I thought about naming this baby after my father who died when I was eighteen. There are now five boy grandchildren with this one, between my younger brother and I, and not a single one has been named after my dead father. Probably a large part of the reason for this is because my older brother is already named after him. Another part is that the name just plain isn’t a favorite, I guess.
However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t often think about my dad as a grandfather. I often do. I often wonder who he would be to my kids, even to me, at this point in my life. And I miss him, still, even though he’s been dead for 14 years this past april. All the time. And I wonder about him. But even as I wonder, I know it’s no real use to do so. Things have gone down a totally different path, diverged long ago, so that it’s impossible to look back and speculate at what might have been.
Still, I find myself having…really just the very beginnings of make-believe conversations with him sometimes. I allow myself that much, I think I can envision that much, based on my memories of him and who he was. Sometimes, I invoke his face. Sometimes I can almost hear him. Usually, especially of late, being immersed in adult life problems and issues, the conversations revolve around fixing things around the house, or construction issues. Our refrigerator just broke recently and I imagined him coming over to take a look at it and telling me what to do or what he thought.
My dad was a carpenter. Self-employed. He learned in a way that almost no one learns anything anymore: he had the skills and the trade passed down to him through my grandpa and great uncle. They both went into the service during world war II and when they came out, entered trade school to become carpenters. He never attended a day of school after 12th grade, but was nevertheless, extremely skilled and wise when it came to building things, fixing things, knowing and handling tools, and all of the things about working with your hands that are in many ways more art and feeling than math and protocols.
As a child, I never appreciated this much. It just was. Now, as an adult, I revere this type of skill and knowing that seems to be so rare in modern life. Now it’s all about the degree and the image and the p.r. skills, very little about hard and honest work and offering a well-honed skill for an honest living. And, especially now that I have a home (that constantly seems to be doing its best to fall apart around me) and a car and have paid a king’s ransom to various corporate fix-it people and companies to deal with my issues, that I really find myself, along with simply missing him, yearning with my whole being at times for him to be here to talk with me and share his skill and knowledge about these things, help me to see things the way he did: as a carpenter sees them, someone who can take wood and simple tools and understand things that most other people can’t and create something new.
As he died when I was a teenager, I never got the chance to really connect with him about his profession/his life’s passion. I took it all for granted, as I said. Still, besides having pretend conversations with him now and again, I find different ways to connect with his memory. Sometimes I’ll catch myself saying things to ruth and joel just like he would have said. Sometimes, I catch looks on my own face in my reflection in a window or something that were his looks.
And then, much more rarely, I will have experiences like I had just today. Where I feel like he’s right there with me as I’m doing something and I can almost see him out of the corner of my eye.
I’m not at all, as I said, a fix-it person. I know nothing about plumbing, electrical or wood. I know very little about tools and hardware. I don’t do these things. See above-mentioned kings ransom to other people to fix my shit. But a few months back, I was browsing pinterest and found a pin for a co-sleeper made of plywood that attaches to the side of a bed, and I thought, “that would be perfect,” because, though ruth is five, and most people would consider that old enough to be sleeping in her own bed and having her own room, we all (ruth, joel, and I) sleep in the same bed. Every night. Without holding onto any pretext that we are trying to encourage her to sleep in her own space. I’m pretty fine with them both in bed with me (at this point anyways), but the question of the new baby came into focus about nine months ago. What would we do? It wouldn’t really be safe or feasible for him to sleep in bed with ruth and joel and i. plus there just isn’t room. It already feels crowded to the brim. What to do? When I came across this co-sleeper, it seemed like the perfect solution. The baby would be in his own “safe” and secure space on the other side of me while ruth and joel could carry on as usual. Plus, then on top of having to adjust to a brand new brother, I could spare them any adjustment in the bedtime ritual department.
Anyways, being the purest of procrastinators, I saved this project until…now. 38 weeks pregnant. Sure, I can have a sense of humor about myself. why not? last weekend, we went to lowe’s and I got the wood pieces i would need according to the lady’s description in her blog along with some sand paper to prevent the newborn baby from getting any splinters when the whole thing was put together.
Then this weekend, it was go time, now or never, do or die. “our baby needs some place to sleep,” greg berated me. “ok, ok,” I said, and went into the garage with my wood pieces and the screwdriver greg handed me along with some screws. “this should be easy,” I said. Well, if I was a real carpenter, I’m sure it would have been easy. But I’m just me, clumsy, sloppy, ignorant me, so it was a bit of a challenge, took longer than I thought, turned out much worse than I had hoped. But, I can’t lie. I’m extremely proud because, though it isn’t pretty, I freakin’ did it. I built it. All myself. and it’s not great, but it seems functional. And the entire time I was building it, though I could have been freakin’ out and swearing up a cloud (ok, I did do a bit of that and I certainly wasn’t a very pleasant person for greg or my kids to be around while I struggled with my project), I was actually communing with my dad in a way that I perhaps never have before.
The sound of the tools harkened back to the background music of my childhood, the buzz of the power screwdriver, the bang of the hammer. The smell of the wood and the sawdust brought me back to being little and digging my hands into piles of sawdust under his saw tables. The clink of the screws occasionally falling to the floor was like a voice that I knew. And the whole time, I kept bemusedly asking my dad questions or talking to him as I was flubbing things up: well, how do you do this, dad? I know you would know how to keep the wood from warping. How many screws do you think on this side? How should I go about lining this up?
And, of course, as with anything, if you’re inexperienced, a lot more issues cropped up than I had anticipated. so, we had a lot of dialogue going, me and dad.
As I reached for my water, I could clearly see his hand reaching for his glass of iced tea, something I haven’t thought of in years. Oh yeah, dad, I thought to myself, you used to drink iced tea while you worked. The cool refuge of the garage was something I could finally appreciate with the kids yelling and complaining every couple of minutes right outside in the yard or just inside the house. This is why you went to the garage. For some space and some peace. I remembered going out and visiting him as he worked. I don’t have any memories of him pushing me out or admonishing me for intruding. Mostly, I think, he let us come in and observe, and sometimes help with a few odds and ends if we were old enough. These are vague memories, but their general feel was positive and good and I was reminded again the importance of building a safe and loving and non-judgmental household for my own kids to grow up in.
I sat down at one point and looked around. The garage was not my dad’s. it was greg’s grandpa’s. and so much of it had him written all over it. Neat stacks of things, ropes tied together in bundles, everything tucked away and ordered. It was not how my dad’s garage was. He was, like me, more of a crammer, a jammer, and a “I’ll save this for later”-er stuffer into-er. His garage had spray glue on the walls from where he tested it before use, a drum set in the attic he built for when he felt like having a late night work break/jam session to his jazz music. Yeah, greg’s grandpa, I thought to myself, your garage is alright, but where is your stereo equipment? If there was one thing my dad was passionate about, it was LOUD jazz music. He had a special stereo specifically for the garage that he would blare so loud, as a kid, I remember feeling my chest throb with the bass.
As I finished up sanding, I wished I had his air compressor to dust the whole thing off with like he used to do, along with his clothes and hair after a job or work for the day was finished. I settled for a towel and then had greg help me to take the thing inside (it turned out to be a lot heavier than I thought it would) and stick it in its place. I don’t trust it any further than I can throw it, I keep freaking out because the kids of course want to climb into it, and I’m afraid the whole thing is just going to fall apart and collapse. But I can’t help but glow with pride as I look at it. It’s perhaps the only functional thing that I have ever built. I did it myself. and I feel like I connected with that part of my dad that I wish so badly I had the chance to connect with him over: his wood working and fixing know how. Even though I still know so little about the trade, I feel like I know more than I did. Mostly the pitfalls. Not even necessarily how to avoid or fix them, but just what they are. I gained a bit of understanding that I didn’t have before. And it feels good.
So even though I’m not naming this son after my dad, I’m still thinking about him. I’m still building emotional and ritualistic shrines to his memory in my everyday life. Sending out tiny homages into the universe like so many small clouds of incense.