Sharing the Wisdom: What I Learned from My Grandfather About Art and Dreams

Sharing the Wisdom: What I Learned from an Elder - a series at“Boys, stop throwing that ball in this room! I have one room of nice things. One. Go play somewhere else!” I screamed as I caught a ball just as it came dangerously close to shattering a glass owl vase. As I handed the boys the ball and ushered them out of the room, I stopped to run my hand along the wood grain of the table that held the now-safe owl vase. Its dark-red stain was thankfully still as nice as the day my grandfather finished it. I stood back to admire the table as a whole, its beautiful symmetry and its base that held at its center four delicate strings. It always reminded me of a harp waiting patiently to be played.

This table is the one item of my grandfather’s that I still have—and I treasure it as much for its beauty as for what the creation of it taught me about him and, subsequently, about myself. I remember seeing it for the first time when it was still a work in progress. I had told him then how much I admired the piece. Smiling, he said, “You got a minute? Let me show you something.”

grandfather's table - image courtesy of Gretchen CrowderOut of his pocket, he pulled a folded piece of paper. On it was a tiny picture of the table. Over the picture was a grid of perfectly straight lines sketched carefully in pencil and surrounded by calculations. It looked vaguely like the structural plans I had seen my father pouring over so many times at his desk over the years. “See, here? This picture caught my eye in a magazine one day, and I thought, I can build that. So, I scaled it up just right, bought the wood, and started to work.” I remember being struck by how skilled my grandfather was, as I looked from the small image of the table to the full-sized replica before me. He only had a seventh-grade formal education, but he had built a life from it. And he learned, somehow, along the way, all the tools he needed to build furniture, homes, and a future from which I now benefited.

Noting my surprise, he put the paper away and took me on a tour around his living room, showing me other things he had created that I had somehow missed before. There were beautiful paintings and sketches, pieced together with such care and hung just right on the walls of the home he had also built. As he showed me each beloved piece, I realized he was showing me more than just beautiful works of art. He was teaching me, as he had for sure taught my father before me, to never look at a dream as if it were too small a thing to be realized. It can always be scaled with the right measurements of determination and, above all, faith.

Editor’s Note: This week here at, we’re sharing stories of wisdom learned from our elders, in honor of Sharing the Wisdom of Time by Pope Francis and Friends. The book inspired the Netflix series Stories of a Generation with Pope Francis.

Previous articleMerry Christmas!
Next articleSharing the Wisdom: What I Learned from My Grandfather About Courage and Nature
Gretchen Crowder
Gretchen Crowder has served as a campus minister and Ignatian educator for the Jesuit Dallas community for the last 15 years. She is also a freelance writer and speaker and is the host of Loved As You Are: An Ignatian Podcast. She has a B.S. in mathematics and a M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame as well as an M.T.S. from the University of Dallas. She resides in Dallas, TX, with her husband, three boys, and an ever-growing number of pets.


  1. Thank you for this sharing which touches the heart. It helped me to think of my grandfather. I was given a book of short illustrated stories which my Mom used to read to me. I had learnt them by heart at the age of 4/5 in India. When my grandfather would visit he would ask me to read. I would shoot out the stories clearly and correctly, all the time looking at the book and even turning the pages. Till one day he asked if he could see the book and o la la! I was holding the book upside down and rattling off the stories by heart!
    It makes me think that at 87 with failing eyesight I could be doing the same with my Prayer of the Church book. That doesn’t matter because HE listens anyway.
    daphne stockman

  2. Dear Gretchen, Your love for your dearly departed grandfather radiated from within your words as I read this beautiful memory of him. Would it be inappropriate to ask for his name…first name would suffice? He is clearly someone I would have liked to have known.
    Thank you, Jay Burke

  3. Grandparents can have such a profound effect on us as adults and in our childhood as well. The gift of wisdom when shared can bring a new prospective and even change lives. Thank you for sharing this with all of us🙌


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here