My grandfather all this life was a carpenter and stonemason by trade. After emigrating to New York at 17 he was part of a generation of men responsible for the majority of the New York skyline. In New York he met my Grandmother, a fellow emigrant, raven haired, tall and elegant she was irresistible, or at least that is exactly how I imagine it was knowing how incredible she is. Six children and a few years later they returned to the country of their birth, Ireland, specifically to county Clare. Here they raised their children and I am proud to say were actively involved in the lives of their grandchildren as well. I am the eldest grandchild of 15 and so was privileged to know my Grandfather for 20 years. I could speak for days about the influence he had and still has in my life, the lessons he thought me, experiences we shared and gifts I am so grateful to attribute to him. I admire my Grandfather, am in awe of his life and accomplishments and his legacy. I think it is fair to say that every connection we make in life is unique and no two people can ever know the same person the same way. My memories and my relationship with my granddad is specific to me alone, I think that is important to remember. So often, when loved ones who have past are involved, memories can become points of conflict with different people possessing different view points. People carry hurt and wounds differently and sometimes I have to remind myself that someone else’s baggage has no bearing over my memories and feelings, they are valid opinions but not my experiences. That I suppose was a little aside but likely a common occurrence within many families or indeed circles of people grieving the same person. Don’t turn on each other is my moral, respect and remember your own way.
To return to topic, one thing among several I inherited from my granddad was a capability to create and be useful with my hands. I love to be visorely part of a project and I suppose it helps that I have been raised a country girl, very much comfortable in the wild, or at least as wild as you can get in Ireland, braving the elements regardless of session. My Grandfather instilled a motivation to be skilled in a trade in his children. They not only live their lives with ‘conventional’ job but unavoidably having been raised by a laborer they grew up with the attitude that it was only logical to be capable of creating something for yourself by yourself. My father is a very talented carpenter amongst other skills, I dare say his father had an influence. He creates the most beautiful wood turnings, chippings, orients and houses. He has spent his life together with his father, uncles and brothers each summer working as contractors building houses from bare, vacant sites to homes. Every home I have lived in, and there have been a few was designed and built by either my father or my uncle. The house my parents still live in has lasted the longest, so far my family has lived there 12 years. This is quite the mile stone for us and I am determined as a child of displacement that it will be the last. I remember this house beginning as nothing more than an overgrown field, saw it develop to water locked foundation, timber frame to bare cement floors. I watched as my father, who is also a qualified architect drew the plan for the house on our dinning room table, allowing me his eldest first pick of my room if I could at 10 years old figure out what I was looking at. I could and to this day am rewarded with a beautiful bedroom. I remember my Grandfather building the intricate stone walls surrounding the house, I remember bringing his flasks of sustenance and listening to him give recommendations to my mother for which plants to place where. I remember wading through the foundations, following the bones of walls after my father and grandfather, listening to them talk tactic and progress. Being so involved in this process has made this house all the more a home for me and has given me such precious memories I couldn’t imagine being without. I have grown up taking road trips with my father and grandfather, a tiny 8 year old dropped into a field of grass up to my waist. I navigated my way through brush and weed, stood proud as directed and held a survey stick tall and straight. Looking back I don’t think I fully appreciated how different my youth was and how many skills and insights into the process of starting a build from nothing at all I unconsciously received. Over the years I have from time to time picked up a few more tricks and tips here and there but I did neglect taking full advantage of the knowledge my family possesses for a time.
Then two summers ago my father was hired to roof a house, a 7000sq foot house so no small feet. This size and type of job is definitely a two man undertaking and he would usually turn to a brother for assistance. As it happened his brothers weren’t available and so I was asked if I would consider becoming a roofer for a summer. I immediately accepted, admittedly completely naïve to what I had agreed to but excited at the prospect of being a part of something I had previously only observed and so proud that my father had deemed me a worthy work companion.
What ensued is simple enough, my father trained me in, I was treated no differently from any other site hand. I learned to mark and cut slates, felt the weight and rough edges of a stack, tested how much I could carry and built my strength. Having grown up on sites I’ve never been afraid of heights or scaffolding and so I guess I adjusted to the work quite naturally.
My job evolved as the build did and also as I became more familiar with the work and found my roof legs. Walking a roof is nothing to take lightly, it is dangerous and needs to be done carefully. To see my dad up there is incredible, he practically dances, so familiar with the way a roof moves, where to place his feet, shift his balance and angle himself just right so as to do his work most securely and comfortably. It took me some time and I clutched onto the lats for a while as I carried bundles of slates across the roof to my father to secure down. I was mostly the runner I suppose you would call it. I cut the slates, loaded them in piles at various spots around the house on the scaffolding, climbed up, transferred the piles to the lowest lat on the roof, climbed onto the roof and walked the slates in piles up and across the roof depending on where they were needed. It was a physically difficult job and also a very precise and important job, we all know how critical a roof is. I learnt so much in those three months and I think I also surprised a few people. I found my legs, I suppose being a dancer helped with the balance, I managed I think to be quick and efficient and accurate with the measurements I was given and slates I cut. More than a few times old school workers looked at me with out right confusion clearly baffled by a girl atop a roof for any reason especially for a laboring reason. I will admit this both amused and delighted me seeing them so surprised and impressed, I held my own and was determined to continue this family legacy. Sitting on the apex of the roof, overlooking the surrounding fields, seeing the sun travel across the sky, being a part of the progression of this house to a home gave me so much pride. Torn hands, earned calluses, skills inherited and more memories created, all these this I can attribute to that summer.
This is definitely not a conventional father daughter bonding experience but in many ways for me there could not have been a better or more appropriate one. It made me feel closer to my father, to his father, it showed me my strength and the satisfaction of accomplishing something truly daunting and scary. It felt like an unintended initiation into the family, I’m sure my father had no idea of the symbolism but for me I felt more connected than ever to my family and more sure of who I am and what I am capable of. I don’t know if ill ever get to physically pass this skill and experience along but I know I will pass the story and my family history along to the next generation one day. I am proud of where I come from, of the country life I lead and untraditional summers I’ve had and I think it will make for some pretty interesting late night stories one day, don’t you?