Full Circle

My grandfather was a mechanical engineer, back in the days when you gained your expertise through tinkering and playing around with mechanical things, as opposed to sitting in a classroom learning about them, but I digress.

Let’s just say he knew a lot about the inner workings of machines and stuff.

As part of his job, he regularly looked after and helped to maintain many of the commercial office buildings, apartment complexes, churches and other such structures, particularly in the downtown St. Catharines area.  That meant he would have to routinely go into the dark basements and hot, musty boiler rooms in order to make sure that everything was working A-OK.

As kids (4-5 years old), we would sometimes be allowed to tag along into these usually “off limits” areas.  Of course, we weren’t allowed to touch anything and had to stay right by his side, but I remember it being super cool to see those huge furnaces, boilers, and electrical panels that made the rest of the building work.

It was mesmerizing and exciting to see him at the endless number of dials and gauges, checking temperatures, and running through detailed checklists that he had typed up on my grandmother’s old type writer to ensure that everything was up to snuff and working properly.  For a while, I even wanted to be a mechanical engineer – it was just so cool – but that eventually faded into my wanting to be a marine biologist, an astronaut, or a veterinarian instead.

Sadly, it would turn out that I was just never smart enough to be any of them.

Fast forward 40 years and I now find myself in a position where I have to go into these very same basements and boiler rooms, albeit for different reasons.  In some cases, these rooms have changed drastically while others haven’t changed at all as if time has stood still for four decades. What hasn’t changed though is my interest into being able to access and explore these hidden and forgotten parts of buildings; a throwback to those early adventures with my grandfather no doubt.

It was at just one of these such places the other day, the Silver Spire Church on St. Paul Street (formerly St. Paul Street United Church), that I saw this old thing hanging on the wall in the boiler room:


My grandfather’s checklist!

Actually, it’s a “Valve Directory” of the things he needed to check.

The machines (valves) have all long since gone or stopped working and the boiler has been replaced, and no one has likely even looked at this for four decades…but there it was.  It was still in the same cheap wooden K-Mart frame and fastened to the wall by a twisted coat hanger that he had affixed to it’s back so that it could hang on a rusty nail.

My grandfather was resourceful to say the least.

It was coated in 40-plus years of dust, grime and cobwebs and the paper itself has begun to rot and deteriorate, but it’s still perfectly legible.

It’s beautiful.

Despite its current condition, I was instantly transported back in time to that five year-old boy staring on in amazement as he ran through the series of tasks listed on the checklist and being in complete awe that he could even make sense of them, much less those huge, complex mechanical beasts.

It was definitely a profound moment indeed.

I asked the superintendent of the building (himself having been there for nearly 35 years) if he would ever consider parting with it.

“That old thing?”, he asked. 

“Whatever the heck for?”

So I told him the story.

Anyway – long story short – I made a $10 donation to the churches “In From the Cold” program in my grandfather’s name, and this old forgotten, dilapidated checklist is now hanging in my bathroom – in its present condition – beside the only other thing I own of my grandfather’s – a “Wet Paint” sign.

It’s funny how things go full circle sometimes.

I wonder too if some day someone will discover something of mine that I have left behind in one of these out of the way places as a testament to my having been there.

What will my own legacy be?

What will I leave behind in 40 years time to be discovered again?

Will they know it was me who left it there?

Will they remember me as fondly?

Only time will tell I guess.

God help me.

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