All men die; few men ever really live.
~ John Eldredge
It’s mildly morbid, but for years when my 95-year old father-in-law sent me to his basement tool room for a screw driver or something, I knew one day I’d be down there after he was gone organizing the mess. I’m sure he had a system of some kind, but seriously this room made Fred Sanford look like Martha Stewart.
Several weeks after his passing, there I was surrounded by saw dust on the concrete floor of a poorly lit room tucked away deep in the corner of his home. I organized everything from his screws, nails and washers to his power tools, hammers and wrenches. His drill is recharging as if he’s only away for a while. It’s on the bench next to his flashlight, both ready for the next job. It was the best four hours of my week. Never before had I felt more connected to this smart, interesting, World War II veteran. His tools reminded me of how he lived: He was a man. He made plans, asked questions and sought solutions. He got his hands dirty. He built, created and repaired.
Signs of the Great Depression are apparent throughout the room. I was reminded that small steel cans make excellent drill bit holders. Oatmeal containers are durable enough to handle heavy sockets. Little metal Sucrets cough medicine containers conveniently hold the tiniest pieces of hardware, and you can never have too many pairs of work gloves.
I read his handwriting.
I rescued his nameplate from the bottom of some drawer and displayed it on a shelf.
I laughed at the things he kept like hotel pens, a receipt for batteries he purchased in 2003 and business cards from the 80’s.
And sorry Dad, I threw away some power cords with missing ends (I’m sure you held on to those for a reason).
One day, someone will go back down there and do something else with his tools. Some might be dispersed to family, others will be sold off in an estate sale or something. Few people will know the character of the man who held that saw, swung that hammer and solved those problems. Our tools outlive us; their stories lost, forgotten and forever untold.
After I finished, I pulled the cord on the light in the center of the room, satisfied by a job well done and grateful for a life well lived.
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