When I was a kid, my grandfather used to point out his dining-room window and say, “Look at the deer!” When I turned my head, he would take the dessert from my plate. He always laughed at my tears, saying I needed to learn to be clever, like him. He often mocked my father for earning only a meager teacher’s salary despite his college education. When I asked my grandfather where he had gone to college, he told me he’d graduated from the “school of hard knocks.”

To help support our large family, my father bought old cars, which he repaired and resold. My sisters and I were frequently pressed into service carrying tires and batteries, holding the flashlight, bringing him cups of hot tea, and handing him tools. Once, I asked my father where he’d learned to fix cars. “By the side of the road,” he said.