Mom lived best as a hamster. Ever notice how long it takes a hamster to fix its home after a cleaning? The fresh papers are shredded, strewn and piled until there’s cave-potential in the wad of messiness.
Thankfully my two older sisters showed the rest of us how a clean and tidy home could look. Not that my sisters and I appreciated giving up our Saturdays to make the house presentable enough to allow a young man to come in when he picked us up for a date.
Mother’s soul made up for her lack of domesticity though full appreciation comes late for a kid. My girl friends didn’t bat an eye at the clutter and muddle of the place when they came over. They headed for a seat near Mom and the conversation was full of respect, genuine interest and a challenge to rethink the obvious. When my closest friend found herself pregnant at 17, even before she confessed to me, she came to Mom. She said Mom listened and asked “really great” questions; then gave Ruth the opportunity to practice breaking the news to her upper middle class, Catholic family. Ruth ended up marrying the young father who was still her sweetheart when he died some 40 years later.
The other contrast in our home? My father’s workshop. I loved having him home for a good break because it meant he’d bring new ideas for making “his space” the tidiest part of the house. Everything had its place and all was organized in such a way no tool or article had to be searched for. I was certain he invented the use of old sandwich spread jars holding different sized nails or screws or washers. Every item used to organize that soothing workspace was recycled or created.
When I wanted Dad to myself, I’d join him in the workshop and keep him company while he worked. Likely I drove him crazy with my questions. His father, an Alberta farmer, had also been the town’s “Smithy”. Grandpa’s Irish heritage had instilled a love for a good story and a large dose of self-sufficient inventiveness. The gift was passed to my father.
When something broke, Dad’s first consideration was how to fix it. If a part couldn’t be repaired, a duplicate part would have to be created. We never simply replaced it – nor bought the parts to get it working again. Dad fixed everything in the home, on his car, on our person and, especially, in a little girl’s heart.
Thankfully when he helped put my heart back together, the result was tidier than some of the other jobs he pulled off. Dad’s main drive was to get the “danged thing workin’ again!” – it didn’t have to be pretty. It didn’t matter that the repair was messily, but proudly displayed like a 10 year old’s new cast after a battle in sports.
As Dad aged and began spending more time at home, his creative urges took him to his workshop more often. He began building household accessories. These innovations weighed heavily on the side of convenience and did little for aesthetics. Come to think of it, the floor ashtray made out of pipes and a metal drum was only convenient in its height. To empty it, one had to cart the entire aperture to the garbage. Washing it was more than a struggle.
In my teen years, I was generally the last kid still at home. When I heard saws, drills, grinders or sanders whining from the workshop below, I’d roll my eyes, “Oh no, Mom…now what’s he making?!”
In my home today, a beat up old green tool box, gifted from Dad, contains tools, gadgets and even some gismos I don’t have a clue how to use. Dad presented it with the assurance it contained the basic needs of every household – and beyond. There’s an awl for punching holes in leather. There’s a little hand saw for cutting through metal. It holds wires snips, needle nose pliers, screw drivers of every size, etc. It even includes a hunting knife with his initials engraved in the blade encased in a jerry-rigged holder so it would fit on his belt.
My prize possession, however, is his axe. It’s cut many years of my winter wood. As I chop, I imagine he’s sitting on one of the rounds gently giving me instructions about placing the wood properly. He probably cringes every time I misjudge a swing and whack the bottom of the handle on the log. He had drilled a hole through the metal of the blade big enough to fit over the head of a nail. I remember how he slowly handed it to me, “Now this is a great axe. You make sure you hang it up every time you finish with it. Don’t let the blade rust.”
When something quits working in my home, my first thought is how I can fix it even though my skills and knowledge are sadly lacking. The joy of accomplishing some pesky repair matches the news of winning a prize. If it stymies my inventiveness, I take a hike down the road to my local lumber store. It’s a bit like coming home. I tell one of the workers my dilemma and ask about some creative way to fix it. They love the challenge. It’s like having my Dad at my elbow.
I grin when one of those ingenious, helpful fellows wrap their creative suggestion with, “You want it to look good…”