My grandfather, my mother’s father, Jacob Stocker, was born October 7, 1904. He passed away some years ago, in 1989. And frankly, I don’t remember much about his last years. Partly because they were our/my “me” years, the lost 1980’s…I regret them very much.
What I remember though is, he was a very calm and quiet man, rugged and tan, because he worked as a foreman for Nelson Brother’s Construction Company. He had a shock of white hair and a large angular nose that I sort of see when I look in the mirror (I like to think of it as exotic). Grandpa could snooze in a chair or gaze out a window with lots of noise going on around him. He was an observer. In fact one of my favorite things he said, and he said this to my husband in answer to his question, “How come you are so quiet Grandpa?” He said, “I never learned anything when I was talking.”
My grandfather was a resource and resident expert on all matters of construction in the family. He was a craftsman. He had a workshop in the basement of my grandparent’s home in Racine, Wisconsin. We felt lucky to visit the workshop to see what Grandpa was working on in his spare time. He experimented with a few furniture designs and was very much influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright. This was no accident. My grandfather was the construction foreman on the Johnson Wax Buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. My uncle, Richard Stocker, corrected me on this point, he said he was more correctly
“project superintendent rather than a foreman. Foremen report to the superintendent and directly run the crews performing the construction. The superintendent oversees the entire project. And the main reason he was in charge of the Johnson Wax Tower was because of his engineering and architectural background. Because the structure went beyond what the building code covered with its tree-like cantilevered construction it had to be test loaded in the field under the guidance of someone with dad’s expertise.”
There is an unidentified picture of my grandfather standing on top of the tower with Frank Lloyd Wright in the book about their construction, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Johnson Wax Buildings, by Jonathan Lipman. My grandfather is named as a resource and quoted in the construction section. Every time I see the picture, feel the book in my hands I marvel at the professional man I never knew but still admire. The project manager and problem solver that he no doubt was inspires me and I aspire to be like him.
My uncle Rich adds more about his father’s quiet reserve and knack for summing things up simply. “Don’t worry, nothing ever turns out right anyhow.” And, “Some people would kick if you hung them with a new rope.” And, “Self praise and self pity stink.” These all have and still help me get through certain moments when levity is the only solution. Don’t know if he coined the phrases but because he was a man of few words he’s the one that made them stick in my mind.
Today I’m grateful for the legacy my grandfather left us, in physical and emotional characteristics, and in the professional influence his craftsmanship made.
Postcard image of the Johnson Wax Buildings, Racine Wisconsin.
Photo above taken on my First Communion Sunday in October of 1962.