One evening back in 1950, I pushed the door open to the smell of sawdust and damp earth. It was always cool down in Dad's basement workshop, especially in the evenings. I ducked my head anticipating the low ceiling and stepped into the dusty but well-lit room.
Dad turned off his table saw, greeted me with the usual hug, and said, "Hi big boy, how you doin'?"
"Hi Pop. Just checking in to see how you're doing."
"Doin' good. I'm working on a high chair for little Linny." Our daughter Lindsay, born in January 1949, was his first grandchild.
"You're kidding, a high chair?"
"Yep, and it'll fold right up so you can put it in the trunk of your car and take it with you."
"Nothing but the best for our little sweetie."
In many ways my dad was an amazing man. He was essentially a salesman, with a ton of friends who loved him. He really enjoyed the competitiveness of his business, and was proud of its success. But his real love was working with his hands. He did this in the evenings in his workshop to relax.
"Did you find a blueprint for the high chair?" I asked.
"No, just sort of figured it out," he grinned. Dad was an inventive man.
I looked around the workshop and saw the little things that made it Dad's special place. The wall above his rough but rugged workbench was covered with his tools hanging on carefully placed nails — tools he had owned "since Hector was a pup," as he would say. There were the drill brace and collection of bits, his carpenter's square, the hand saw that he called "Old Robert" after himself, the smoothing plane, various large and small hammers, and a collection of wood rasps and metal files.
"What else do you plan on making for Lindsay?"
"How about a rocking horse?"
"That'd be great. She'd love it."
"And a pretend cooking stove, and a toy box."
In the shadows at one end of the room he stored scraps of wood, usually scrounged from some construction project that he visited in his work. He got a kick out of making something out of nothing.
By 1955 dad's heart began to grow weary. He and Mom moved from that house on Maymont Drive, in Los Angeles, to Riverside to be near my brother Rich and me and our families.
After dad died in 1960 Rich and Joyce and their kids moved into Mom and Dad's Riverside house and Rich sort of inherited dad's old tools. But I do have a couple — his old carpenter's square, by now at least 65 years old, and one of his metal files. They're out in my workshop right now.
That square is good for another 65 years I'm sure, but the file is getting pretty well worn. Wearing down like Pop did when he finally set it down for the last time 35 years ago.