Since he died in February 2004, nobody has done much in "the little room," the workshop of my father in the barn just down the street from the house he and my mother shared for 60+ years; a house that was built for her by her father by taking down part of the barn.
"Workshop" is perhaps too nice a word. Let's just say it was pretty much where my father spent most of his time since retiring from the insurance business in the early '80s. And its condition was a testament to his ability to try lots of different things while mastering, I'm afraid, few of them (except for vegetable gardening. He was very good at that. My mother says dad "put her to work the day he retired," because she ended up running the vegetable stand). But try he did.
Whenever I come East I try to help my mother do a few things around the house. This year I cleared some brush, repainted a part of the house that was peeling, tried to fix her computer and finally installed a new one. Today when I went to the barn to put the ladders away, the little room beckoned.
There's a little bit of everything in the little room, including a lot of stuff that gives a glimpse into my father's personality. He, apparently, never threw anything away. And just as apparent, he wasn't much for trash cans or cleaning for that matter.
I don't think the reason nobody has touched it in the last two years is because they couldn't bring themselves to face the loss of my dad by doing so; we pretty much get it. I think that the enormity of the job has been too much for most any human. My dad, in effect, left us all one hellacious shitbox. But with nothing else to do today, I cleaned out "the little room." As much I could in one day anyway.
It was here just a few years ago that I picked up a rusty and bent hinge and tossed it in a nearby beat-up trash can. "Hey, what are you doing?" my father said as he fished the hinge out of the trash. "That's a perfectly good hinge. We can do something with that."
What he did with it, I don't know. But I've found plenty of other things just fine: old fishing gear, half-bent wooden frames from windows long past, old oil cans, equally oily rags, pieces of slate, nuts and bolts in old cans that I'm sure he intended to sort out someday, lots of keys that could fit about anything as long as it wasn't made in the last two centuries.
And sawdust. Lots and lots of sawdust. Late in his life, my father decided to take up woodworking with a lathe, which is odd -- and was a little terrifying to the rest of us -- since my dad was pretty well blind by then and the prospect of a rapidly-spinning hunk of wood and my father with a sharp object was sure to lead to tragedy. He made a few things which appear to be bowls with large cracks in them, and left the sawdust behind. Today, I vacuumed up the sawdust.
My dad's fix-it jobs were legendary. If it got the job done, it was good enough. Beauty of the fix was not a prerequisite and frequently not a result either. I thought of that as I swept out around the cement shower stall base that he put in the basement back in the'60s, and later removed....only to use it for the base of a wood stove he used in the little room.
I also found a fair number of bottlecaps. We didn't have alcohol in our house; my mother forbade it. And so my Dad had a small stash of beer in the "little room," apparently chilled with the small dorm refrigerator my sister had at college in the mid '70s, now rusty but apparently still -- like the hinge -- good for something. As we kids moved into our adult years, the little room became a good place to stand around and have a beer with my father, and talk about things -- "code" I always called it -- while wondering if my mother would suddenly appear and find out he had beer at the barn.
I ended up with about 3 barrels of trash and that was just off the floors. I haven't tackled the workbenches or shelves yet; that'll have to wait until the next time I'm here -- probably in January. There actually are some terrific tools there I'd like to keep, if I could only figure out a place to put it. Barns are cool things.
The little room, I think, was more than just a workshop. It was a refuge for dad -- and no doubt as he used his sharp objects on the whirring hunk of wood, perhaps a place to declare his intolerance for his late-in-life infirmities that caught up to him in 2004.
The barn, the little room, and a lot of these tools and machinery would have been great for building an airplane, and perhaps he'd enjoy helping, although in his later years he didn't sound too sure about flying in an airplane you build yourself. Not as safe, I guess, as a blind man and a spinning lathe.
The irony of discovering possibilities for old things in the little room is not lost on me.