Around his shop, I sweep up for him, seeing so many little bits of my childhood here, the leveler, the paint chipped away, as if it had been in some sort of fender bender with the awl. Big Bro digs in one cabinet and finds a cane from my tap dancing days to show to Partner, both them now able to tease me, the top hat hopefully mercifully in hiding. Underneath the work bench, is a small can of pink paint, the color of salmon, that makes up the rainbow on my wall, the paint long dried up, the can a vacuum of the sharp smell of childhood dreams.
As we left my Dad's a couple of weeks ago, I did some general straightening up in his garage/shop, Partner busting into laughter when he saw an old can of aerosol "BS Repellent", there on the shop desk.
But Dad could make anything out of wood. The fences around our home, the storage shed, cabinets and shelves, even a perfectly proportioned A-frame play house for me in the backyard. Later, there was a deck, which covered an area as big as two rooms, built when he was in his late 70's. It rose up around him, as if a challenge to his age, strong as he still was, able to support the weight of the remainder of his life. He didn't use instructions, like anything else he made, he designed it on paper and made it himself, everything perfectly tight, smooth and proportioned, with a variety of wood to fit both form and function. His shop reflected those skills.
To many people, including a a number of women I've met, that garage shop is simply something to be tucked away, a noisy, sometimes dirty place to which one can close the door to. To me it's the houses most expressive feature, the tools of which measure the depth of its owners true nature, the things crafted there, the design by which one perceives their life.
For such people, the shop is more than a little space tucked away behind closed doors. One some days, there in that place, one's hands join in sensual dance with those hardened instruments, transforming rough materials by mind and imagination into some wonderful creation warped out of all experience. On others, you simply end up with a new door stop. I'd not sacrifice either day for one spent watching reality TV.
The skills, involved, like anything of value, take time to learn, take patience. There will be mistakes, some hopefully no more than a misplaced hammered blow, the hand curling up in pain like a leaf tossed upon a fire, perhaps a piece of wood or metal ruined due to your inattention or inexperience. There will be those projects where a friend or family member comes in and says, without thinking "is it supposed to look like that?" But then comes that day, when with the swing of that hammer or that hand on the lathe, timidity and inexperience fall from your hands and what you can make, is not only recognizable in form, but serves a purpose, one that's unique to your life.
Dad and I talk each night, but each and every week, a bit more of him slips away from me, his mind best functioning on a routine of days. I've found that when he is tired, that interrupting him sometimes confuses him, the phone taking him out of the place familiar to some imminent colorless dark he'd rather not think about. But then he recognizes the voice, though the name escaped him for a minute, and then he's my old Dad again, if only for tonight. It' just part of being almost 94, but it reminds me of how little time we will have left.
So tonight, I'll say a quick hello, and let him get back to his shows on TV, the same ones they always watched. For him it's the routine of sameness that makes his night seem eternal, as if from the kitchen window that looks out onto the family room built on the old patio, he could hear Mom say "I'd like to buy a vowel!" Then, I will pen him a letter, those notes he loves to get even more than the phone calls, for he can read them when he first wakes up, his mind clear, the world, new. I will tell him how much the years had brought me, despite the struggles. I would have told him how I've learned to live on what is important, not some yuppified version of life, hollow and high priced. I'm satisfied, be it with the salty tang of a simple meal honestly made, or the sweat on my brow from hard work. So many times I thought I should tell him that, as my tears mingled with the sweat of my task. I think now is the time.
Truth and salt.
From a garage window, one that Mom covered with brightly covered vinyl to let in light while not allowing others to look inside, comes a ray of light, a stained glass hand upon the workshop. I'm reminded, for just that instant, of entering a church, the light of saints and angels held there in etched glass, looking down upon me, their faces young, because they all die too young. I can only stop for a moment, and bow my head in humility before proceeding inside.
Tonight, I am away from my own home but I can dream of it, for I have no task than to do otherwise, studying a book of Mission style furniture designs, selecting the form of a small writing desk which will be crafted to be placed in a quiet corner. I search for just the right design, my form bent over the table like a question mark, the lines of the drawings like invisible threads that hold me to the past.
I know my Dad can not travel this far to see it when it is done, but I know he will smile at the thought. On the walls of the shop, are tools that have seen three generations, tools, that are still used. I pick up a household hammer that was my Mom's. Even with remembered pain, I still can swing it strong.
From outside there is only the muted sound of that brief rain shower, a soft plop plop plop, like drops of water falling into a brimming bucket.