Grandpa in His Garage

Grandpa Adams 1962 You see, there’s a photo. I can picture it in my mind’s eye, but I can’t locate the actual print or slide.

It was taken by my maternal grandfather, Ray Adams. Of that I’m fairly certain.

You know how young children often stare meditatively at random things? Well, this photo cast that sort of spell over me. It’s an interior shot, taken in the 1960s, of a huge auditorium, much like the downtown Minneapolis armory. It was snapped from high in the grandstand seats. In the frame is a lone smudged window at the far end of the building.

I don’t know why that image still haunts me, but it does.


He was the first modern man.

Ray Adams was born on Oct. 10, 1900. He witnessed nearly a century of change. And he directed the course of the modern world all from a workbench in his Greensburg, Ind., garage.

If I concentrate really hard, I can still recall its smell: oil cans, radiator fluid and gasoline—a dusty yet faintly sweet smell emanating from a crawlspace attic overhead. The workbench shelves were lined with clear plastic organizer trays and used coffee cans.

After he’d retired from the Indiana Gas Company, Grandpa happily embraced his new life. He was all about gadgets, cameras and new toys. And he was a big charmer with all his friends and neighbors, hanging out with the guys down at the corner fire station. Since Mom was an only child, he and Grandma took a strong interest in me and my brother (photo above left, helping with my new car dashboard at Christmas, early 1960s).

Grandpa died on Sept. 9, 1996. But I clearly recall what was probably my last visit with him, thanks to the journal I was keeping at the time.


In early May 1993 I went down to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit my University of Iowa college roommate Bud Morris. I’d stood up in his wedding a couple of years before, and I needed to use up some vacation time from my last corporate job.

I love road trips. And this was one of the best I’d ever taken.

The journal entry for Monday, May 3:

“So I go down to Greensburg. I pass signs I recall from babyhood—infancy—adolescence—I’m going through it again down the gullet of all I thought I’d pass (knowing in the back of my head they will all die and I will too and no one will ever know this happened the way it did then AND now!!!) The weather gets better, looks great, and I’m thinking about Loooooouiville and all the champs I know down there with horses and green grass and sweet long talk … I take a leisurely drive and get to Grandpa Adams’ oh, I think about 10am, and I stop in and drop off my stuff and take a shower and change clothes. We visited, then decided to get out and hit garage sales and do lunch.”

So, here’s the man who commandeered the family slide shows, who scoured garage sales with my Dad and likely helped him buy my foot locker.

Here I am at 32 years old, and Grandpa will be 93 that fall:

“We went to three garage sales and had lunch at Frisch’s Big Boy. It was sustenance, the way I took it. I’ve always found it easier to chat with Grandpa Maupin than I have with Grandpa Adams. I think it has everything to do with temperament. That’s probably the formula to an ideal marriage—just a guess. He knows everyone in Greensburg—at 92 I’d guess that is a just reward, but I was quickly bored. We visited with Teresa down at ‘the Beauty Shop,’ and then Grandpa gave me $5 to put down on a horse to win—I helped him pick Storm Tower (which I actually bet on down in Louisville).

Ah, the “Beauty Shop,” aka as “Ruby’s.”

When I was a child, Grandma and Grandpa used to take me down to Ruby’s beauty parlor and prop me up in the stylist chair where I caught all the local gossip. After Ruby passed away, Grandpa befriended its new owner, a young woman named Teresa. After Grandma died in 1981, Mom was forever frustrated by Grandpa’s attentions to Teresa, which was understandable after she learned about his infidelity to Grandma decades before.CITD_Adams

For me, Greensburg, Ind., passed from memory ages ago, only to intrude again in April 2012, when my brother and I finally put our parents to rest. My memories are filled with mourning doves cooing, the radio tower’s blinking red light, the austere, old Victorian mansions with gables and wrought-iron fences, the Methodist church, and “sidewalk cracks—step on one and break your mother’s back.”

The man owned that town. But I couldn’t wait to get out.

Of course, before I left he had to get some photos, which I wrote about in the journal:

“He took some pictures by the blooming tulips and then I hit the road again (FREE!) around 2pm. The sun was shining and I stopped in the Greensburg Liquor store and bought two 12-ounce cans of Coors … and slammed them on the way to Columbus, Indiana, to hook up with the Highway down to Louisville. Wow what a great day that was to do that, two was just enough and made it bright. Life and Freedom are simple things like cold beer and a bright road and hopes ahead. Jesus I love you for that. I don’t really want for more, and if it sounds hokey, well okay. That’s how I felt.”

Yeah. That’s how I felt.

~ by completelyinthedark on June 13, 2014.

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