Published in the Globe and Mail, 2017
I like doors open. Glass doors are good too. See through. Privacy is important — I understand that — but in my home, I encourage open doors and open communication.
I’m having a new door installed for my home office. Well, the door’s not new, but it’s new to my home. It is larger and heavier than modern doors, and the glass pane in the centre boasts a huge Chargex sticker, which I feel adds an important historical — and perhaps symbolic — flavour.
I refinished the wood around the glass several years ago when my father and I discovered the door hidden away in the top of our old barn next to an old fashioned bathtub and some antique buckets. After stripping away the cracked paint, I moved the door to my newly renovated home in Toronto. Now, my house in the city sold, the door has come with me to my new place in the small town of Goderich, where it originated.
The door first came to purpose at the office of my grandfather’s automotive shop, likely back in the 60s, before I was born. My grandfather moved his shop around a few times during his career so I don’t know from which spot the door originated, but I suspect it came from the quaint building on the east side of town which is now a hair salon. (The building still retains the tell-tale shape of a gas station but I’m sure the hair product fumes have long covered up the smell of engine oil.)
I knew my grandfather, but I did not know him while he was a business owner. My father used to regale my sister and me with stories about the goings on in my grandfather’s tire shop: hilarious jokes (usually sexy or dirty), card playing, drinking, and indiscriminate candy-eating. My grandfather had been, according to my father, a great story-teller. I imagined him sitting on a stool, his pipe in his mouth, his red cap askew on his head, holding forth, his audience (customers) captivated as he regaled them with incredible adventure and hunting stories that would go on through the afternoons and evenings, through tire changing and engine tuning.
As a child I was struck by this, not only because it seemed amazing that a shy person such as myself could be related to someone with such charisma, but also because this image clashed so strongly with the grandfather I knew.
The grandfather I knew never spoke, at least he never spoke to me, and rarely in my presence. When my sister and I would visit our grandparents’ home, he sat in his brown recliner, read the paper, and smoked his pipe.
That is all.
He did not acknowledge us, he did not smile at us, he did not associate with us in any way. He was an accepted presence in the house, like a harmless ghost one tolerates but never interacts with.
He would spend hours at our farm, weeding the garden, cutting and piling wood for the furnace, and clearing trails back in the bush. But telling adventure stories to my sister and me? Sharing jokes and playing cards?
It never occurred to me to question this aspect of my grandfather. My grandmother was loving, fun, and attentive and made up for any lack of interest from my grandfather. I had never known a time when my grandfather had shown any interest in me, so I did not miss it. I didn’t question why he behaved as he did, why he never spoke to us. Children accept the reality they are given.
But I do remember when my grandfather tried to change. He had been diagnosed with cancer by then, something that was either kept from me, or something I was too young to think of worrying about. My sister and I had been out in the shed assisting Grandma with some task. We’d been sent inside to collect something: perhaps a tool, a stepladder, or a basket. I can’t recall. Whatever the project was, I remember being excited about it. Likely we were going to pick cherries from the tree in the backyard. (Cherries were, and still are, enough to get me excited.)
As we hurried inside and down the basement steps, my grandfather poked his head into the stairwell, and said, “Hello there,” in a friendly voice. My sister, older than me and with deeper understanding of the gravity of the situation, stopped, stared, and waved. She said, slowly, “Hello Grandpa.” Looking back, I recall the shocked look on my sister’s face more than my grandfather’s voice. I remember I also stopped and stared for a moment. A short moment. Then I remembered that Grandma was waiting for whatever it was we were collecting, which was somehow exciting and important. Cherries, likely. Without another word, my sister and I continued on our way.
He never spoke to me again. He died about a year later.
I found out at some point that he had been holding a grudge against some perceived slight that someone in my immediate family had apparently committed years earlier. In some show of manliness (stubbornness), he’d stopped speaking to my sister and me. It would be sad, if it weren’t so stupid.
I don’t claim my grandfather as inspiration for this, but in my house, if there are disagreements or fights, I do not allow the silent treatment. I do not allow grudges. No one goes to bed angry. Problems must be worked out through incessant communication, and if that doesn’t work, through tickling.
I have my grandfather’s door. And it’s a fine door. It’s too big for my new home office as is, but I’m hoping to have it shaved down. I like the see-through glass, a symbol of open communication, and I’ll leave the Chargex sign intact, a reminder of cost. The cost of stubbornness. The cost of silence. The cost of cherries, hand picked from the tree in the back yard.