In the 20’s my great grandfather was in the building outhouses trade. He built a lot of them in the town he and my great grandmother grew up in. Then, as indoor plumbing started making its way into the town, driving the value of an outhouse down, they moved further out into the country where there was no indoor plumbing in sight.
They followed this cycle for several years as more and more sewer lines were laid, pushing them further into the wilderness. At each stop great grandpa would build a house for the family, which grew as it traveled. Each house looked like a larger version of his classic outhouse design, but they always held up and kept the family safe.
My grandmother met my grandfather in the town the family finally settled in. Great grandpa was getting tired of relocating and with no son to pass the business along to he hired my grandfather fresh out of school. As it happens in small towns, my grandfather began courting my grandmother for a couple months before they got married. They all lived in the same house for a time as grandpa and great grandpa built the newlyweds a house of their own. Grandpa updated the design of the house and they finished just as my mom was born. Grandma always used to tease grandpa about flying into the hospital 100 miles an hour when he got the news. The hospital was two towns over and grandpa and great grandpa were making finishing touches on the house when they heard grandma was in labor. Great grandpa swore they’d never get his butt clenched prints out of the bench seat of the truck after the death ride to the hospital.
When I was younger I used to love hearing great grandpa talk about joists and framing walls and polyurethane. We would sit on the back porch listening to a ball game on the radio and he would sometimes give me a sip of beer. That was our secret. But he would tell me stories of moving from town to town, building buildings for people to shit in; his words, but poetic nonetheless. It all sounded so adventurous and exciting, so much different than my fairly stable childhood.
Great Grandpa died last winter at the ripe old age of 97. He outlived most everyone his age, including my great grandmother. After she passed, much of the romance left his story telling, but I always loved visiting. I’d help out around the house as he was getting too old to do much and he’d watch to make sure I fixed everything correctly. ‘This house has been here damn near 70 years’, he’d say. ‘You keep it up it’ll be here another 70 more.’ And I have, I’ve tried at least. I want that to be the place I can take my grand kids some day and tell them stories of my own. Stories of their great great grandpa.