labor to repaint a rental house he owned in our neighborhood. I was probably 10, maybe 12. He got me started in a bedroom closet. Hours later, he returned to find me still in the closet, trying desperately to match the wet wall with the dry wall.

I succeeded avoiding painting for a half a century after that, until Monday. Brushing on the paint, back and forth, I tried to not overthink the drink. I also tried to not look back — on the drying sections of the half-painted door, or on those moments that still color my childhood memories.

Fortunately, I married into a family of hard workers. My boys’ grandparents were always on the move. Their idea of a vacation was a service trip to construct buildings for the needy. They taught my sons how to work with their hands. They’ve grown up around tools and the trades, thanks to my ex-wife’s parents.

They came to visit us in Eugene a year after we got settled. I didn’t know the way to Home Depot and I had never been inside Jerry’s until my father-in-law decided he would do some home improvements while they visited. He didn’t ask me or my children to help, but he also didn’t refuse when help was offered.

After he passed away early last week, everybody had a story about something he built or did. His contributions outlived him. He left behind much love, stored in the projects he undertook. 

I thought I was finished with generational look-backs for the week, but I had one more coming. My elder son flew to Connecticut for his grandfather’s funeral, so I had to learn how to work his riding lawn mower.

I told him I’d never been on a riding mower before and I believed that to be true. But as I began looping the yard, I felt a rumbling. It wasn’t under me; it was inside. I had done this before, when I was very young, on my gentler grandfather’s farm.

I felt myself transported back, bouncing on his lap. It was a hot summer day in southern Missouri. The sun was blinding. The dust of mulching dry grass covered my toddler face. I marveled at a man connected to his tool and his trade.

That was new to me then. It was also uncomfortable. As I bumped along down Memory Lawn, I imagined my earliest self doing the same and thinking in the most childlike way, “I’d better get a college education.” In unexpected ways, those moments shaped my future.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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