I am a fortunate man to have been able to know all of my grandparents for most of my life. I was 32 or 33 years old when my first grandparent passed and now, 5 years later, my last grandparent has passed.
I always viewed my Grandpa Pierce as a giant of a man. He was so strong and behind those eyes and smile, I knew there were plenty of stories to be told. I have heard some of them and I always wished that I could have spent weeks with him listening and recording his stories. It would be fascinating to hear his accounts of when he was in Hawaii during the attacks on Pearl Harbor. My brother told me that Grandpa was giving the Japanese fighters the finger as they were flying overhead. I don’t know if that is the truth or just a brother exaggerating the tale. A while back I was able to talk with Grandpa a little bit about his childhood. I actually posses the Civil War Rifle that was passed to him from his step-father. Emily made the intro montage of the Antiques Roadshow holding the rifle which is about two feet taller than her.
A large portion of my childhood Saturdays and summer vacations were spent in the business carrying his name…Larry Pierce Plumbing & Hardware. It is a small family owned business and I am so honored now, as an adult, to work and support the same type of businesses in the grocery industry. There is something that screams Americana when it comes to independent businesses, and my grandpa built one that supported his family, my father’s family and now my brother’s family. Oh the stories that can be told about working in “The Shop.” The countless hours huddled next to the space heater during the winter and the swamp cooler during the summer. The plunger baseball games, basketball hoops made out of boxes and balls of tape. I learned how to juggle while working at “the shop.” I tied those red towels into a ball and juggled for hours rather than dusting the shelves. The trips across the street to get a Taste-Freeze ice cream cone and the sandwiches from “The Pride of Italy.” Just mention the words “Inventory at the shop” and it will bring shudders of fright from most of my sisters as they had to spend a few hours counting pipe fittings, washers, and nails…they never had to spend their entire summer vacation at “the shop.” I am grateful to have had those opportunities and experiences.
My favorite memory of Grandpa Pierce was the only time I was ever excited to participate in a scouting event. I came home from Cub Scouts with my Pinewood Derby Kit ready to build the fastest race car ever. My mom was quick to have me solicit Grandpa’s help. I remember Biking the few blocks to his house. They had a steep driveway up to their house and their front yard was a slope of ivy. I met with grandpa in his woodshop area in the garage. His eyes lit up as we poured the contents of the Pine Wood Derby box onto his work-bench. He started talking about radiators and a clutch, words that were completely foreign to me at the time. Grandma brought out some chocolate chip cookies and we sat there, eating cookies and staring at the pile of items. I wasn’t quite sure what we were doing, or supposed to be doing; of course now I realize that images of the finished project were flying through Grandpa’s thoughts before he had even begun.
Every day for a week I would ride my bike to Grandpa’s house and mostly just watch him work. I would stare as his weathered hands would dip in and out of toolboxes grabbing miscellaneous items. The strength in those hands were amazing as he would shape the wood and work with the different tools, yet the strength would always abate as his master’s touch would give the wood a look of pure smoothness and perfection. I would help with little things like sanding and I chose the color of paint, but I knew that this was something that Grandpa absolutely loved doing and as his grandson, I thoroughly enjoyed going along for the ride.
When the Pinewood Derby Car was finished it was a work of art. It wasn’t built for speed. In fact, I believe it was the slowest car in the derby that year. As other scouts were weighing down their cars with weights and lubing their wheels with graphite (or whatever they use) I was cleaning the windshield. Grandpa had even put windshield wipers on the car. I had headlights, a radiator grill, side view mirrors, license plates, and hub caps. My sisters may all have their handcrafted hope chests that grandpa made them, but I won a trophy for the best looking Pinewood Derby car that year…and more importantly for me, I have a week of simple, but everlasting memories of being with grandpa in his work shop building a toy car.
I love you Grandpa and know that you are in a better place.