As some of you already know, last week I lost my third grandparent in the span of 10 months. My paternal grandmother died in December, my maternal grandmother followed in June and my maternal grandfather last week. A Facebook posting about Grandpa elicited a comment from a good friend about how I must have gotten the DIY gene from him. It occurred to me that all four of my grandparents contributed a great deal to my DIY spirit, and so I dedicate this post to them.
My grandparents were DIYers before DIY was even a recognizable acronym. Long before HGTV and DIY Network ever existed. Before cable TV even existed. Heck, even before color TV was around. They sewed their own clothes, built their own houses, fixed their own plumbing, grew their own gardens, canned and froze their own veggies, made their own jam and pickles, and worked on their own cars.
Penny pinching was at the root of much DIY in my grandparents’ generation. Having lived through the depression, they saw great benefit in saving money by doing things themselves. Grandpa Sprague loved to garden. He changed the oil in his vehicles, kept his lawnmower running and worked on household appliances, but the height of his DIY accomplishments was the beautiful mid-century modern home he built in the beautiful rolling hills of NY, just about an hour outside NYC when my dad was in high school (with a little coerced labor from his sons, of course).
Grandma Sprague drew up the plans for that house. She was a home economics teacher, and she was an artist with a needle. Everything she made was beautifully crafted. Every seam was perfect, and she never shied away from more difficult work like tatting and embroidery. I feel fairly safe saying that Grandma never purchased a gift. She was always making something to give away. She was also an artist in the kitchen, making all her sauces from scratch, and baking scrumptious cookies in huge quantities to freeze so they were always on hand. She worked full time, but her house was immaculate, and although they could have afforded it, a maid never stepped foot in Grandma’s house.
Grandpa Erlandson grew up on a farm. He loved to tinker and early on found his way around an engine. He eventually built a house from the ground up on the Minnesota plains outside Minneapolis for Grandma and him to live and raise a family in. He reused and recycled before there were cartoon characters to tout the benefits, knocking mortar off used bricks for use in building their first home.
Grandpa and Grandma Erlandson eventually helped their children build at least three houses that I can remember, in addition to working on countless projects in their children and grandchildren’s homes. I wonder how many other people have images of their grandparents in their late 60s lugging cement block around a construction site.
Grandpa not only kept the family’s vehicles running with his strong mechanical aptitude, he also built a tractor from scratch. And when my mom and her three siblings were all still at home, he built a pop-up camper for use on summer trips to the lake. Angle iron was his building material of choice, so if Grandpa built it, it’s probably still standing today!
Grandma Earlandson sewed, knitted, quilted, gardened and canned. She was a no-nonsense woman who sewed for many years to save money in the non-existent clothing budget, but in later years found joy in crafting. My favorite wedding gift is a beautiful white bed covering that she and my mother lovingly crocheted. Grandma took up painting in her 30s, decorating her home with her own landscapes and still-lifes, which grace the walls of her children and grandchildren’s homes today.
My grandparents always lived several hours away, but we saw them as often as we could, and I felt very close to each of them, especially my mom’s parents who lived within 3 hours of home for many years. I’m grateful for the many skills and abilities they passed along to my parents, siblings, and me. I’m grateful for a lifetime of warm, loving family memories. But I am especially grateful for the opportunity to enjoy my grandparents for so many years of my adult life, something few grandchildren get the chance to do.
Hey, it just occurred to me: Maybe my grandparents were on to something. Maybe DIY is the fountain of youth!! I think I’m going to go finish that grout now …
Date: October 27, 2010