Mad In Pursuit Notebook

League of Grandfathers

grandfather hand1.25.2013. I found a dream that I jotted down, from years ago, when I was trying to get going on some work. The gist of it was that I'd gotten all tangled up inside a tree hollow. Then a man took hold of me by the ankles and pulled me out. Kind of a symbolic breech birth into the ordeal of a new project.

It got me thinking about who helps you when you're stuck, when you're in a place where even your most loving friends and relatives can't give you what you need. Religious people are lucky to have a ready-made pantheon of guardians and heavenly assistants: the Blessed Mother, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Christopher for safe travel, St. Anthony for lost objects, etc. I'm not so religious, but I still wouldn't mind some invisible and powerful friends to see me through challenges, large and small -- "mentor-beings" the Buddhists might say.

Writing "Tribe of the Breakaway Beads" helped me discover my foremothers. I do have a host of spiritual helpers when it comes to needing womanly courage, gritty fortitude or leadership/independence -- my moxy posse.

But what about project work? Who tells me to be patient? To be methodical and systematic? To work it through, one step at a time? Who pokes me when I'm tempted to quit? Who reminds me that frustration is just one phase of the overall process? Who blesses my nerd-ness?

I don't think that the American culture has much room now for nerd-heroes. Sports, of course, requires tremendous concentration and systematic practice but now we are suspicious about how many greats were cheaters -- and can drugs really be the short-cut to success? People in show biz are tremendously dedicated to perfecting their craft, but their hours of practice are well-hidden behind the bad-ass fa├žades. And, sadly, we are daily subjected to the American-individualist meme that success comes only with sharp elbows, a concealed side-arm, and scoffing at the rules.

That isn't helpful to me.

I thought of Jim's intense reading about great men in the history of science, medicine and public health as he made his way through his professional life -- including that uber-nerd Charles Darwin. Maybe Darwin would fit in my get-it-done pantheon. How about Ben Franklin? Thomas Edison?

But then I thought, hey, what about my own grandfathers? I'm lucky to have three. The two I knew -- Walter Price and Ewald Curran -- were both cursed with arthritic hands, but those hands were always outstretched to help. And they were armed up with toolboxes and know-how. Grandpa Price was a carpenter from a long line of carpenters and tailors -- no-nonsense craftsmen. Ewald was a pressman by trade, known for his ability to teach and to troubleshoot issues on the largest of four-color presses. On the homefront, he could tackle any plumbing or electrical issue and make it work.

The third grandfather was Thomas Barrett, who died in 1926, at age 44. He owned grocery stores, started from scratch -- how many details did he need to be in command of to keep the doors open and to prosper? In his spare time, he invented at least one board game that was developed to the point of getting a patent.

Project guys!

I can add to them my great-grandfather Moses Flanagan, who began as a cabinet maker and ended his career as a project manager for a planing company before he decided to set up shop for himself (unfortunately, shortly before he died at age 52). Other great- and great-great grandfathers (Barretts, Dunnes, Martins, Kevilles, etc) were farmers -- no mistaking the get-it-done knowhow and communal helping hands required for that.

So now I'm establishing a category of mentor-beings I will call GRANDFATHERS. Some religious folks think of God as grandfatherly, but that's ridiculous. Grandfathers are demi-gods -- gouty creatures with big hands and toolboxes, always standing by to remind us to be patient, do it right, and get it done. Maybe I will let Thomas Edison and Ben Franklin into this club too.