From the archives...
A few weeks ago, my friend’s father passed away while she and her mother were looking through the many and varied items in his garage. He had been lingering in his body for several days and they had been keeping watch over him. Finally, to get a bit of reprieve they went out to the garage to start sorting through a lifetime’s accumulation of stuff. I felt that it was fitting that he would choose this moment to leave, knowing they were looking at the odd assortment of items he had chosen to keep over the years. I imagined that he couldn’t quite hear their comments from his bed, so thought, “Well, this might be as good a time as any to sever all ties to this body and drift over to the garage for a look and a listen.”
I smile as I think of this scene, because I remember my father’s garage in all its messy, yet somehow organized glory. Oh my goodness, I loved that garage almost as much as I adored my father. In the garage I could get to know my true, authentic father. He didn’t really have a lot of say in the decoration of the house. He put up with the pink bedroom and the fuzzy toilet seat covers and the bric-a-brac in the china cabinet without saying a word. But, in his garage, where he reigned supreme there was none of my mother’s input and I could get a glimpse of the real man that was my father. I never dared to go out there when he wasn’t there. But, when he was working at his metal lathe or fighting with some engine overhaul I could spend as much time as I liked as long as I didn’t talk, touch or make noise. I would gaze in wonder at decades of accumulation stuck between the stud walls, hanging on nails from the ceiling and tucked into shelves and cupboards he had made. Where had this come from and how had he gotten it all in here? I knew that he built the garage shortly before I was born, so all of this was placed purposefully by him, yet it looked like three lifetimes’ accumulation. Of course, there was the usual assortment of tools for every purpose. My dad could do or fix anything, so a man must have a wide variety of tools. But, in addition to the usual sledge hammers, pitch forks and chisels were other mystery tools that he had fabricated for specific purposes. There was the special rake for removing leaves from the gutters and another one for removing leaves from the ditch. There were rolls and rolls of tape for every purpose and an entire drawer devoted to gloves. One time he was putting a new starter on my International Scout. A trailer had rolled over his foot a week or so before so he was on crutches and I was designated to retrieve the tools as he needed them. He was able to tell me, “I need the 11/16” socket that is in the first bank of drawers, third drawer down, upper left-hand corner, fourth socket from the top of the drawer.” I would find the drawer filled with perhaps two hundred items, but he was never wrong as to the needed item’s location. Almost all of these tools were engraved with his name. I still am amazed when I think of man who valued his belongings so much that they all bore his name and that he knew where every single item was located.
Dad had a safari hat hanging from a hook above the one window in the garage. I always wondered where it came from and when he had worn it. I guess I could have asked, but then if the answer had been mundane I would have been very disappointed. I preferred to think that in a past life, way before I was born he had traveled to Africa on safari to stalk lions and zebras. He was a quiet man, not given to talking about the past, so you never knew. I placed the hat in the same category as the blue fishing pole that was so stout you could have caught a hundred pound fish. We lived near mountain lakes and I had been fishing with my father any number of times. But, that pole was not for the lake trout he usually caught. No, that thing was from a far greater adventure. Perhaps, marlin fishing off the coast of Florida from a huge yacht before he even knew my mother. My dad, the man of mystery.
He loved Will Rogers’ folksy style and had a framed picture of him hanging above his workbench. The caption at the bottom read “Beloved American”. That was my dad. He worked hard, loved his country, always voted, watched the news every night, enjoyed the outdoors, raised a huge family and at the end of the day was simply a humble, loving man who was doing the best he could.
He’s been gone from this life for many years now, but lingers with me often. It is usually when I am using his yellow-handled hacksaw engraved with his name, or when I am religiously watching the nightly news or when I’m fixing some broken down item that I found at the dump. I sometimes catch him smiling down at me through Will Rogers’ eyes as I get a glimpse of the framed picture that now hangs in my messy, yet somehow organized garage. Dad, I’ll always miss you, but am comforted that your spirit is within me every day that I live. How about we go on a safari? Just you and me.