Pliers Lined Up by Size

My son has a cat stroller he uses to take his cats for walks. It was quite pricey, so although he encouraged me to get one I didn’t for over a year. But then I saw one at 1/3 the price online, so I ordered it. It arrived in great need of “putting together.”

I left it lying on the living room floor and every time the gardener asked me why I hadn’t put it together yet, I explained how busy I am. (I am busy; that’s not a lie).

Finally, he started putting it together himself.  [Big winky face]

But the instructions were not correct and the gardener is not a patient person. I could hear him complaining to beat the band, so I offered to help. He asked me to get a long skinny screwdriver and a pliers with a regular style jaw in a medium size. When he started to explain a little more, I had to remind him: “I’m my father’s daughter, remember? I was raised alongside Dad’s workbench.”

My father had a workshop in our basement, and when I was younger than six I could often be found at his feet as he toiled at his building, fixing, creating. I loved the vise, the lathe, and all the different tools lined up by order of size on the pegboard over the workbench.

When I was six, my father built a bomb shelter out of his workshop–and moved all his stuff out to the garage. This “poem start” (not a completed poem, but a first draft) documents that first workshop and its disappearance.



A small, square space at the bottom of the steps.

One casement window ajar

just below

the ceiling hinting

at the black and unknown winter.


The man working, a little girl,

face like a cup,

watching his arms crank

the vise handle,

tighten the grip

like Superman.


False walls invoke a room from

the open basement.  The workbench

so like that of the elves,

its thick wooden surface scarred

slick by hammer blows.


He presides over the saw

with precision, aiming

for the pencil line, sawdust

falling away on each side

like the snow from a plow.


A rack of baby food jars

containing nails and screws

revolves overhead, and at the back

of the planked surface families

of pliers and screwdrivers line up

by size like Goldilocks’ bears.


The girl sits behind him

the chilled concrete twanging

her backside through her thin

pajamas.  She pounds the

wooden posts in her little workbench

all the way through and then

flips it and pounds them back again.


Everything in its place.

His sleeping bag and snowshoes

from the war

hang from the rafters.  The caricature

of the man pinning diapers on her,

her head bald except for

two hairs sprouting heroically

as Tweety Bird.


He carries the contents she thinks

are the room

up the stairs and out to the garage.

The claw and the ball hammers, all

the members of the pliers and screwdriver

families, the cardboard box

of sandpaper.  Sleeping bag and painting.


After much labor slabbing mortar,

constructing dual-layer cinder block

walls, the man rests

his chin on the ladder rung, surveys


a small, square space at the bottom of the steps,

dark and cold.


On the way out, he slaps

a fallout shelter decal

on the door he has just hung.


The man toils over his bench in the garage now.

She’s not allowed.

The space heater is too dangerous.

For a couple of years I couldn’t follow my father into the workshop the same way. The coziness and security were gone. But then we moved when I was eight and he created another wonderful workshop in the basement.  He did so everywhere he ever lived.

Designing the Butterflies are Free set in Dad’s workshop–11th grade

When my father was dying he gave me a beautiful set of wrenches to take home. As I tried to get through security at the airport, TSA took the wrench set from me. I never saw it again.

After Dad’s funeral, family members and friends began plundering his workshop of its tools and gadgets.

What place reminds you of your father or mother? My grandmother’s kitchen reminds me of her, and my other grandmother’s sewing room expresses her spirit. My grandfather’s place was his vegetable garden.


For the rest of the summer, I plan to blog once a week instead of twice. I’m behind in my conversations with y’all and want to catch up! I’ve got some new eye problems, so I’m trying not to spend as much time on the computer, writing and reading, and then, after all, it is really really hot here.


Filed under #AmWriting, Blogging, Family history, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Writing

52 responses to “Pliers Lined Up by Size

  1. I’m outraged for you that TSA took your wrenches!

  2. The TSA took your wrenches?!!!!! I think I’d pretty bitter over that one! I LOVED the poem start!! The baby jar thing is so universal isn’t it–that along with peanut butter jars and old coffee cans. Hope your eyes get better, Luanne.


    • I don’t know what they thought this mild-mannered person was going to do with a set of wrenches, but they were not very nice about it. Thank you so much about the poem start! I don’t usually post unpublished poem drafts or poems because I don’t want to make them unqualified for sending out, but I didn’t know where I wanted to go with this. Although it’s unfinished I was happy enough with how it is even though it’s not a complete poem, so I thought you might enjoy it, too. Yes, he had lots of coffee cans, too. We have lots of cashew butter jars on hubby’s workbench because that’s what he eats!

  3. Hi Luanne- Love the poem start, and I was reminded of my own dad’s tool table and everything arranged on wall pegs. My brother went on to be a woodworker/carpenter because of that environment. Another topic: I donated to the animal cause you wrote about so I could “earn” a copy of DOLL GOD. It never arrived ;( and I am bereft. Could you find out what went wrong and see that I am not without your award-winning poetry collection (which I’ve wanted for a long time)? Merci Beaucoup and BTW here’s my best e-mail:

    • Elaine, I’m glad you got my email, and I got yours and sent another :)! Thank you for helping the animals!!! So interesting about your brother being a carpenter. My brother was an excellent furniture maker when he was young. He won the state prize in high school for a coffee table he made. And he made a beautiful hope chest. He went on to work in the construction/inspection business after college.

  4. Enjoy your summer! I too was raised with tools. When I was young and dating, guys were always fascinated that I knew what a Phillips screwdriver was. I inherited some of my Dad’s more “exotic” tool. He had a nail remover that I use to this day and an adjustable wrench. I wonder what TSA does with all that stuff they confiscate. My friend lost $30 worth of canned specialty foods in France a few months back. Hard to make a bomb out of liver mousse.

    • Very cool about the tools! It gets pretty exciting. when my daughter moved to a new apartment, my husband was not able to travel with me to help her move. I had so much fun picking out an electric drill for her (among other tools) and using it. You would have thought we were shopping at Nordstrom for clothes haha.
      That would make me mad, too. What did they need with that food anyway? I wonder if they just confiscate things to take it for themselves. Subjects like this always remind me of that Lucy episode where she’s bringing the cheese (?) back on the plane and pretending it’s a baby.

  5. That’s sad about your wrenches. Very sad. I loved the poem draft and the rest of the story. Places that express family members’ spirit? My dad’s office expressed my dad, who practiced dentistry there until age 75. Every detail of the old home place expressed my mom, extending even into Hidden Cove, where lotus grew, behind our house. And the beach, lake, and unlimited sky expressed me.

    • I am glad that you had the beach, lake, and the sky since your mom had the house and the lotus! It does seem amazing, though, how we feel certain places represent or are inhabited (at least in our memories) by loved ones.
      Thanks so much about the poem start!
      I’m still griping about those wrenches. It was so pointless and mean-spirited, I think. I don’t get how they are a danger.

  6. Gosh, I’m so sorry to hear the TSA took your wrenches. Did they give you an opportunity to explain why you had them, Luanne?
    I hope your eye is doing better soon!

    • They didn’t care why I had them, but I tried telling them anyway. I said that my father was dying and gave them to me as a remembrance. I was verging on tears. I am pretty sure they were close to sneering at me.
      Thanks re the eyes. I have stinken cataracts. All of a sudden. I went from having great vision (one eye near sighted and one far sighted and they worked together like champs) to feeling very very annoyed with my vision. And it’s cataracts (and a little macular degeneration, but very very mild). I am getting all new glasses lenses, but don’t have them all yet and am adjusting to what I did get, and my eyes are very sore and tired feeling. My parents didn’t get cataracts until they were 10-15 years older than me.

      • Luanne, If misery loves company. . .
        I know this won’t be a comfort at all but I had narrow eye glaucoma in both eyes at 55, so I had a laser drill one hole under each pupil, which created an “irrigation ditch.” I am now facing cataract surgery scheduled, end of October. My Mom had cataracts at age 81, so I agree it is quite annoying to be so “young,” in comparison.

        • Oh Robin, my stupid cataracts are nothing compared with what you’re going through. Does glaucoma run in your family then? It does in my mother’s, but I ended up with the macular degeneration from my father instead. I am so glad they have treatments for glaucoma today. Please let us know ahead of time about your surgery for prayers (if that is ok and vibes if it is not). Was your glaucoma procedure painful?

      • That’s horrible they treated you that way.
        I’m sorry to hear about your eyes, Luanne. You are young to have cataracts. My father is having surgery at the end of the month and he’s 78.

        • That’s what I mean! Ugh, two guesses, according to what I read online. Maybe taking HRT, if you know what that is. Or maybe too much time on the computer!!!

  7. I can’t believe the TSA took the wrenches. . . sorry to hear that.

    Various places in Dallas remind me of my father – the local temple and a favorite Mexican restaurant.

    Hope your eyes feel better, Luanne.

    • Rudri, it was so upsetting because I had just left my father, hugging him for the last time. And they were so snotty about it. I ended up crying. Didn’t change their minds, though.
      Oh, the memories must be triggered when you go to Texas, Rudri. xoxo

  8. A beautifully rendered memory. My mother is still alive, but I’ll probably remember her mixing concrete when not far off my current age. It is Aaron’s van that reminds me of my Dad’s.

  9. This is such a bittersweet post. I love the poem, reminds me of my grandparents’ basement.

    Ugh. The tools they took! 😦

    My mother is a garden, my father is a restaurant, my dad is a workbench.

    • Thanks, Joey! I love that sense of recognition with the things that are the same or reminders of our own lives when we read something memoirish. Re the wrenches, yeah, the creeps. It seems very unnecessary to me.
      Love the garden, restaurant, and workbench images! I always imagine my husband with the watering can in his hand and have written a few things about that, but I just realized that he is also the gym workbench.

  10. Beautiful memories in your poem.
    That is so upsetting that the TSA took your tools!
    I hope your eye is better soon.
    I don’t really associate my parents with any one particular place.

    • Thank you, Merril–both about the poem start and for your sympathy about the wrenches!
      I have cataracts very suddenly in both eyes–way before I ever thought I would get them. No idea of how long it will be before I need surgery. Very annoying to me as I have bad experiences with surgeries–and these are my eyes and I like to READ and WRITE and OBSERVE more than anything except hugging cats.
      That seems unusual that you don’t associate your parents with certain places. Maybe you see them so many places that you can’t narrow it down!

      • So weird to suddenly have cataracts. My husband had cataract surgery two years ago, I think. He was also younger than most people getting it. It went very smoothly, and he could see out of the eye that had the surgery that same day. Now he only needs glasses for reading. I hope you have an equally easy experience!

        Yes, that is what I meant about my parents. They’ve both moved so many times, and so did my grandparents. I will think of a certain experience and location with them in it, but it’s not one place like your grandmother’s kitchen or your father’s workshop. Like I think of this one Chinese restaurant that was my dad’s favorite for a long time, or the swim club my parents belonged to, or something like that.

        • Yes, those sound like positive places to link to your parents! Places they enjoyed themselves.
          Well, your husband’s cataracts contradicts one of my theories: that HRT caused mine. Online that is one way somebody gets early cataracts. I’m worried that another way is too much computer screen! I did see that mentioned. I love that he had a good experience with the surgery!

          • My husband’s a smoker, which I think can also help cause cataracts. But the doctor said that it’s not unusual to get them at his age. I guess he was 57 when he had the surgery. The hardest part for him was keeping to the schedule with the drops. At one point he had to do different drops for each eye–one post-op and one pre-op.

            • Oh no, I hate eye drops. Your poor husband. I am not a smoker, but the gardener IS and he smokes in the car when I’m in there, though not the house. I’ll tell him it’s his fault I have cataracts.

  11. So sad that you lost those wrenches, Luanne. Beautiful post. The entire town of San Clemente reminds me of my dad, since he had so many friends there. The nature of attachment is interesting and the ways in which a place can become emblematic of a loved one. Hope you will feel better soon and that the eye problem is not serious.

    • It was such bad timing for them to take the wrenches from me right after I left my father for the last time and was feeling sad and raw and they were very smug. So just going to San Clemente reminds you of your father. Or hearing about it.
      Thanks, Carla. I have cataracts and am kind of bummed about it. Problems with glasses, etc.

  12. First of all, I am concerned about your eyes, Luanne. I vaguely recall Jill writing about eyes and maybe you mentioned your troubles in the comments. (?)
    I liked your scenery set for “Butterflies Are Free.” I saw this done in Cleveland, but it was performed by an off-Broadway troupe.
    I was a Thespian who started with backstage and wardrobe, then makeup and understudy parts, the honor of being Senior year Student Director was such a poignant and pivotal moment in time. I went to National Acting Camp and have always loved theatre, Luanne!
    Interesting since one of my bridesmaids went to Juilliard School of Acting. She met her husband who was in music and directed a fairly famous Orchestra.
    Your Dad’s workshop reminds me of my Dad’s. He used glass baby food jars, had a piece of pegboard with holes in it, with wire hooks coming from those holes. Each tool had its place, like your Dad lined up smaller (to left) to larger (on right.)
    My Grandpa Mattson had a great vegetable garden, he also grew in sandy dirt (sand mixed with peat moss and dirt), asparagus along the garage. Yummy!
    My Grandma Mattson baked many German coffee cakes and was always (seemed to me) in the kitchen. My other Grandma Oldrieve liked to color and paint, so her little dresser was covered with cups with pencils and paintbrushes, jars of acrylics and pads of drawing paper. She had colorized cards for Gibson Cards part-time, during the Depression.
    I like this idea of taking cats on walks in special strollers! 🙂 Also, smiled at the wink face and husband helping put the cat stroller together. 😉 Hoping for the best with your eyes. Take care!

    • I love all these delightful remembrances, Robin! My sewing grandma made the German coffee cakes! Love the artist supplies! I didn’t know that about you and drama, Robin. I too love theatre. Sometimes I wish I gone after one of my teen dreams of being a drama critic, but I think I’m not tough enough and would want to give everyone a glowing review ;)! But the thought of attending show after show really appealed to me!

  13. So many things I either loved about this post or was moved to tears over … but first, what’s that stroller for walking cats?????
    I love, love, love the poem and hope you continue to work on it. Everyone else has expressed my sentiments about TSA … seriously, wrenches??
    Sadly, I can’t think of a room that reminds me of my parents … better not go there.
    I hope your eyes get better and/or your new glasses help. I can’t stand having vision problems. I’m at the point where I’m both far- and nearsighted (used to just be nearsighted). I can read on my computers without glasses (and prefer to do so), but I need glasses for everything else. I have ‘map-dot-fingerprint” dystrophy in both my eyes. My right eye was treated a few years ago because it flared up so bad my vision was distorted (when they gave me an eye exam, I kept seeing double) and I felt it was too dangerous even for me to drive. The treatment was very painful and I hope to never have it again, but … it could get worse again. So now I’m paranoid. I walk around closing alternate eyes to try and judge whether my vision is getting worse … well, sorry to go on about myself. Obviously, I have issues when it comes to vision 😉

    • I didn’t want to like this comment. I’m so so sorry about your eye troubles. Vision problems are awful for writers and readers and bloggers, aren’t they? Puts a real crimp on the whole deal. Not to mention just regular work. I’m sorry you went through that pain from the treatment, too.
      I’m also sorry about not having a room that reminds you of your parents. But I know how to associate you! I am envisioning you in a comfy chair knitting away, with one of your cats curled close to you and the others not too far away.
      Re the stroller: yes! When son first got his he lived in a mega apt complex and there were fleas outside, so it wasn’t so good. But now he lives in a nice place with a beautiful promenade to walk and the cats love the walks! It wears them out a little although it’s just from the excitement. It looks like a small baby stroller, but has a netting that encloses it so they can’t jump out! Only one cat at a time, of course.

  14. It’s awful that those silly TSA people took the wrenches, Luanne. Some people have no heart 😦 My biggest memory of my father was fishing at the beach. We did it together all the time. Now when I miss him or want to be close to him I grab a rod and stand on the sand fishing all day (if I catch anything, that’s just a small bonus) 😉

    I hope you’re eyes are feeling better soon xxxxx

    • Dianne, how special that you can feel your father’s presence when you “stand on the sand fishing all day.” The memories we feel in our bones and our blood are so strong.
      Thanks, Dianne. I hope that once I get these glasses figured out they will feel better!

  15. I love the detail in the poem capturing the very essence of your Dad’s work shop. My grandfather worked on his fishing nets in a room in the cellar. I loved to visit, glowing with warmth from the boiler, my grandfather listening to the radio, his hands flying across the net as he repaired it. I’d sit on a stool opposite him, taking in the smells, talking a bit, mostly just watching. That was enough.

  16. I concur with all the previous sentiment about the TSA. What a bunch of BS! But I guess in the end, it’s what it is in our heart about our loved ones and not the ‘things’ they leave behind. Still, f*ck those guys.

  17. I’m catching up on some reading. Your poem is beautiful. (Your cats are also incredibly adorable. I miss my cat – she’s staying with my friends’ friends ’til we move into our own place. But I digress…)

    My Dad has a workshop in the garage too, with a calendar from 1978 on the wall, and the baby jars of nails and screws in the ceiling. My father was not a patient man, and, although he really wanted us to learn what he was doing, he was not a good teacher, so we never did. I’m actually still afraid of tools.

    I have an old sweatshirt of my mom’s, as well as a bunch of her stuffed animals. I miss her a lot. It’s been almost 8 years since she died. I still dream about her being alive, and then wake up in the morning and it’s not true. I hate that.

    • So you’re in a transition place now that you moved? How are the kids doing settling in? You too . . . . Thanks so much re the poem and the cats. I constantly marvel how beautiful they are!
      What you say about the loss of your mother is so poignant, Robyn. It seems you’re blessed in your sleep with your presence, but I can see where that makes it so much harder when you wake up.
      While I’m sorry you’re afraid of tools (and why), I love that your father’s workshop still has a calendar from 1978. It’s as if time stopped there. How long has he been gone?

  18. Pingback: Fresh Air for Cats and Writers | Writer Site

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