May Does It Again

If you've been around here for awhile, you've heard about how I hate the month of May. Last May was lousy because my grandfather found out he had a very rare form of cancer called angiosarcoma. (It's so rare that when they finally made the diagnosis they decided it was probably a result of him working all those years in the weapons plants in Oak Ridge.) This stuff is so nasty they don't try chemo or (more) radiation. They just amputated the leg they found it in.

As bad as that was, he fought it and seemed to get past it. He learned to live without the leg and life went on. But as cancer usually does, it came back. He lasted a year before it finally got him. And that's why May 2007 sucked harder than May 2006. I don't really have the writing ability to give him the sort of tribute he deserves, but I'm at least going to share a few of my memories of him.

My very earliest memory of him is riding in his boat. I don't think I ever rode it while it was actually in the water though. Every time we went to visit them I apparently insisted he hook up the riding mower to the trailer and he drove me and that boat around in circles in the yard. I couldn't have been more than five at the time, and I've been told I could go for hours just hooping and hollering and pretending to drive that old boat.

He was a handy guy and the ultimate back yard mechanic. He was a machinist at the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge and carried his love of tools home with him. His basement was the ultimate adventure for a kid. Dirty and dark and full of treasure. Tools and any car or appliance parts he thought might come in handy down the line. That old basement had everything from screwdrivers to a lathe. (When they sold the house I got a treasure trove of tools.) As I got older the boat rides were phased out in favor of checking out the current project down in the basement. It started out with car parts and broken appliances and morphed into computers he was putting together. At the funeral my dad told me that all his earliest experiences with his future father-in-law involved holding the light for some repair project.

The memories of that old basement are too many to count but two really stand out. Through a very convoluted process my little brother ended up with a light fixture from the Farris Wheel at the 1980 World's Fair in Knoxville. So we took it to the basement and Granddaddy made us a lamp out of it. I was nine years old and very impressed that someone I knew could make lamps. My other great memory of that basement came when I was in college. I was invited to join the civil engineering honor society, and there was one last test. All the noobs were given a pattern and a board. The test was to somehow get the board cut into that pattern (which involved the Greek letters for C and E). Everyone else was stumped, but I just took mine to Granddaddy and after an hour in the basement we had just what we needed. And I knew a little more about woodworking.

I don't think it's unrealistic for me to say I was his favorite grandchild. I was the first of nine grandchildren, and we were kindred spirits. He was very excited when I decided to become an engineer, and a lot of the qualities that make me a good engineer I think were passed down from him. Had his financial situation been better I have no doubt he would have blazed a trail as an engineer designing whatever he wanted. When I was considering which engineering school to go to he gave me a tour of his shop at UTK. (He got a job there after retiring from the nuclear plant in Oak Ridge.) It was a measure of how much the professors valued him that I got to meet the Dean of the College of Engineering. Not many junior college transfers did that. I think he was a little dissapointed when I picked Tennessee Tech instead, but I made up for it later when I went to grad school at UTK.

But that shop was the star attraction. It was like his basement on steroids. The stand out projects were a giant mirror that he cut and polished with a laser. It was slated for a communications satellite. And a table that floated on a cushion of air that was designed to be an extra stable platform for the professors to conduct expirements.

So those are my memories of my grandfather. He was a great man who always had a kind word and a helpful opinion (and a fix-it project). I suspect I was no longer the favorite after the youngest grandchild was born, but I don't hold it against him. It's hard to resist a kid that cute, especially when he's named after you.