This week marks the end of an era in my family.
The office building from the business my family ran as long as I remember was sold.
In the first-half of the 20th century, my grandfather (for whom I am named) founded a theatrical supply company in his home outside of Indianapolis, Indiana. As glamorous as starting your own business sounds, I know that there’s a high-likelihood that a reasonable portion of the business’ founding was because there wasn’t other revenue coming to the family, and food was needed on both the literal and proverbial tables.
Over the years, Merrill Stage Equipment gained a reputation among high schools, colleges and churches in the Midwestern United States as a company that installed high-quality stage curtains (that we sewed together in our office building) and provided excellent theatrical supplies, consulting and services to small and large theaters alike.
Early in my childhood, my father took over the company and subsequently relocated our family from Hawaii (what?) to sunny Indiana.
All of my childhood, I remember that Saturdays were special days, it’s the day we got ready for Sunday… and worked at the office.
I remember emptying trashcans, sweeping floors and hanging out with dad.
I remember playing with the tools in the toolbox and the electric breadboard and the soldering iron and hanging out with dad.
I remember eating gross “grown up” cereal like Grape Nuts and horrible squares of whole grain wheat (they were like Frosted Mini Wheats… minus the Frosted) in the kitchenette and talking about life and random things with dad.
Cutting and sewing fabric with dad.
Reading airplane magazine (dad’s).
Playing lunar lander on dad’s TRS-80.
Playing any game I could find on dad’s Apple ][.
Learning to program in BASIC so I could make games on dad's Apple ][ and IIc.
Playing flight simulator and Tracon and Oregon Trail with dad.
As a teenager, loading huge tubs of curtains and scaffolding into the van/suburban/whatever-big-vehicle-we-had to take to job-sites.
Doing photography down in the dark room and learning how offset printing works (yes, we had a printing press).
Installing curtains in remote high schools and colleges and churches and driving long nights home across various places in the Midwestern plains with dad.
And talking about life, the universe and everything with dad.
And, just hanging out with dad.
I don’t remember the business making incredible money hand-over-fist, but it provided what we needed, and my dad was home every night.
I have owned many small enterprises already in my life, and I can see many other entrepreneurial pursuits in my future, but as long as I live, I will be grateful for all the great things my family provided me through the ownership of that small (sometimes would-be) business that had nothing to do with money–but had a lot to do with hard work, sacrifice, quality and honesty about your labor, and doing right by people.
…and the value of hanging out with dad.