Woolen Mill Studio

February 23, 2014



Growing up, two important people in my life were my Grandpa and Grandma Mac.  There was unconditional love when we came to visit (although I think they were happy we had a home to go to after a weekend with them).  Besides a great place to get a burger, all the pop you shouldn't have, a warm bed and color TV they used their time with us to impart some wisdom into our pea sized brains (I had only three things on my mind back then -- Grandma's burgers, Grandpa's pop and the Lionel Train set).  It goes without saying that you don't always appreciate what your learning at the time but I use many of these tidbits today.


The first thing Grandpa taught me was how to stop a nose bleed.  I think I spent half my childhood with Kleenex up my nose and my head tilted back.  Grandpa's solution was to lean your head back (I had that part figured out) and to breath through your nose.  This helped to scab the bleeder.  It worked and I was Kleenex free for many years to follow (sorry - I should have posted a squeamish note before this medical tip). WMS legal notice - consult your medical professional before trying this - man I can't believe I have to say this.


Chess was a Saturday night event.  While I learned the game I was never able to checkmate my Grandpa.  He patiently endured my 'look ahead one move' moves.  The best I could do was to take so long at my turn that he would fall asleep.  Too embarrassed to wake him (a chess faux pas on my part) I just went to bed.  We never spoke of this the next morning.  I do use one defensive move that he taught me still today.


Grandpa was a small business man and entrepreneur.  As soon as we were the legal side of the child labor law he would involve us in his business.  One of his businesses was a mail order catalog company.  As head stock clerk it was one of my tasks to count out sheets of paper from a stack.   When you needed 50 sheets he taught me to rock the paper back and forth (tightening your grip on one side then the other) until the  paper stack as askew.  Then you would fan the paper five pages at a time until you have your count.  I still use that today.


Another of his businesses was a retail store called the Woolen Mill Store (the name sake for this site).  They had paper bags to put the merchandise in with the Woolen Mill Store name and emblem printed on one side.  I remember him telling me how to roll the top of the bag towards the front.  That way as the customer walked out the door the name of the store would be prominently displayed for all to see (free advertising).


After work I rode home with my Grandpa.  He had a manual transmission with the gear shift on the column.  Somewhere between the office and the liquor store he would teach me how to work the clutch and shift the gears (1st gear - up and towards you, then depress the clutch, 2nd gear - someplace different than 1st, depress the clutch, 3rd gear, then punch it).  All of this as viewed from the front passenger seat (I wasn't of driving age yet) -- it was all very confusing to me (perhaps if it had been four on the floor with a hemi and hood scoop it would have made more sense). (Bonus Grandpa tip: always put your liquor in the trunk when driving).


The McElroy family had a passion for photography.  Somehow I caught the bug and jumped in with both feet.   I built my own dark room and progressed with the Black & White knowledge of the day.  Seeing my matte finish prints Grandpa told me how I could get the glossy finish like the pro's.  Essentially you purchased a mirror like sheet of metal on which you would squeegee your wet prints face down to dry.  After they dried they would release from the metal plate and have that glossy look (I was in business).



F. J. McElroy - Holding his Crown Graphic 1948 (3 1/4 x 4 1/4)

Niagara Falls


Perhaps to recoup all the money he spent on pop for us grandkids he would involve us in the yard maintenance.  As soon as we could pull the mower starter cord he would put us to work.  Grandpa's yard was meticulous and even more so after a fresh mow.  The final task was to  'edge' the grass along the  sidewalks and street.  He had a gas powered edger that he would affix his old table saw blades.   The edger had all the safety features of lawn darts of the 60's but it sure made the yard look good.  I edge my yard in the same way today (except I don't use old table saw blades and I wear safety goggles).


The last two things my Grandpa taught have to do with food.  My Grandma was a great cook and their was always a little left over pie to be had.  Inevitably when I wanted some pie one of my brothers would also want a piece.  With just enough left for two pieces it became a squabble over who got the bigger of the last pieces.  Grandpa settled this once and for all by having one cut the pie and the other got first choice (you never saw two more evenly cut pieces).


We had to be of a certain age for these next food tip so he waited to teach us when we were older -- how to cook a steak on the grill.  His recipe was to put the steak on and come inside and have a beer.  When you were done with the beer you go out and turn the steak over, come back inside and have another beer.  When your second beer was done so was your steak.  You sit down to eat the culinary delicacy (of course with a beer for your meal).  Dave Barry, in his Manliness Manifesto refers to these as 'timing beers'.  Grandpa was ahead of his time.  I prefer the meat thermometer method myself.


Grandma and Grandpa taught us many things through the years.  One most important was to be ladies and gentlemen (I wasn't necessarily his star pupil but some of it took).  There were many good memories at Grandpa and Grandma Mac's house.


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