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
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
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.