A couple of years ago, I built a home nestled in a canyon between two mountains on the edge of a national forest.
It is where I go to rest, reflect and center my family and myself. It is a small house and none of the doors match. The architects and builders who worked on it didn’t understand what I was doing at first. The plans had called for these beautiful doors and matching cabinetry throughout. Instead, we went to old yard sales and second hand stores and bought old dressers and vanities and made them into sinks for the bathrooms. We said no to the heavy $1500 doors and purchased 10 or twelve old used doors for no more than a 100 bucks each. None of them matched in either size or color. We had them installed as almost all shook their heads.
“Why would this family that could have the best, use these doors and cabinets?” They all wondered. What they figured out once it was finished, was – we had a different definition of “best”. We wanted something real. Authentic. Something that felt like the house my grandfather built.
Grandpa Janssen was a jack-of-all-trades. A man who never made it to the fourth grade, yet could speak or understand at least four languages. He couldn’t read and he made sure no one knew that, as he was the top machinist at Boeing in Seattle. Little did his bosses know he couldn’t read any of the blue prints. He didn’t need to, he could figure it out.
My grandfather never had a lot of money and so everything he built was from scrap and nothing matched and yet strangely in the end, just like our small home in the mountains, everything matched.
Last night, I think I became my grandfather.
In the summer, back on his tiny farm we would come to visit and work all summer, feeding the chickens, cleaning out the coupes and gathering the eggs. I don’t think we ever got “paid” – it was just what we did. The summer nights were hot and there wasn’t an air-conditioned house on the entire street. I would always sleep in the attic. It was hotter up there, but without the attic it was a one-bedroom house. My sisters would sleep with my grandma downstairs where it was cooler and my grandfather would open the door smaller than the rest and climb the impossibly steep steps to the attic where the two of us would try to sleep. We rarely fell to sleep rapidly. It wasn’t just the heat or lack of breeze. Rather, it was my grandfather’s stories of his childhood and life, be them made up or true.
It was hot last night at the base of “my mountain”.
Tania and Cheyenne slept in the kid’s room while Raphe and I opened up the windows in my room and tried to get to sleep. We didn’t try very hard and it wasn’t the heat or lack of breeze.
First we talked about the events of the day, the hard work rounding up the cows, mending a fence, looking for badgers and my sons first time “loping” with his horse. Suddenly I felt my grandfather’s life merging with mine. I smiled and told my son some of the tales that my grandfather told me as we tried to get to sleep. We laughed, shushed each other as to not wake the others in the house. And before long, I had pulled out the flashlight next to the bed stand.
I, just as my grandfather had done, propped it on my pillow and we began to make shadow puppets on the wall. Cops and robbers quickly followed birds and bears. It was in the middle of a bear vs. Godzilla fight when my wife suddenly appeared and simple said, “Boys, knock it off and go to sleep.”
We both sheepishly grinned and said that we were sorry and that she was right.
I kissed my son good night as he snuggled close by my side, safe, content and sleepy. As I lay there smiling, I reflected on just how much I love and miss my grandfather. It was at that moment that I remembered my summers in the attic as with the help of the moonlight I could just make out my mismatched door.