Knowledgeman

Writing what I know.

Never stop tinkering.

with one comment

My mom called me last week to tell me my grandfather had died. He was 95. My initial reaction was remarkably singular — a feeling of admiration, envy even, in the way that he lived at full speed, right up until the last few weeks.

My mom skillfully framed the broad sweep of his classic American success story in his obituary this morning. From his family’s orange farm to Cal Tech.  From Cal Tech to the Manhattan Project.  An international engineering career with bouts of entrepreneurship thrown in.  A marriage that lasted over fifty years, which yielded a daughter and two grandchildren. More friends and colleagues than I’ll ever have in my life.  There’s not much to mourn here — he had an amazing life, which was healthy, full, and long.

My earliest memories of him are from the basement of his house in Scarsdale, in his workshop, hands covered in grease, pulling apart something in the house, or one of his cars, just to see if he could put it back together again. It drove my grandmother crazy, but amused the rest of us. His weekdays were spent solving some of the grand engineering problems of industry. On the weekends, no mechanical problem was too small to escape his interest. In the way that my grandmother never stopped talking, he never stopped tinkering. I took after my grandmother. My brother Chad took after my grandfather.

My grandfather and I didn’t always see eye to eye. When I was younger I enjoyed his gift for tinkering about as much as he enjoyed my gift for debate, which often got me in trouble with him. Yet over time, I came to appreciate engineering, and by extension, I understood him better. Software got me into tinkering, as did working with ideas, cooking, entrepreneurship, and gardening. I was full of questions for him over the last ten years. How did you do this? Why did you do that? What was it like to work on X? I suppose it was partially the history major in me, but more than that, I finally identified with him, and for that I’m grateful.

My wife Denise is convinced that his constant tinkering kept him sharp right until the end. He took to repairing clocks for the residents of his retirement home. His MacBook, cell phone, and digital camera provided endless amusement for him, though I suspect he was more interested in their capabilities than in actually using them.  Whenever he was stumped, you could hear him muttering under his breath, “What goes on here?”

I once asked my grandfather for his advice on living so long. I’ll never forget his answer, “stretch and save.” He explained that “stretch and save” wasn’t his answer for living a long life, rather, if you find yourself living a long life, you’ll want to be flexible and have money in the bank. I’ll take the more liberal interpretation Papa, and argue that stretching your mind is equally as important as stretching your body. I’ll enter your irrepressible passion for tinkering and 95 years on earth as evidence to support my claim. Rest in peace.

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Written by Christopher Parsons

July 9, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Chris,
    Thanks for sharing this.

    Peter Braun

    July 11, 2011 at 8:02 am


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