I used my grandpa’s level for a recent home improvement project. It’s wooden, sanded smooth and stained a deep walnut brown. Or, maybe it’s worn smooth from use, from being pressed against walls and beams and the oils of my grandpa’s hands conditioning the wood, him wiping it clean before putting it away, I imagine always in the same spot. I never met my grandpa, so what I know of him is what I have heard from others. He went to the Colorado School of Mines, I think. He worked in the coal mines that hugged the Ohio-West Virginia border. He taught my father how to set and check trap lines. He took care of his tools. In my mind, my grandpa is a black-and-white photograph and made up of these details, statements rather than stories.
Between my grandpa and me, my dad had the level. Shortly after Levi and I were married, my dad gave us a Craftsman bag filled with basic starter tools—extras he had that would come in handy while living in a first apartment. Everything was well cared for. My dad takes care of what’s his. It’s one of the things I admire most about him. Everything has a place, everything is cleaned, instruction manuals are catalogued. Were those values instilled in him by my grandpa? Or from my dad’s time in the Marine Corps? Or maybe, a bit of both?
I wonder what my grandpa would think about me using his level to build something. I was told he knew I was on the way. My mom was pregnant with me when he died. So, in a way, I feel like I would have been to him what he is to me: known, but not. I wonder if it would make him happy that I am using his tools to build a place where his great-grandchildren will hang their coats and school bags.
I hope he would notice I am taking care to build something correctly. Measure twice and then twice again and then make the cut. I would guess he would probably think it is senseless that I plan to hang the level on one of the walls above this project. A reminder of the man I never knew, the one who came before my dad. More so, a reminder of some of the values and lessons my dad has taught me, that may have trickled down through generations: build with care. Take care of what is yours.
And that’s what this small home improvement project was really all about. Creating a place where my kids can stumble inside, weary from another day in the world, and shed their coats and bags. A first glimpse of home, a safe space where they can leave any expectations and undue weight at the door. I hope it smells like home when they walk in. Something baking in the oven. Scrubbed countertops. Clean laundry and cozy throws. Most of all, I hope when they step inside and walk through that back hall, they feel a home built with care, and know just how deeply they are cared for.