our “builder’s genes”

I have a memory when I was young, of visiting a family with girls about my age. What I recall, isn’t who, but what we played with:  Lincoln logs. I had never seen them before and I loved building with them. I always assumed they must be boy’s toys, because I was never given them as a gift and probably never even thought to ask for them.

When I was a young teen , I discovered model kits at a local shop and would save my allowance to buy wooden model train kits. I loved making them. When I was married and living in another state, my parents moved to a different house. Momie wrote asking me if I had anything stored in the attic that I might want before they got rid of it. It was many years later that I remembered the models. Too late. They are only a memory.

I had only one sister. She was the one who took on the homemaking chores in the house, while I much preferred to “hang-out” (to use current lingo) in the basement while my dad worked. His tools were neatly hung on the wall , outlines drawn around them, and the shop was immaculate. He was the one who could make anything, or so I thought. As a very small child, he made a doll house for my sister and I. It too, has long disappeared. I guess you can’t save everything.

My dad graduated from Harvard with a chemistry major but the year he graduated was 1928. Times were tough.  He got a job with a corrugated box company in Massachusetts. He sold boxes. It sounds pretty dull but he was on the road all over New England selling boxes to fruit growers and other industries until he retired.  I never thought much about what he did until I began to understand what he really did. He designed the boxes that he sold. It was in an era when fruit, guns and other items were shipped in wooden crates.

His boxes, which are common today, were corregated cardboard. I recall my dad coming home with a large supply of apples. He would design a box, stick the apples in it and climb up on the garage roof and toss the box down. Did the apples survive the crash? If it wasn’t just right he would return to the basement and construct another type of container. When it was right, he would take the package to the fruit growers, and then to his factory where they would make the boxes and a sale was made. I always thought he was just selling boxes. How much fun is that? But in fact he designed the boxes. The talent was there. (Oh, and we got to eat the apples.)

When Sea and I were married and living in our first apartment, I asked him to install a towel rack on the inside door under the kitchen sink. To be honest, I knew I could do it but I figured it was appropiate to ask him first. He did, and the screws came out to the front of the door. Ooops… he smiled and at that time, I knew I could have done it as well , and my screws would have been too long also. From then on, I did what I could and only asked for his help when it was beyond my capabilities.

We had very little furniture when we moved into that first apartment. My in-laws called it “American inheritance” style; a bed, table, chairs, an old sofa. We needed shelves for our books and a desk. Everyone needs a desk. So the first year or so, our living room was a shop and Sea built what we needed. He still uses the desk today in his office.

When my son was struggling with reading, we bought him model kits on the theory he would have to read the directions. He would show me the finished model, perhaps some parts missing, and I would ask where they belong.”Oh,”says he, “I don’t don’t read the destructions.” That has been a family saying now for years. Who needs the destructions.

The building genes continue. The youngest daughter does amazing marquetry and her goal, once, was to make every piece of furniture in their house. My son has built a play house for his girls in the back yard. I was told that one spring weekend he constructed (or is it destructed) a tree house for his little girls at their home on the island. The madrona tree was in just the right place. He could make a platform and a ladder out of scraps from his shed, and there the little girls, with their stuffed animals and their books, enjoyed a new tree house.

I remember an a-frame he built in our back yard one year when he was about nine years old. The nails were huge and stuck through the wood, you had to be careful entering, but it was his first major “destruction”. I assume the nails were not in the way for his little girls to climb to their tree house.

My granddaughter, Sarah has taken on raising chickens. She sent me a picture. I have to admit, I don’t share her interest in chickens, but the chicken coop she built from lumber left from an old shed is spectacular.

Then there is Phoebe (6) with the Legos, designing her play area with a boat , a dock, a tree and other equipment. Maybe her future will have something to do with building. I bought the baby Legos when the girls were born. Girls need buildng toys. I also bought a wooden train set before they were born. Even if no one else wanted a train set, I did. I almost bought Lincoln logs too. I am not sure you can even get them, but the Legos and train would do for a while. It was Phoebe who played with the Legos and who builds with the blocks when she comes to visit.

Now that she is old enough, the tiny Legos left from my own kids’ childhood have been added to the toy closet. The baby Legos, passed on to another child. Phoebe seems to be the one interested. It will be fun to see what else she enjoys. Maybe model trains ? Who knows.
NOTE the picture was taken in August 75 degrees… but the sweater, hat and mittens were new and just given to her. She finally did have to take them off. Love that kid.. 🙂

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2 Responses to our “builder’s genes”

  1. Linda Baie says:

    There is so much to respond to in your writing today! I loved the beginning & the fact that you finally realized that your father did more than sell boxes; the designer/builder gene must certainly reside in your family. Love the ‘destruction’ line. I might have to use that sometime. I am so bad at reading them too because I just want to leap right in. Our family has used and bought Lincoln logs for years, & they now reside at my daughter’s house, where her husband builds amazing structures for the two year old, who eventually knocks them down, but she’ll build eventually. They are wonderful to play with! And I loved the parts about all the building projects in your family. It seems that they build what they need, just as your husband did with your furniture. We did amazing things with bricks and boards in our early marriage! Thanks for the trip through the years; I connected with a lot of it.

  2. Wanda Brown says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. My husband is from a family of do-it-yourselfers. I have loved watching him evolve the same way his father and grandfather did. I have loved watching our boys watch dad only to go off and take care of their own homes. None of the work is that of a craftsman but it is always built with love and purpose.
    I am so happy you have passed your love of building onto the girls as well. We should never be afraid to tackle a project as women.

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