The House That Grandpa Built

The first image that came to mind when I was asked to write something for my grandfather’s funeral was a dollhouse. I was puzzled initially – what does a dollhouse have to do with anything? How is a dollhouse going to help me speak in front of a bunch of people without sobbing?

But then it came to me – Grandpa Ron built a dollhouse for my 4th Christmas, a beautiful dollhouse, so big, so full of detail. It’s in my parents’ basement now, as it has been for thirty plus years, probably covered in layers of dust. It needs some repair work, a few updates, but this house is still one of a kind. It has two stories, nine rooms, and each room has wallpaper of a different print, carpet of a different color. Grandpa glued hundreds of tiny individual wood shingles on the roof and one side is hinged so that when opened a storage area or attic is revealed. There is a staircase that connects the top and bottom floors and it is a two-bathroom home. How many doll families do you know that can say they have two full baths? The sides of the house are painted red and over the paint, Grandpa drew thousands upon thousands of tiny perfectly shaped bricks with a pencil. Even as a child, the tediousness of this small detail was not lost on me. It must have taken hours.

Thinking about the toy that Grandpa Ron built for me, and specifically it’s tiny hand drawn bricks, I understood why the dollhouse had popped into my head.

Grandpa Ron was a builder, a builder of things.

He built toys, cabinets, shelves, furniture, houses, additions, and buildings. My own children play every day with toys he built when I was little. The homes of my sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and parents, are filled with his beautiful custom wood work. You can’t drive through the surrounding towns without seeing a house or structure that he helped to design, build, redesign, or rebuild. Each project he did was completed with attention to both quality and detail. He built with his hands, wood, and tools.

Grandpa Ron was a builder, a builder of community.

His work with youth organizations helped to build the character of many young people in this community. He designed and built with the help of others the church hall addition which made the church accessible to all and strengthened the presence of faith in our community. His long history of participation and leadership with boards, committees, and organizations equals many, many hours of service to others. He built a company with my dad, quite familiar to those who have had their AC go out in August or their furnace stop working in January. He headed the project to build the Veteran’s Memorial at the local park, a tribute that now brings hundreds of community members together every year for Memorial Day. Grandpa Ron spent his life contributing to the betterment of this and several nearby communities. He built with hard work, his mind, and time.

Grandpa Ron was a builder, a builder of family.

He and Grandma Sara built a strong, loving family. Each of their children in turn built their own family and their children are now doing the same. Five children, fifteen grandchildren, and four plus great-grandchildren, not to mention all the lucky souls who have married into this circus. Despite the ever-increasing size of our family, Grandpa Ron was quietly present in all we did. He kept up with each of us and never missed an opportunity to let us know he was proud. In his words, “There’s not a deadbeat in the bunch!” The most important thing he did in his life was to teach us, his family, to build too. First he showed us how to work hard. Then he taught us to use our hands, our minds, and our time as tools to build things, to build community, to build our own families. Like the thousands of tiny bricks he drew on the side of my dollhouse all those years ago, he put time and attention to detail into each member of his family. He built with pride, presence, and love.


Grandpa Ron and Nikki, Christmas 1984


12 thoughts on “The House That Grandpa Built

  1. Pingback: Sunday Share: Y2W20 | All In A Dad's Work

  2. Now that was beautiful. So glad I came here from Eric’s blog. Isn’t it awesome to consider that you’re a legacy of a person like that? What an enduring gift to the world.

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