Sep 8, 2008
One of the least used stairwells at work smells like my grandfather.
I can’t find a common theme there – my grandfather was quiet like the stairwell, but not completely quiet except for the slamming of doors and the scuffling of feet. People, if anyone even uses this particular stairwell, tend to talk normally in these kind of stairwells, but given that they lack carpeting or other objects to muffle the reflection of hollow sound, tend to sound like they’re entertaining guests in a maximum security prison. Again, that’s nothing like my grandfather.
What he smelled like was the warm and bony (when I knew him) smell of a clean but hard-working man. Clean for a man that worked in the Firestone factory more than 60 years. He smoked mostly half-and-half tobacco and got it in large 5 inch diameter tins that became the catch-all for lawn mower parts, nuts and nails in his garage. His study downstairs was his sanctuary which had a desk, a lazyboy-style chair and shelves of books and ledgers. He kept track of the goings-on of life, financial and otherwise in the world above his cave. He would disappear for hours mulling over an historic biography or typing a letter to his only son on his old Woodstock typewriter. It had a patchwork of carpet scraps and samples that kept the floor warm from the cold Ohio winter weather and a sliding wood door that emptied out into the sundry area of the basement. As an adult my mom and dad bought a ‘modern’ (what we now call retro) house that had a sliding door that led to the den which my dad appropriated immediately for his ongoing study of electronics and TTL (transistor to transistor logic) and carpeted sanctuary.
On one wall of my grandfather’s study was the wooden laminate propeller from a Waco plane that he and some buddies had access to for the purposes of gaining flight time. I have that propeller (or at least my cousin does nearby) and I’ve smelled it, but it has no affinity for the stairwell at work.
If you expect this piece of writing to neatly wrap up somewhere and connect old typewriters and aging wooden desks covered with layers of pipe smoke with a modern cinderblock stairwell, you might as well quit reading now. It ain’t gonna happen. I’m just exploring. And wondering why the stairwell doesn’t have that common ‘freshly painted’ kind of smell, because it’s all white and all rubber tile and metal railing sort of affair.
It’s funny. I loved my grandfather dearly and the family name of ‘soft-spoken Stacey’ was very appropriate. He was funny and keen of interest (especially, like I implied, in matters of American history), and I approach the stairwell with a sort of happy anticipation, though I haven’t sat down and closed my eyes in the stairwell just to bring back memories. When I’m going that way it’s my little secret grandfather tucked away in the recesses of the building, quietly being useful and smelling a bit like Akron, Ohio.
Perhaps there is some sort of connection after all.