Wednesday, July 23, 2014

OLD TRICKS

Growing up, I often watched my father at his woodworking in the basement. He might be fashioning a piano bench, cabinet drawer, birdhouse, or picture frame. Sometimes it was a piece of fine furniture, though it might just as easily be a more utilitarian item such as a kitchen stool, bookcase, storage box—or occasionally a toy for his wide-eyed offspring.  

Before I was born, he'd turned bowls and dishes on a lathe, and built a pair of exquisite guitars which the legendary Merle Travis played several times on his live radio show from Cincinnati. He also built our house.

Dad could make anything out of wood. An artist rather than craftsman, wood seemed to respond to his master's touch. Though he began his working career as a teacher, about the time I came along he chucked the classroom for carpentry and became a freelance "finish carpenter." His reputation for quality work quickly grew, and he was soon in demand to finish the finest new homes and remodels around. 

In case you don't know, there are two sorts of carpenters. "Rough" carpenters do the basic understructure work—things like framing, sheathing, sub-flooring. When the house is up and basically built, the "finish" carpenter comes in and, well, finishes the job—building jambs and hanging doors, sometimes building and hanging kitchen cabinets, building stairs and installing rails and banisters, running casings and moldings and trim. All the visible wood details that help to showcase a home. 

Nowadays a lot of this work from both camps has been subdivided into specialities—framers, roofers, floorers, cabinet installers, etc. But in Dad's time—and still on the "best of the best" custom homes where details matter and nothing is stock or store-bought, but handcrafted from the the finest materials, usually on site—talented woodworking was appreciated and demanded. Artisan carpenters were called on to apply their skills.

I possess none of those skills. Competent mediocrity is the best I can manage. But I am my father's son…and I didn't watch him at his workbench, or later, under his watchful eye, work occasionally as his assistant on various jobs, and fail to learn at least a few tricks of the woodworking trade. By osmosis, if not actually paying attention. 

Now, as I'm working on the different aspects of this whole-cottage remodel, a few of those nearly-forgotten tricks have suddenly rematerialized. Old, almost forgotten friends, again come a'knocking at the door. Like how, when working with oak trim, in order to prevent splitting, you first moisten or otherwise lubricate the nail before driving it in. I've also remembered how to lift a bit of wainscoting to the snap-line for nailing when working single-handed. Or the way to properly back-cut crown moulding, make mitre cuts align perfectly, scribe a board to a wall, or drop a plumbline from ceiling to floor. 

These and other handy little carpentry tidbits have been floating up from the dark recesses of my mental files like bobbing apples at an old-fashioned Thanksgiving party. And I appreciate their help and worth, for they're just as valid and useful today as ever—plus I'm rather pleased to know they weren't forgotten completely, but only temporarily mislaid. 

Yet they've also done something more than merely make my work easier and better…they've transported me back in time—given me brief, but astonishingly real moments with my father. Flashbacks so tangible and true that I not only see him in the finest detail, but hear his voice and even catch his scent. For a few heartfelt seconds we're palpably reunited—a gift, a blessing, inexplicable, absolute.

I wouldn't trade these moments for anything.   

8 comments:

Momcat said...

That is beautiful. Kinda speaks for itself, so I won't try to add to it. Very nice.

Gail said...

Oh Grizz - uch bautiful heartfelt sentiments - I savored every word and I appreciate every learned skill and memory while gaining the knowledge. Your Dad is forever in you and forever in the remodel, how wonderful that is to realize - I am moved to tears. I know this is not quite the same but when I make my Mom's famous poppy-seed rolls/loaves - I can hear her voice telling me to leave a little space around the edges as I spread hte poppy seed over the buttered dough, and I can see her arthritic fingers working the dough until it feels just right - I have so many working memories like this - of my Dad too when he painted, and also how he released the pressure in the radiators, he wall papered like a pro and also re-upholstered chairs and so much more. It is all right with me today - I could feel your nostalgia and I was so in tune with the beautiful and oh so precious meaning. Amen.

Love Gail
peace.....

Grizz………… said...

Momcat…

Thank you. I'm glad you liked the post. This morning's rain gave me time to write.

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

You are so right, my father is in me—in thought and deed, memory and action—and it's such a dear and wonderful thing to be reminded of that presence from time to time. Isn't it odd how it's often the little things, the commonplace activities, that brings them back?

I only wish more of Dad, his wisdom and skills and character, had rubbed off on me. His life and influence, his love and direction and endless patience, shaped and guided me all my life—and always will. A very precious gift. Because of Dad, I'm a far better man. I owe him so much! And miss him every single day.

Gail said...

Hi again well, from where I sit and read and see and hear of your humble life it seems your Dad lives on honorably through you. Your love and admiration of him is so beautiful and life-giving.
Love Gail
peace....

Grizz………… said...

Gail…

Thank you, I appreciate your words. And honestly, I really do try every single day to live and be that man…though I also think I too regularly fail, whether through weakness, stupidity, fear, or just my own stubborn nature. I regularly look back and say to myself, "Now why'd you do that? You were taught better."

Mom and Dad gave me the map, I just don't always follow.

Susan said...

It must be a week of remembering fathers. John picked up that little mini that you see up the hill a few months ago. I usually ignore it, but John recently had to take a call so I drove. I have not driven a stick shift in over 20 years, but it came back to me like it was yesterday. John was impressed and said I shift more smoothy than him. My father taught me to drive and put me in a manual transmision against my will. I cried buckets of tears tring to keep those old VWs going on a hill at a dead stop and trying not to dump the clutch. Dad stuck with me. He may have cursed a few times, but he did not let me give up. Eventually I learned how to listen to the engine and shift when the time was right. I got a kick out of still being able to do it well and wished I could call up heaven and share that with my Dad this week.

Grizz………… said...

Susan…

Please forgive my slow reply…we've been working all weekend on our "Will It Never End!" remodeling, and I just now logged on and found your lovely comments.

In teaching you to drive a stick, your father did you a real favor. A case of "tough love" maybe, but real love nonetheless. And you never know when it might come in useful, even if it's just showing up John. :-)

Isn't it amazing how stuff comes back? I believe learning to drive a stick shift is like learning to ride a bicycle or swimming—some you carry with you always, whether used frequently or not. You might be a little rusty at it—different clutches, 4-speed, 5-speed, etc.—but after a minute or two it's there, just like yesterday.

Most of my vehicles have been sticks—2 VW "Bugs", a Ford Falcon, 2 Jeeps, an MGB, 2 Isuzus, and a Volvo—then 2 Ford pickup trucks—one stick, one automatic—and 2 Dodge pickups, both automatics. I've also driven big box trucks, tractors, vans, motor homes, dump trucks, buses (school types and big "scenic cruiser Greyhound" types), and various farm, construction, and AVTs.

My only problem switching around—probably due to incipient geezerhood—is that when I hop from one of my vehicles to one of Myladylove's, I might get distracted blathering and momentarily lose track of which I'm in, whether the 4-speed or 5-speed, so is reverse over here or over there!

Like you, I find myself doing things in the ways my father taught me—though it's always one of those bittersweet moments. I'm pleased because I've remembered and done things just like he said, and because I know he'd get such a kick out of my getting it right…but so, so sad, sometimes almost heartbroken, that I can't share it with him, can't see his reaction or hear his warm laughter.

Closure is a myth. Time takes you downstream, removes some of the sting with distance and life's ongoing adventures. But no matter how amazing or long-term the journey, it doesn't heal, doesn't take you beyond memory of those dear, sweet folks who gave you life and share your blood…who loved you first and unconditionally, and formed you in so many ways into the person you are.