A generational lesson

When I was a little girl, I’d go in my grandparents’ basement and play restaurant for hours. I’d run up the stairs and beg anyone and everyone to follow me back down so I could take their orders and serve them food. When I took orders, I always used this white and yellow legal pad that had “Strasburg’s” written in the upper left corner. I thought Strasburg’s was just a paper company that made my order-taking notepads.


A few years later my mom explained to me that Strasburg’s was actually an appliance company that her family had owned. Apparently when she was young she’d go in and scrub stoves and refrigerators. Once I learned that this was a “business notebook,” I added secretary to my resume in addition to waitress. I’d sit at the kitchen table with the phone in one hand and a pen in the other, taking notes on orders, meetings, and appointments. I had become a business woman.


I came back to my grandparents’ house over spring break this year. I’m happy to report that instead of serving fake meals in the basement, I spent my time at the adult table, eating real food and drinking real coffee. And one morning at this fancy adult table with our breakfast and coffee, my grandma and papa told me all sorts of stories.


I learned more about that Strasburg’s business, which turned out to be a lot more than just appliances. Apparently my great-grandpa and two of his brothers bought it together. It encompassed appliances, furniture, coal, and lumber. They opened up gas stations together too. I learned that Papa’s uncle “R.C.” was quite the gambler, and therefore was the lead investor in this new family business. He had won a chicken farm once and he decided to bag the poop and sell it as fertilizer. He also won a granite mine, from which he patented colored landscape rocks. He also invented a refrigerated trailer so he could haul fruit from California to Chicago. Papa said he rode out there with him one time when he was young. They could make two trips in one week.


Maybe those trips out to California were the start of Papa’s trucking career, which he did for nearly 40 years. And while he did that, my grandma delivered papers. For a while she had a walking route throughout her neighborhood, but she was eventually promoted to “agent” and she got to drive around instead. She told me she took the paper route to make money for Christmas. At the beginning of each year she’d open a “Christmas account” at the bank and after a year’s worth of slinging papers, she’d have about a hundred dollars.


One day I called Grandma while I was out and about delivering The Collegian in town. She laughed and said I was following in her footsteps. I guess she wasn’t wrong, but I hope to have more than a hundred dollars at the end of the year.


It’s fun to hear all of these stories. It makes me realize how much of an impact my family has had on my view of the world and the way I live my life. And I’ve also realized that I’m super fortunate to have had a great family to create that influence. They are examples of hard working people who put family first and care about their communities, but they’re also risk takers and creators.


I imagine my life would look a lot different if nobody took risks. What if my grandpa and his parents never bought the farm in Jeddo? Would I even live in Michigan? What would my dad be doing? Or what if my grandma and papa gave up on kids after one failed pregnancy? They would’ve never adopted my mom and I wouldn’t even be alive. And if Papa’s dad and uncles never bought Strasburg’s, I wouldn’t have paper to take notes on, and more importantly, my mom and her cousins and their whole family wouldn’t have been able to work together. She wouldn’t have been around entrepreneurs and business owners and she probably wouldn’t have taken the risk to leave her job to stay at home with me once I was born.


And now it’s my turn to make money that didn’t belong to the Monopoly game board. As I’m getting closer to graduating, I have my own decisions to make and potential risks to take and I’m more reminded of my younger self: the ambitious, excited little girl who liked to be in charge and wanted to write books, help people, and even at one point be a grocery store clerk (you have no idea how excited I was when they invented self-checkouts).


I would hate to disappoint little Calli just because big Calli is too afraid of risks. Because she wants comfortable and “normal.” Because she doesn’t want to offend people. Little Calli had big dreams, and I still carry a lot of those same dreams with me today (maybe not so much the grocery store clerk, but definitely the other two). And I know it’s going to take some hard work, some mistakes, some lessons, and some risks — and maybe a little bit of “R.C.’s luck” — but I can’t let normal be my legacy.


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© 2020 by Calli Townsend.