penny in a castle

A digital chapbook.

Papa’s toolbox

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My husband got off the phone.

“It was your dad. Something about a tool box.  Your mom has your grandfather’s tools and wants to give some of them to you,” he said.

“Oh, okay,” I said.

We both look at each other as if to say – we have tools. We don’t even know how to use most of them.  Heck, I have trouble not using a hammer without making many more holes than required or banging my thumb black and blue.  What in the world would we do with more tools? Except maybe inflict more damage on our poor, old, unsuspecting house.

Later that evening, my dad banged opened the door without ceremony. We pretty much have an open door policy in our house.  We also had a child stricken with the plague and he didn’t want to expose my weakened mom or himself to them. I agree with this strategy and stand at least five feet away, pulling my son – who is fighting the ravages of strep throat – away from hugging and infecting his beloved papa. 

Just inside the door frame, my dad plunks down a wooden box. “Here, Papa Mac’s tools for you.  Your mom wants you to share them with your brothers. We sent them some already. You can have these.”

I look at the plain box and a thousand childhood memories come flooding back.  Suddenly, I totally understand.

“Thank you, that’s a blast from the past,” is all I can say, as my dad hurries out the door – worried that the virus scourge may follow him and my mother back home. 

Soon after they pull out of the driveway, I carry the toolbox into the living room. I place it on a chair and sit down on the floor to examine it.

My grandfather’s tool box.  I can’t believe I’ve been given it.

The box itself such a treasure.

The wood is so old – it’s smoothed by age and my grandfather’s hand.  He likely made it himself.  I am lucky to have more than a few things he made – plain, Shaker-like in design. Also like the Shakers, he liked to work with pine best – cheaper than other wood, but with a light, yellowy colour that brightens a room.  It scratches easily but this is part of its charm – anything it is made out of feels homey and comfortable.   My most prized possessions (and I have few) are made by him – a desk, a kitchen table, a side table that is unusual because it is made of oak.  But most of all, two lowly and unassuming stools. 

One was made when I was seven years old.  That year, Papa Mac made all of the grand children special wooden stools of his own design.  I know, because he wrote all of our names and the date he made them on each one.  They have a circular top to stand on or sit on. But instead of legs, each stool is supported by four wooden wheels.  That Christmas all the grandchildren ran like hell up and down may aunt’s long hallway, bumping and crashing them into each other.  My grandfather apologized to me – because mine was not perfect.  He was upset because the dowel to support the wheels had broken when he had been putting it together. But coming from a background of depression and frugality he couldn’t waste it.  He simply bound it together with bolts, screws and glue in such a way that it has never broken in the 35 years I have had it.  Even as a child, I felt that this made it special instead of a mistake.

The other stool is of an even older vintage.  I had a toy box with a heavy lid. It worried my mom – she  thought I might pinch or even lose my fingers if it slammed shut.  When I was two, my grandfather took the lid off and brought it away.  Shortly after ward he presented me with a plain rectangular stool. Legend has it that the design is one my grandfather learned as a six year old – a simple box with straight legs and an oval handle in the middle. It has been my constant companion for over 40 years.  It is splattered with paint, but has never needed repainting or finishing. It never splinters.  It never changes except to age with me – both of us less graceful and with a few more scars with each passing year.  It sits under my desk at work, where I use it to prop up my feet.  And so my grandfather, with his common-sense wisdom and humour is always there to support me each day.  It is a small reminder of my family, where I come from and what’s really important.

But I can’t believe mom has really given me Papa Mac’s tool box. And I am a bit embarrassed because I really don’t know what to do with what’s in it. I don’t deserve it.

As I look into it, I pull out an ancient book.  I see my grandfather’s writing in his fine script identifying it as his.  He did not write a year, but I note it’s in its twelfth printing in 1945.  It’s hard to know what it is – it’s filled with numbers and scales.  I wonder if this is a book he might have used as a tool and die man working for Avro, de Havilland, McDonnell Douglas.  I unwrap a leather holster and it has a hammer/screw driver combination – not unlike the fancy flowery one I keep in the kitchen. I laugh and think that maybe the apple hasn’t really fallen far from the tree after all.  I see a plain, steel tape measure used to measure hundreds of bits of wood over the years.  I unwrap another package and find it contains carefully arranged miniature wrenches.  My three-year-old leaned over and said, “I like that.”  Suddenly I plunge back into reality and realize the box – filled with hammers, pliers, screwdrivers and even a small hand saw – is dangerous for a preschooler.  Even one that has been slowed down a bit by sickness.

“This is mine. My tool box,” I said – sounding a bit like a toddler myself.  Although I really don’t know what I will do with it.

I just know I can’t let it go.

It’s filled with memories.

Of summers going to the lumber yard and smelling the sharp clean smell of freshly cut wood.

Of watching him measure meticulously several times before making a cut in the wood. 

Of the scream of the table saw and the buzz of the jigsaw.

Of blue-grey eyes flashing over a pencil design on a scrap of paper.

Of the same eyes coolly measuring a piece of wood – even if it was scrap – for it’s worth.

Of eyes smiling as he gave a gift, specially made with his own hands.


Written by pennyinacastle

May 30, 2013 at 2:07 am

Posted in Random thoughts

Tagged with , , ,

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