Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday Morning Garage

What are your garage memories?

The heavy rains of Saturday were forecast to turn into "wintry mix" Sunday morning, the accu-guess folks way of saying "freezing rain" around these parts.  They weren't far off, so I tucked the truck into the garage and stayed home, knowing I'd go on bat phone status Monday evening.  When I'm not on call and at the BOR (Bug Out Range), the truck is in the driveway, the large garage being a shop, containing tools and an assortment of British automotive parts and the Triumph mother ship.

I like it that way.  It's a place where  tools are old, wood is honed, metal is bent and burnt offerings are offered to Lucas, Prince of Darkness or Dimness, depending upon your religious persuasion. It's easy to spend hours out there without realizing it, the space between tasks still composing time, yet consisting of minutes that no longer run straight ahead in diminishing allotment, but rather run parallel between, like looping bands of wiring, without apparent ending.

It is only when the light fades and the stomach growls that one looks up and notes the time, setting down the tools, rendering the machinery mute, returning to the house, a faint shadow against the steps in the fading West.
But when I'm at the city pad with work pending, I have a garage I can squeeze the extended cab bat truck into.  The garage doesn't have much stuff in it, food and water for both Barkley and I for a while, a snow shovel and dog land mine disposal unit, tools of maintenance/repair and  an old desk that serves as work table with supplies to clean my sidearm.  Still, it's a tight fit. 

Most of my neighbors are parked in the driveway, their garages full of "stuff", boxes, bikes, lawn and exercise equipment, you name it.  When I was a kid, it seemed most of our cars were actually IN the garage. Ours was a dark green ranch house with a dark green Chevy Malibu in the garage.  Outside, at the front edge of the lawn, there was a  a huge  tree that Mom loved, that draped its branches over the driveway like a canopy, filling  up the gutters with leaves every year. 

No one seems to have their cars in their garages any more. Is it because we  now, as a society, amass more "stuff", or are we more transitory, moving more often, with those things that are precious to us, left in boxes in the garage in  between?   It's a little bit of both, perhaps.
When I'm home to see Dad, it seems I always find a reason to visit the garage.  There was always a extra freezer out there, full of an assortment of bundled cow,  mysterious Tupperware labeled "brussel sprouts" and "creamed peas" which we found out too late, were actually cookies that Mom squirreled away for Church Basement Ladies functions, knowing we'd not raid the "creamed peas".  There was lefse from the Son's of Norway Bake Sale.  There was always ice cream.

Now it's empty, but for the meals I make for him and freeze in individual containers for later and always, a tub of ice cream.  When I go to put things away,  I'll just stand there for a moment after the freezer door closes,  breathing in the bracing density of cold air laced with pine and motor oil, a smell I love, even after all these years. It is the smell of morning's  breath, full of wood and silence.

Off to one side of the garage is a big work bench, with cupboards built above for storage.  He doesn't use it any more, but it has not changed, except for the calender, always the smiling, buxom girl  in shorts and a T-shirt  or a swim suit, selling tools or beer.   

In the shadows of the other side of the garage are deep storage cabinets where Dad stores all his fishing and outdoor gear. Everything is meticulously kept in place, even as the fabric of the net rots, laying in wait with that spent but alert quality that aging things bear, as if they doubted the absoluteness of their eventual discard, as if they will be necessary and needed tomorrow.
There's just a single garage door. There's probably a small dent in the bottom of it. I tried to ride my bike at warp speed INTO the garage when the car was out and  the door was partway up,  planning on ducking, just not ducking enough.  It knocked me clean off my bike, but no permanent damage was done, really (twitch twitch). But the windows that once brought light in are covered so not to let potential burglars peer in to see if anyone is home, the neighborhood, no longer being the safe haven that it was.

In the drive there used to be a little VW Beetle,  Mom's official  Bug out Vehicle.  But the Chevy was always stored in the garage, but for those rainy weekends where we set up the Lionel trains on large pieces of sheet plywood, spray painted green, sitting on trestles. Old Pringle containers were fastened underneath to hold the tracks, and we'd run the trains along frantic loops of track until our stomachs growled and the fading  evening  light illuminated them like silvered spider webs that run off into the distance.  Only then, on Sunday night, were the trains put away amidst the other supplies.
When the weather was good, Dad would work at his bench while we'd get a wiffle bat and send that ball down the drive towards the road, into that conundrum of physics and aerodynamics that never failed to fascinate me.  More than one go-cart was assembled out in the drive with Dad's advice and more than a few of his tools.There were always kids around, good kids though, none with rodent nicknames that pleaded the Fifth during family dinner. For in that neighborhood, in that time in America, there were always Mom's around.  One  kid's Mom was everyone's Mom, and one of them always made sure we respected others lives and property, even as they made sure we had sandwiches, cookies and  adequate bandages for the carnage of outdoor play.

In the corner of the garage were my parents golf clubs, in front of them, space for our bikes. My last one was a Huffy 10 speed that Dad waited hours to bid on at at a police auction of unclaimed bikes, knowing how much  I wanted a new yellow Schwinn,  knowing he couldn't afford $100 for one.  He got it, and cleaned it all up so it looked new.  I wasn't what I'd wanted, but it was much  more, as it was offered with quiet and undiluted love, the faithful care and  attention that most don't put into anything any more. That was a lesson that I may not have recognized then, but I do today.

The only decor in the garage was the tacky Mexican bull fighting picture he bought for their first home which was immediately banished to the garage.  It joined a well used dart board and  other works of fine art that found a home there.
It's been a while since Dad has been able to work at his work bench.   He moves through the day now only as fast as the day itself advances, his goal, another sunset, talks with his kids, time with the Good Book, and all the sports he can cram into one afternoon with the remote. For you see,  Dad LOVES sports, but freely shared the remote with others, over the years watching  cartoons and Jeopardy and Dancing with the Stars without complaint.  But when Dad had a mild stroke, rather than complain about a wheel chair and then a walker for a while while he recovered his balance, he just  took that remote and smiled that smile that said  "no one's going to ask for the remote from a guy with a stroke,  I can watch football all day long !"

Fortunately, Dad recovered quickly, but he can't do the close up detailed work. He still had other handyman things to play with, but after I caught him trying to clean  some fallen leaves out of  the gutter standing on a ladder with a leaf blower, some of the more hazardous toys were put away.
It's a shame to see it empty, as he was really good at woodworking, all of our cupboards, our fences, my A-frame playhouse with  a porch, crafted by him with few formal "plans". The rest of his handyman work was equally "creative".

For example, one day something new appeared on the wall of the large laundry room  It  was a large linoleum square, from which  protruded an extension rod from which one could hang  hangared clothes as they came out of the dryer.  Pretty nifty I thought.  Then, as Paul Harvey said, came the "Rest of the Story".  My Dad works out with weights six days a week, always has.  One morning  a weight ended up well into the wall on the upswing. Drywall is for wimps!

I love my Dad, he's like a tactical Red Green.
When I went home last fall for my vacation,  I swept and tidied up the place, replacing some of his stored water for emergencies with fresh, getting rid of flammables that haven't been opened since the 90's.  As I walked back up the driveway after taking the trash out, I stared for a moment into the garage before I entered it.  I could almost see him there, the shifting gold shimmer of persistent  leaves creating an illusion of shadow, of form within, working away until Mom called him in for supper.

As I stood on the step from garage to laundry room , hitting the button for the garage door, I  took in the sight, the smell of it. I can't imagine it not being here, something that just IS, like the loud CRACK of a bat hitting a whiffle ball,  the bounce of a bicycle off of gravel as kids come careening into home, the way an old baseball game seeps out of a transistor radio as my Dad works away, sounds that echo even as the door closes and darkness descends

 - Brigid


Old NFO said...

A baseball game on the AM radio, kibitzing over the car currently in the shop, the smell of pipe smoke, and dogs underfoot...

Cond0011 said...

" I tried to ride my bike at warp speed INTO the garage when the car was missing and the door was partway up, planning on ducking, just not ducking enough...

...So, what are your garage memories?"


A loooong time ago, while I was saving money to go to college, I was a Dominoes Pizza Driver. After a long evening of zipping around Highland Park, one of the highlights of the day was the entry into my sister Mary's garage (lived there for a year while saving money to go back to college):

What I would do is time the pushing of the garage door opener with the moment I entered the garage. The closer my car's roof was to the bottom of the rising garage door, the more gleeful I was, as it was validation that I was a Pizza Driver God. Got my own Dominoes Pizza 'super-suit' too.

Until the day I forgot to take the Dominoes Pizza Sign off the roof of the car.

SHARON said...

Hmmm.....Garage memory that comes to mind? Driving home, from my first job, in a blizzard, in my first car...1957 4-door hard-top, lime green, Buick Century. The job was a 38 mile trip, one way. By the time I got to the farm, I was pushing snow with that big old bumper, my grandfather saw me coming down the road and, as I pulled into the driveway, the garage door magically lifted up and in I went. He laughed about that for years. I was EVER so glad to get home!

Brighid said...

My gran asked me to cleanup grandpa's garage. It was a small shed really with a dirt floor, filled with hunting and fishing gear and tools. I thinking to score big points with gran went thru every nook and cranny, found every single bottle of whiskey, opened them all, and poured them in the milk cows water trough...

Bob in Tampa said...


Take the ladder away. He should not have it. Read my previous post re falling off one. I am still in rehab.

Rev. Paul said...

We never had a garage; only a carport. Work was done in the driveway or on the patio, anytime it wasn't raining or snowing.

Dad, hunched over his makeshift work surface, concentrating on some detail or other ...

T'was wonderful, right up until I was old enough to "help" and promptly joined the Busted Knuckle Club. (Wisdom sometimes arrives promptly.)

Jim Dunmyer said...

There was always a extra freezer out there, full of an assortment of bundled cow, mysterious Tupperware labeled "brussel sprouts" and "creamed peas" which we found out too late, were actually cookies that Mom squirreled away for Church Basement Ladies functions, knowing we'd not raid the "creamed peas"

That was LOL funny! You paint a picture with words like few others; thanks for sharing!

Brigid said...

Old NFO - yes indeed.

Cond0011 - Oh no!! Pizza God 0 - Garage Door 1.

Sharon - Good memory, that. I can picture that car as snow plow, even now.

Brighid - happy cows!

Bob - it's long been locked up. He hadn't used it in years, as Big Bro did all the maintenance on the house, but that day he decided to play Superman of the Gutters. Sigh. Hope you are feeling better.

Rev Paul - there is a reason most aircraft repair facilities charge more if you even watch, let alone HELP. :-)

Jim Dunmyer - well thank you!!!

I go back on call at midnight, so if I go silent tomorrow, I'm just busy working.

immagikman said...

Hmm the only Garage moments I have from my childhood revolve around me and the Neighbor girl playing doctor....other than that I didnt spend much time in our garage.....we did however climb up on the roof of the garage to jump into snow drifts and piles of leaves in the fall.

Cond0011 said...

" Oh no!! Pizza God 0 - Garage Door 1. "

Pwnd by a Garage Door. *sigh*

Dirk said...

Garage memories...

I bought my first house a little over 20 years ago. It was the first time I'd had a house with a garage I could park a car in - when I lived at my parents' house, they got the garage space.

The VERY first morning in the house, I was leaving for work. I hit the button on the remote, waited til I didn't hear any more noise, and started backing out. I didn't get very far before I heard an awful scraping sound. The garage door had not opened all the way, and I knocked the bottom panel off the garage door as it scraped a 2-foot long, 12-inch wide swath of damage to the paint on the roof or my Civic. I couldn't tell the door hadn't opened all the way, given the sightlines from the rear window and the mirrors.

A quick trip to the big-box store after work, and I was able to repair the damage to the door well enough that it lasted another 15 years, though the car bore the battle scars til the day I traded it in.

RonF said...

I was 12. My oldest brother was 16. He worked at an old-time gas station, owned by a buddy who pumped gas and fixed cars by driving them over a pit. He drove me over to talk to his buddy one night. They decided a) to get some beer, and b) that a 12-year-old could pump gas and make change for half an hour. The last thing the owner did was to show me the .38 in the top drawer and tell me to leave it alone. I did!

Six said...

Wow. I was just flooded with memories of my Grandfather. He was the most influential father figure in my life. I forget too often the lessons he imparted. Thanks for the reminder Brigid. I'm going to have to post about this.

Keads said...

Thanks for the time machine Brigid.

naturegirl said...

I've had many garages in my life, only one sticks out as being special. The one that I parked my Z28 in; which was cleaner than most garages EVER - so I could wax that car (nearly) every Sat. morning.

It was faster when it was shiny, really! LOL

Love the new header look, too :)

Brigid said...

immagikman - somehow I'm not surprised. :-) My best to your bride and the family.

Dirk - I bet the car wore that scar proudly. Great story!

RonF - there's this little antique place on a corner over on LaGrange avenue that has an old antique gas pump for sale. It was tempting, just for nostalgia, but it was too expensive. I did get a photo of it though.

Six - thank you. I look forward to reading your recollection in your post.

Keads - thanks for the note at home. My best to you and your Dad.

naturegirl - oh, I had one of those as well, my brother painted it silver (it was PURPLE, and a bad paint job to boot, probably why the car was cheap) and I cleaned and polished it as well every week. Thanks for noticing the header and commenting, you are the first person that did (well except Partner who got that "two by four" reminder of "so, how do you like the new blog header?" :-)

Mick said...

The garage of my youth was designed by Dad, and built by him, my brothers and I, and a few neighbors. Radial arm saw, tools put where they belonged, a second furnace in the garage for the addition for 3 of us kids above the garage, leaving 3 in the house with Mom and Dad. They have since downsized, having a house built to his specs, marketable when they need to, and divesting bit-by bit all the old tools, gifting most, selling a few. I have very little skill with tools; can barely cut a board without drawing blood, but will cherish the things that Dad has given me because of what he did with them. Thanks for triggering those memories, Brigid.

Neil Garner said...

My grandfathers garage was a place where anything was possible, it was nothing more than single barn style garage with a single dim bulb. I recall cleaning fish we caught together, sawing wood with hand saws and a '63 Ford with 3 on the tree that was I learn to drive on.

Desert Cat said...

The older I get, the closer I seem to be to my mother's age. She is seventy one now, I am 49. That seems so much closer than when I was 20, and is a reminder of my own mortality.

My grandfather did not have a garage, but he did have a workshop in a cloistered corner of his basement. It was a magical place, and I am convinced that my own creativity and can-do'ism is a result of watching him for those precious few years before I lost him as a child. I still have a few of his tools.