I received this terrific C.S. Osborne welt ruler as a gift from someone who notices details – like the conspicuous absence of a metal welt stick among the hodgepodge of measuring and straight edge devices in my upholstery process photos. It’s high time I own this implement common, for good reason, to just about any upholstery shop. So important to accurate measurement, clean edges and super-straight lines. Though I’d thought about it often, I never made the move to buy one because – well, because of my devotion to a beat-up wooden yard stick. The one in the center. The one my mom used to measure my height from the time I was old enough to stand. Throughout my childhood, any time anything – large or small – needed measuring, Mom would call out, “Get the yard stick!” My sisters and I always knew where to find it, propped in the closet or laundry room and ever ready for service. I still love the look of it and the feel of it in my hands, its edges worn too soft to support a crisp clean line, but the letters on its surface still just visible enough to whisper the name of my grandpa’s shop.
Grandpa was extraordinary. As a medic in World War II, he earned a medal for rescuing and ministering to fellow soldiers behind enemy lines and, though he declined to speak much of it, he was among the troops who liberated Dachau. Back in the States, he became a funeral director, but he also owned and ran the ambulance company serving his own and multiple surrounding towns. In any given day, he both saved lives and, with steady kindness, guided and comforted people whose loved ones had succumbed to death.
On call, each day and at all hours, Grandpa was rarely without a cup of coffee in front of him. When I was very young, he often held me on his lap, careful to place his cigar into an ash tray beyond my reach. Then, he’d slip me scant teaspoons of sweet creamy coffee from his cup and whisper Don’t tell your mother. Behind us, a police radio crackled prepared to give notice of car and farm accidents and other grave misfortunes. The radio was located in the kitchen which was adjacent to my grandparents’ bedroom – so they could hear it every minute of the day and night. Periodically, voices would emerge through the static. Grandma would stop what she was doing, take up the phone and calmly write down information as Grandpa rose from the table and grabbed his ambulance jacket, an urgent siren soon signaling his departure. Alternately, a soft bell would chime in the house and Grandpa would pull on his other coat, his suit coat, and head to the chapel - which was (and still is) attached to the house - to greet and console mourners arriving for visitation before a funeral. And when he wasn’t doing all that, Grandpa was forever building things and fixing things. All kinds of things. As incredible as it seems with all he had going on, Grandpa also owned the local hardware store - and it was full of such cool stuff. I loved to see him there behind the counter in his work pants and suspenders, cap perched on his head, smiling
My grandparents sold the hardware store while I was still young and, eventually, passed the ambulance company and funeral home on to my uncle and aunt who moved into the attached home with their own family. Grandpa didn’t go far, though. He built a small apartment for himself and Grandma directly beneath the ambulance garage on the same property where they would hear, every day from above, the familiar sounds of the vehicles growling to life and pulling out, sirens blaring. To this day, I don’t know how Grandpa managed to wear so many hats. He was father to seven children and a big presence in the lives my sisters, myself, and our many cousins. He mended bones and grieving hearts in equal measure and, in the time remaining, mended whatever was broken in the house. Utterly capable, he was a man of great character, with a soft slow way of talking and a rumbly laugh often followed by the trailing exclamation, “Welllll….”
I’m pretty good with words, but there are no words to adequately convey my awe of, and admiration for, my grandpa. I think if he saw me now with my rough and bloodied hands - pulling staples, hammering away and, occasionally, revving up the old circular saw - he’d laugh that laugh and say “Welllll…I’ll be!” And he wouldn’t mind that metal welt stick nudging up against the old yard stick by the work bench. No doubt, he’d want me to use the right tool for the job.
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In addition to her own blog, Monica Rhodes currently writes for the National Upholstery Association at: