When I was a little, I liked going to the IGA grocery store in my hometown to look at the signs that told you what was on sale. I was learning how to read and the signs had words with food on them: eggs, buttter, sliced bacon and round steak. There were measuring words like bunch, dozen, package, large, loaf. And there were numbers: 4 for 98¢, $1.29 lb, 12 oz. The signs were neat and big and I could understand them. I was also proud of them. Because my grandfather made them. He was the printer who made the signs that everyone saw.
Being able to point at something someone I loved made made me feel good. It was especially so when the letters and numbers I’d been looking at my whole life started making sense to me as words and ideas (and sales!). Going from sign to sign in the IGA, stopping to read what each one said was as much fun as seeing someone else stop to read what one said. A shopper! Reading one of my Grampy’s signs!
My grandfather made his living making signs. When I was growing up, I got to go to his shop on Fore Street in Portland and watch him do it. It said ALLEN SCREEN PRINTING on the building and when you walked through the door, it smelled like business. Every week, the sales would change at my IGA and all the IGA’s in the land, and it was my grandfather’s signs that let the people know.
Oscar Ernest Shevenell was a printer and a builder. He built things like engines and picnic tables and cool thingamabobs in his garage. He built relationships. He worked for others for many years and learned from them. He built on his skills, then he built his own business, where he built understanding through communications in print.
Even though our immediate family is no longer in the printing business, the lessons I learned from my grandfather’s work life – and the work itself – continue to influence how I work, how I look at work, and how I look at words.
I sure do miss his penmanship.