“Do you need a right-handed or a left-handed door?”
“Let’s go with right-handed.”
“Do you need shims?”
“To help secure the door frame.”
“Well, I have a guy who is hanging it for me.”
“He’ll probably need them. If he doesn’t get it aligned properly, ask for your money back and come back to the store to get some shims.”
“I’ll just take the shims right now.”
“How about door hangers?”
“They help align the door.”
At this point, the Menards employee knew he was dealing with a guy who had no earthly idea what he was doing. He placed the door hangers (which look like brackets) on the door frame and tried to explain how to use them. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I took the door hangers anyway.
“How about paint?”
“Isn’t the door already painted?”
“No paint. A primed door is good enough.”
On my way home, I couldn’t help but wonder how my grandfather, who lived through the Great Depression and could fix anything, would have reacted to my lack of hardware knowledge. Then I remembered a quote from the John Adams HBO miniseries.
When Adams (portrayed by Paul Giamatti) arrives in Paris to ask the French for naval support of the American cause, he finds a culture he’s unfamiliar with – one much slower and engaged in the arts. Over a meal, he is asked about music and his response is thought-provoking.
“I must study politics and war, you see, so that my sons will have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons must study navigation, commerce and agriculture so that their children will have the right to study painting and poetry and music.”
My grandfather was on the front end of this spectrum in my family. He studied finance and repair, so his sons would have the liberty to study sales and management. This allowed me the right to study literature and writing.
This is not lost on me.
When a generation stops thinking about, appreciating and building on the sacrifices of the previous generation, we become self-absorbed. But when we build on the sacrifices of previous generations, it gives us a chance to live beyond ourselves.
I have a feeling my grandfather wouldn’t be disappointed in my visit to Mendards. Instead, he would smile about the fact that his sacrifices allowed me to become a writer. But he would also want to make sure I’m not taking my liberty for granted. He’s been gone for over 35 years, but I can still hear the question he might ask me: What are you studying that will benefit the next generation?
I would tell him technology. I’m not crazy about learning new technology. In fact, sometimes I find it maddening. But in the same manner in which he was able to teach himself how to repair lawnmower and dryer engines so he could fix appliances in my family when they went out, I have a knack for learning technology and then passing that information along.
How about you? I would love to hear about the sacrifices the people made in your family which allowed you the freedom to pursue what you love. And then tell me what you are doing for the generation behind you.