I’ve avoided it for years. I don’t know if I thought leaving everything just as my Father had left it would help me better cope with his cognitive decline. Or if it just hurt too much, like I was losing so much of him already, I wasn’t ready to purge the place to which he loved to retreat.
I treated it like hallowed ground. I didn’t want to give or throw anything away. A garage filled with everything imaginable, much like a child’s overstuffed toy box that spills onto the floor. There were rakes, hedge clippers, handsaws, hammers, chisels, mallets, axes, levels, drills, a solder iron, vices, shovels and a garden hoe.
Myriad nails were plugged into every bare piece of wood, such that if they were rotten teeth, it would take an entire day for a dentist to extract them all. If something didn’t have a hole in it, he would drill one so it could be hung up. And on every nail something was placed ~ sanding blocks, chains, metal tape, rulers, telephone wall jacks, paintbrushes, caulk guns, clamps, bicycle reflectors, fuses, drill bits, and hinges.
There were also repurposed containers. Just as I would tuck stolen mints away in my small purse as a child, my Father used empty Bandaid tins, old Tupperware measuring cups and empty coffee cans to hold every size screw and nail under the sun.
My Father was also a bit of an inventor, where the engineer in him merged with his being raised on a farm and having to be resourceful. He fashioned a piece of sharp metal onto a long piece of wood and called it a spudger.
“What’s a spudger Dad?” I once asked.
“You use it to dig up weeds while you’re standing up. No need to kneel down.”
Quite handy, except that sometimes when he used his new toy, he left a trail of weeds in his wake and forgot to pick them up. Inevitably, they found their way back into the soil.
Years ago, he fastened a foam soda can holder to a long stick so he could reach above and change a lightbulb without climbing a ladder. If he could think it up, he would find a way to make it.
But it’s been a long time since my Father has made anything. He’s lived in a nursing home for over a year, and now some internal clock has alerted me that it’s time to clear out his treasure trove. Maybe it’ll be easier to do now while he’s still alive. And I know him. If he knew his stash could help someone, he would want people to use it. Like a couple of years ago when we gave some of Dad’s wood to Grace Arbor so they could fashion it into crosses. It tickled him pink.
There’s the fishing rod with which he learned how to deep-sea fish while working at the Kennedy Space Center in Cocoa Beach, Florida. He loved it. He couldn’t bring his work home, so he had plenty of time for hobbies. My grandfather would come down from Tennessee for a weekend of father-son fishing. And when he caught a big one, my Mom was wise enough to call the newspaper.
There’s the nutcracker set my Father used to procure a pile of pecans from their shells so Mom could bake a pie. While I smashed the thing to bits, he patiently taught me how not to exert too much pressure so I’d actually have nuts instead of pecan dust to give Mom.
If it has a memory attached to it, like the decades-old cards and letters stuffed in desk drawers, it’ll be kept. But I imagine most stuff will be tossed or recycled. There’s a tendency to think that if we throw things away, we’re throwing part of my Father away. But that isn’t true.
My Father isn’t a collection of things he held onto. They are a reminder of the times we shared and the memories we made with him. They represent the lessons he taught us, of working hard, helping your neighbor, being resourceful and sharing what you have with others.
There is a time to keep and a time to throw away. But the best thing my Father is leaving behind isn’t anything tangible like a book case he built or a birdhouse he repaired. It’s the way he taught us to submit to authority and respect our elders, always do our best, remember that your name goes further than you do, and if you want to have a friend, first you have to be one.
The legacy my Father is leaving behind is the example of his life ~ to love God, love your family and love your neighbor as yourself. And unlike anything you can touch with your hands, you can’t put a price tag on that.