How Our Grandparents Used to Do Things

You ever read something, and your attention is caught by just one line or phrase, and it sends your mind down this tangent and you wake up from your daydream ten minutes later having no idea how you got there? Yeah. This happens to me all the time. So much for noticing what you’re noticing.

The title above is a phrase that struck me. It was part of a patriotic rant about something or the other. I dunno, I wasn’t paying attention. But that phrase caught my imagination.

I live in the house that my grandfather built, all by himself, between harvest and chores and raising a family. At the time, they were living in what is now our machine shop, with a wood stove, dirt floor, and no running water (All of which has now been corrected. Only the best for our tractors!)

You may have heard me bitch about my house. It’s drafty, it’s oddly designed, it’s aesthetically clunky. But it works.  The front door opens onto a mudroom with a sink to wash the grease or cow shit off before you go in. The kitchen table looks out over the yard so you can keep an eye on things over meals or during coffee. The easy chair in the living room faces both the TV and the hill where people drive up to our house.  The laundry room was under the laundry chute, which is in the only bathroom. The cold room is at the bottom of the basement stairs, as close to the kitchen as physically possible. There are closets absolutely everywhere you could jam a closet. True, they’re oddly shaped, crowded and often difficult to access, but there’s room for all of life’s accumulated detritus.

The basement is damp. Partly, this is because the foundation was poured in November, one wheelbarrow of hand-mixed concrete at a time. Partly, it’s because an underground waterway flows straight across the house, and when the water table rises, that’s where it goes.

But he built it all. By himself. Did he think to himself, “I’m no expert. I’ve never built a house before. I’ve never built kitchen cabinets. What if it doesn’t look good? I’m an amateur, not a professional. I don’t want my house to look like an amateur built it.”



The way our grandparents did thinks was a lot more about doing the damn things than about planning to do the things, visualizing doing things, or confidence boosting about our ability to do the damn things!

It had to be done, and it was.


Powerful stuff, that concept.


How would our lives be different if we just did stuff instead of letting the cabinet in our head argue it out first?

Sure, there might be more mistakes. But these “mistakes” would get done at a much faster clip, and more progress would be made than if things were examined over and over in your head.

Sure, our grandparents lived in a different world. For the most part, they just had to do what their parents before them had done. My great-grandfather built his own house too. And my great-great-grandfather. Each house was a little more audacious, had a few more conveniences, but they weren’t reinventing the wheel.

But I put it to you— how often, seriously, do you have to reinvent the wheel? Why all this anxiety about doing it different, or doing it right, or breaking the rules, or following the rules. What if, instead of paying any attention to anything else, you just went and did something, and saved all this introspection for, like, the final draft.

Because I bet you’re not building a house. I bet you’re not even building a shed. I’ll bet the most concrete thing you’re building is a word document that’s sole purpose is to house an idea. And the great thing about ideas is that they don’t take up too much space, and they’re cheap and easy to change. You won’t accidentally build a house with no doors. Shut up, sit down, and cough it up.


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