Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Long Road Home

The last couple months have been packed with quite a bit of business travel, however, one trip was very absent of the day job’s influence.  A few weeks ago I made the trek back east to Maryland for Memorial Day.  This was the first Memorial Day without the hero of our family…our Dad.  My youngest sister lives there in Maryland and my other sister came up from Georgia so that we could all visit Arlington together with Mom.

We spent a fair bit of time at Dad’s grave remembering, telling stories, hugging, crying and laughing.  The flags were placed at every grave, and off in the distance you could see the movement of wave after wave of Boy Scouts placing roses on every headstone.  I failed to notice the day we laid Dad to rest…Arlington may be one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Thousands upon thousands of our heroes all placed in rows that echo the focus and precision with which our bravest lived their lives…and saved countless others.  I was in awe.
The second purpose for the journey was to collect many of the things from Dad’s shop that I would bring home to my own.  Dad was a woodworker, a craftsman of skill, precision and passion…and he taught me at every chance we had together.  For almost 20 years every trip back home included woodworking lessons.  Many times we would pre-plan weeks before I arrived.  I can recall his voice and his words in almost every task I execute in the workshop.

My youngest sister was gracious enough to loan me her truck for the trip back to Colorado, and my Mom and other sister were brave enough to drive cross country with me to bring this load of precious cargo home…and then drive back!  I cannot thank them enough for delivering my Dad’s treasures to me.

I could proudly list the contents of an entire pick-up bed of tools, jigs and wood that we brought on our journey, but there was really only one thing that I needed to come home with me.  While I’m very grateful for routers and sanders, wood slabs and a mortiser…which I’ll enjoy using for years to come, the whole, long drive would have been worth it if all that came with me was this…
This is where Dad held court in his workshop.  I helped him build the doors and frame the top at his little shop down on the Potomac River almost 20 years ago.  This bench cabinet was built to match the height of the table saw and served as an in-feed surface and storage for all things needed to use the saw.  While specifically designed for this cause, complimenting the table saw would not be this treasure’s greatest purpose.

For two decades woodworking and life happened around this cabinet.  There were many woodworking lessons, but even richer were the conversations…memories, our marriages, raising kids, politics, money, war, love and life.  We were sitting at this cabinet the first time he told me about Viet Nam, and the first time I ever saw his eyes well when describing the heroism of an Airman who threw himself on a loose phosphorous bomb to save the rest of his crew.  I met those parts of my Dad that he was ready to introduce me to right here at this cabinet, in this chair.

There is a patina on the bench top where he used to sit, a well worn surface where his hands and arms rested when he sat there.  There are cuts, nail holes and hammer dings from all of his grandchildren.  The grain of the plywood top is raised by the moisture of many Maryland summers and the sweating beers and coffee drips that left countless little puddles.  Needless to say it will never need sanding.  And always at the ready was “the chisel.”
He kept it razor sharp and probably used it on almost every project for little touch ups or fine tuning any joinery.  He had nicer chisels, but this was the go to.  Some variation of, “Oh, hold on…hand me the chisel Bubba” was spoken to me probably a hundred times over the years.

And so now his cabinet is the anchor of my shop, lined up behind my table saw ready to serve the next crew of Harbin woodworkers.  I’ll be giving the lessons now and hopefully can share even half the wisdom with half the grace the Dad did.


Anonymous said...

Very, very special. I hope it might prove as precious to whoever you choose to pass it on to.
Can you elaborate on 'the chisel'? Slightly unusual shape, with the scoop just away from the tang.....
I have just one item my Father passed on to me - a 110 Stanley with a red lever cap. Not valuable in the strictest sense, but it sits on top of the hundred odd other planes in the box(es).
Thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

Treasure your memories - I implore you to write them as a story - I sat with my dad for many hours in the last months of his life - and he shared his memories of long ago - but it was a traumatic time, and later I found that voice and words faded from my memory.

Grand story though -



Pete said...

Thank you guys.

"The chisel" is one of many old tools he found in the workshop/garage at the old family home on the Potomac River. I've never heard of the maker before, and the blade is flat, a bit like a paring chisel.

I just sharpened it up last weekend and have already pressed it into service a couple of times.