By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Entries from July 2012
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Monday, July 2, 2012

Things I learned from Grandpa Chris

My Grandpa Chris was impressive to me when I was a kid and still is today, 40 years after he passed away.

He was an orphan and only had a third grade education but he was keen on learning and had some excellent habits for running his life. He retired at the age of 50 after having built a woodturning business in Rockford, Illinois literally with his own hands. He learned woodturning at one of the furniture companies in Rockford, then set out on his own. Another local furniture company was destroyed in a fire so he bought some of their machinery from the ashes for next to nothing. This was heavy duty steel machinery so, other than cosmetic damage and burned drive belts here and there, it was perfectly serviceable. Those same machines were still functional when his shop was sold sixty years after he built it.

He taught me how to build deadfall traps, how to out wit a charging elk, what life in the trenches was like in World War I and how to make the most of 8mm home movies. He taught himself to play the violin and made the music for family sing-alongs. He told stirring stories of Vikings and his Norwegian ancestors. He took the time to talk to and play with his grandkids. But I'd like to list here a few things he taught by example about developing good habits.

  • He was well read on practical subjects. He taught himself a wide range of practical skills and applied them.
  • He retained his curiosity and sense of awe late into his life. He was fascinated by the ventures into space prior to his death in 1972.
  • He kept a diary. It went back about thirty years. Most of it was notes about business. (Entry on my date of birth: Iris had a boy, Harry.) It wasn't chatty but I could see that it helped him keep things straight and helped with planning.
  • He documented things in an unusual way. If he bought a piece of furniture, for example, he would write when he bought it and what it cost on the underside. He ended up surrounded by a "distributed database" of information about the things he had done and never had a problem finding the information he was looking for.
  • He lived modestly but comfortably. This was critical to his ability to retire at age 50.
  • He enjoyed his trade and was very good at it. Much of the wealth he accumulated came during World War II when he as asked to create wooden prototypes of something (it was never clear to me what). They came to him because of his rare skill and was well paid for his work.
  • He supplemented his retirement income and entertained himself by continuing to take small but difficult turning jobs which he'd fill in his basement shop.


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