7: My Father’s Wood Shop

19 12 2012

By the time I was nine, I knew my pieces of wood pretty well.  I relied on sight more than on sound or scent, but I could almost always correctly identify a piece of pine or fir, cherry or walnut, oak or ash, willow or whatever.  I also knew how to identify pieces by their standard dimensions: 2 by 4, 2 by 6, and such. 

By the same time, I knew my way around my father’s shop.  That didn’t mean, however, that I had the run of the shop.  Every time I entered, I had to pause at pre-selected locations and wait to be recognized.  The place housed many machines: jig saw, circular saw, band saw, lathe, joiner, planer, and drill press, every one potentially dangerous.  Upon entry, I had to wait and receive specific, oral permission from my father to proceed with whatever I had in mind. 

Sometimes I didn’t have anything in mind.  I just happened to be nearby in the course of my playful wanderings, and I wanted to see what my father was doing.  I’d come in, check my toy gun at the door, and then stand.  I wouldn’t remove my cowboy hat.  The guys on television didn’t remove their hats when they entered a building, so I didn’t, either… 

Unless my mother was at hand.  If she was with me upon entering a building –grocery store, bakery, shoe shop, especially a church building — it was off with the hat.  That even included her husband’s place of work, even though he kept his on. 

“That’s different,” she said once.  “Your father’s cap is a tool.  He works by the sweat of his brow, and that cap keeps the sweat from dripping into his eyes so he can see what he’s doing.” 

“I thought you said that men perspire and horses sweat.” 

She just glared at me. 

“But cowboy hats are tools,” I said.  “They keep sweat out of the eyes.  They keep the sun’s heat off of the head and the sun’s glare out of the eyes.  They keep the rain from going down the back of the neck.  They provide handy buckets for watering horses.” 

“Well enough, but that’s all outdoors.  We’re indoors now.” 

It was off with the hat, too, if we came into the presence of a “she-female”, as I used to say.  Her age didn’t make any difference.  She could be young enough to walk betwixt the legs of a colt standing up.  In the presence of a female, take off the hat.  I didn’t understand why that was so necessary, but I didn’t object.  The cowboys on television tended to do something like that, too.  If one didn’t remove his hat entirely, he would at least tip it or touch it.  That seemed manly, so I did it. 

            My father didn’t mind my wearing a hat in his shop, though.  There I’d stand, cowboy hat on my head, cowboy belt around my middle.  Maybe there’d be a cowboy shirt on my torso, maybe not.  Maybe there’d be a cowboy kerchief around my neck, maybe not.  Almost always, though, there’d be the cowboy blue jeans.  I’d wear corduroy trousers in the fall and winter, sometimes.  Shorts in the summer?  Never.  Shorts were for sissies, though I would always be corrected for saying it that way.  Jeans were preferred. 

And take note: back then, we boys wore our jeans “stacked”.  That meant that the pant legs were too long to be considered a proper fit if one were wearing, say, dress slacks to school or church.  But the cowboys wore their jeans long so they’d be the right length when astride horses.  Off the horse, then the pant leg stood crumpled on top of the boot, or it was rolled up some at the cuff.  That’s what we kids did: we wore our jeans rolled up at the cuff. It looked funny with our U.S. Keds, Red Ball Jets, and P.F. Flyers, brands of sneakers available back then.  Very few of us would be allowed to have actual cowboy boots because they were too expensive to buy just for play. 

Anyway, sometimes I would stand just inside the door of my father’s shop, gun off, hat on, just waiting to say, “Howdy!”  I would stand and wait silently because some kind of noise typically filled the air.  Often it was so loud that I couldn’t hear myself if I were to make any noise of my own.  So I didn’t.  I just stood there and waited. 

I never really liked all that noise, being much too loud much too often, or at least much too harsh.  But yet, something about all that racket pleased me.  I could usually hear it even when I ran around outside in the yard.  It told me of my father’s presence:  he was there, he was near at hand.  I could go in whenever I wanted, and he would see me and recognize me and talk to me and share who he was and what he had with me.  He was there for me. 

And even today, on those occasions when I hear wood-working machines sawing and shaping and sanding, that noise is haunted by the image of my father.  There he is, with his utility cap on his head and a pencil stuck on top of an ear, working some piece of wood into a thing of lasting utility and beauty.  And there he is, smiling at me through the dust and saying, “Howdy, pardner!  What can I do for you?”

woodcraft 4

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2 responses

19 12 2012
Jennifer Adams Teasley

Sigh, nostalgia:) This is such a charming story!

20 12 2012
D. Raymond-Wryhte

Thank you for reading and for commenting.

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