Hand-crafted toys help man connect with grandson
LAKE CITY — The toy semitrailer crafted of woods of varying hues is the fifth Christmas toy Rand Conway has fashioned for his grandson.
It's beautiful, surely something any grandpa would be proud to make for a grandson to fashion a strong bond.
It's not, however, Conway's first choice.
He would rather be outside with the boy, teaching him to hike, fish, sail a boat and do all the fun things he did when growing up in Lake City. "We were river rats," he said. "We always had boats."
In 1989, however, a freak accident left him in a wheelchair. The accident happened as he was converting an old barn into a house north of Lake City. Now, every time he's in his shop, he can see the place where he fell.
Because of the accident, the toys he's made are more than gifts for his only grandchild, Anders Conway, 5, who calls him "PopPop." The toys also are his way of trying to fashion a connection with the boy, who lived out of state for much of his young life but now is back in Minnesota.
Conway struggled with how to describe what his wheelchair, diabetes and other medical setbacks mean to the relationship he has with his grandson.
"Everything in your life is different, nothing is as much as it was," Conway said. He gets tired easily, he can't go up steps or romp around the backyard. "I can't go out there and do things with him, keep up with him."
With the toys, he makes a connection with Anders.
"That might be in the back of my mind, I'm sure that's it," he said. He could buy the boy things, but "it seems too impersonal."
"I just hope he enjoys them," Conway said. "I want him to have something no one else has … just has fun." Through the years, Anders has received five wooden toys from his grandpa, including a bulldozer, a front-end loader, a dump truck and a long-armed excavator.
The toy connection also is important to Conway because he never made those kinds of memories with his own grandfather and father. Both died when he was about 8 years old; both had been ill before that.
"A lot of it is I never spent much time with Dad and Grandpa," he said. "I never had much family."
His son, Riley, knew him mostly as someone in a wheelchair.
"You try not to think about it, put it out of your head, count your blessings," Conway said.
Frankly, he said he was thankful of getting out of rehab after the accident well enough to use his arms. The fall could have been much worse, he said.
He isn't done either. Conway said he's got some ideas and plans for the next few years.
Right now, however, he's looking forward to seeing Anders open the big brown box tonight and lift out the semitractor and two trailers.
"I like heirlooms, and this is definitely something he will remember me by," he said.