I have a tendency to make up stories. I make them up about someone who’s path crosses mine just once, even if it’s only for a few seconds, and nearly every time the story is sad. I came up with a story as I visited an old woman’s home the other day.
Her granddaughter was helping her clean out her house so that she could move, and my assumption is that she was relocating to a nursing home. The granddaughter took on the daunting task of listing tons of items for sale online, including her late grandfather’s print shop. And that’s what brought me there.
She had two presses for sale, along with just about any print shop item you could think of: paper cutters, slug cutters, book presses, type specification books, type, typecases, leading, slugs, dies, paper, envelopes…you name it, it was there. As I moved around the basement studio where her grandfather used to work, I tried to piece together his life, or at least this part of his life. I decided that he was a professional printer at one time, but fell on hard times in the late 60s and had to find other work to support his family. From there, he spent time in the basement solely for enjoyment and solitude. I imagined him hunched over on a stool, concentrating on setting type, bathed in a lonely flourescent light, unperturbed by the company of a rogue mouse padding across his row of typecases.
While I was excited at the opportunity to browse and buy some new items for my own little print shop, I felt overwhelmingly sad. I wondered when his visits to the basement print shop slowed. And worst of all, as his body started to betray him, if he carefully ventured into his shop just to smell the wood, oil, paper and metal, unable to use them as he used to. I wondered if he wished that someone in his family had loved letterpress as much as he did, I’m sure he would rather have had it that way than a bunch of strangers rifling through his things.
It brought to mind that ridiculous line from Varsity Blues “I…don’t…want…your life.” Maybe he did want his family to embrace letterpress, but it just wasn’t in the cards for them. No child wants their parent telling them what they should do with their life. And let’s be honest, just about every dad out there has a hobby or quirk that outsiders just don’t get. Maybe printing was his. Everyone has passion, but the tragedy is that not everyone realizes it.
Enough of my sad stories. I hope that he’s ok with me using his slug cutter for a while.