My garage looks like the aftermath of an alien invasion where the last memories of humanity are being stored for the future generation. On the walls hang old tools of my grandfather’s. I don’t use them for the fear that I would lose them, and with them, the memories I have of sitting at my grandfather’s workbench.
On my pegboard, three levels all hang from a single hook, and to look at them, you would think that I just bought more than I needed. But if you look closer, you can see three different generations. My dad’s hangs in-between my grandfather’s and mine. It’s a small thing, but when I look at them every day, I’m reminded of the men that taught me how to use them.
On the floor, summer pool toys float on oil spots, bikes are pushed against my workbench, and random lengths of wood get in the way of having a car parked in here. There is also an old dryer I’ve been meaning to get rid of, a broken grill that seared its last steak, and my father’s old table saw.
“It’s time to clean the garage!” I told my 13-year-old son. He immediately jumped up and grabbed his shoes. This is not the behavior you would expect of a teenager, but he has discovered money. We no longer pay him an allowance. I pay him based on jobs, especially ones that I don’t want to do. He’s going to earn 10 bucks for the hours’ worth of work today.
“Let’s go, Dad!” he said. Honestly, I’ve should have been this for a while. I make a Sanford and Son joke, but he’s too young to get it as we dive in.
The garage has 8 months’ worth of stuff that we kept out just in case were could go do stuff again. A small cooler that I use to have picnics after we visit a museum. Empty water balloons that I had hoped to use at his birthday party that never happened with a lot of friends. And the dryer, grill, and table saw.
“What’s this for, dad?” my son asked holding up an L-shaped tool from my workbench.
“It’s a machinist square that your great grandfather got in 1911. Your name is on it,” I said. He turns it over and traces his fingers over the chiseled name. I named my son after my grandfather, who was named after his father. My son can see himself in the history of the tools.
“And this one?” he said, showing me bench vice that is older than the battleships that fought in World War II.
“Bench Vice. Put it under my bench,” I told him. I still use the bench vice, even at its age. It’s made of heavy-duty steel and weighs more than my youngest son. It’s been through decades and still looks the same as when it was on my grandfather’s workbench. It’s eternal.
“And this?” my son asked as he held up a wheel from a broken dolly that somehow got stored here.
“You don’t know what a wheel is?” I said.
“And what is this ‘wheel’ used for?” he asked.
Now he’s just being a smart-ass, but that’s ok because I was the same way. One of my foundation memories is being in the workshop with my father or grandfather asking them the same questions that my son is asking now. Hours upon hours of figuring things out.
As they both grew older, I still asked those questions even though I knew the answers. I just liked the conversation. I liked the connection that it brought to me. And I love that it’s happening all over again.
The garage gets sorted, cleaned, and organized with my son working hard. But the table saw remains. It’s not valuable by any means and my father didn’t get it until I was already in college. It has no heredity value and is not historic by any means. If you saw it, you would quickly put it as background decoration of any garage.
But my father got it I think just so he could see me working on projects in his garage. He had MS and could no longer build with his hands, walk around the house to repair it, or lift anything over 10 pounds. I think he enjoyed watching me do all those things. I built my first picnic table with that saw and him.
The motor burned out this year and it would be more expensive to replace that motor than to just upgrade and actually get a good saw. I’ve been meaning to for years, but I haven’t. What that saw holds are the memories, and I can’t bring myself to throw it out.
Not only for the memories with my dad, who passed away years ago, but those with my own children. We have built catapults with it, trebuchets, and my daughter’s headboard. I have repaired walls with a stud cut from it. A train table that now resides in my basement for the son that helps me clean up now.
But it’s got to go. It’s taking up space and has no purpose. I’m not normally a sentimental man, but when it comes to the tools, I find comfort in my hands using things that they once used. It still brings that connection to my past, which I find more important now that they are both gone.
Still, the garage is too cluttered. It’s time to clean.
“Ok, let’s load everything up,” I said to my son. This is part of his fee. He’ll get 10 bucks from me, plus whatever the scrapyard gives us for all the old appliances and junk we don’t use anymore.
The trip there made me anxious, and I question my decision. I’m more emotional than I ever imagine my grandfather and dad being. I think that but then I realize that they probably just never let me see it. But in their shops, I felt it. That excitement and connection. That love.
At the scrapyard, I dodge forklifts and for a minute I feel like a racecar driving making my move. I’m terrified that I’ll get a tire puncture from a random bit of metal. I back up next to a large pile of old a/c units, random bits of some remodeling, and old dryers and appliances. I took a heavy breath and opened the back of my van to unload everything.
The dryer comes out first with 60 pounds of awkward lifting. The springs of my kids’ old crib where I would stay up with them all night. The grill that was broken down and wedged in, reminding me of when I taught all my children how to sear a steak.
Nothing else. The table saw did not make this trip. Working or not, I’m not going to do it. Things sometimes have more value than what a dollar sign says it does. For now, my dad’s saw still sits up against the wall, next to 2×4’s that it will never cut, on projects that I will never build with it. But that memory is safely tucked away.
On this trip, the scrap yard gave me $2.55 for what we dropped off and my son is excited about a couple of bucks.
I’m excited about the memories that we have not yet made.