“The mind will not rest, so he dreams.”
I am in my shop on a sunny morning, probably early morning as that is my favorite time of day. I am seated at a bench, working, and there is a sign on the wall above me. My son helped hang the sign years before in an obvious spot above my main work area. He himself had chosen the spot with much consideration, and he had labored to make sure it hung straight and plumb.
I am sanding down a front left quarter panel of a 1955 Chevy Bel Air, two-door hardtop. It doesn’t matter that it’s the front left one, only that I have disassembled it myself, that I have determined what work needs to be done, and that I know how to do it. That is what matters. I hear some favorite tunes from years ago coming from the radio in the corner of my shop. It’s not really a shop, as some other men might define a shop, but it works for me.
There is a wood stove in another corner, with some good hardwood beside it, wood that I felled and cut and split and stacked myself. Wood that I found somewhere on the back part of our property. I knew what kind of wood it was by sight, whether it would burn hot and clean, or whether it would smolder and gum up the stack. Summer or winter, leafed out or not, I knew what kind it was.
Near the woodstove is a second workbench. I have built many toys and gadgets there over the years. I have built furniture, and I have built wooden trains and cars, and I have built intricate board games. I had to carefully turn out the little pieces on the lathe I found at auction for a good price. I have some scars on my hands, a story for each one.
If you look above the workbench, drawn up tight to the rafters, there is a strongback I have used on occasion to make wood and canvas canoes. I have plans to start another one this autumn in hopes to finish it by the following spring. I will steam and bend the slats myself, I will stretch the canvas over the boat and fasten it down tight, burn off the fabric to precisely the right degree, apply the filler and paint and stain and finish. I will be there every step, and it will guide true when the spring sun breaks up the ice out on the river. It will guide true.
The sign above me hangs a few feet from the strongback, the one word on the sign eye level if I climb up the stepladder leaning against the wall.
For a moment or two, while sanding the metal, I think of the canoe I have planned, and I remember the fishing rods up in the rafters. I need to get them down and go through them and get them ready. Lunkers are out there just now, awaiting my cast. I might use a fly rod if the mood hits me, perhaps the one I received from my grandfather. It is an old and fragile thing now, but the lunkers don’t know that. It will be my secret, and they will fall for the cast I learned at my father’s side.
My father comes in after a bit. I hear his car in the drive. I share a new joke with him and tell him there is a Pepsi in the fridge for him, the fridge with the LSU sticker on it. He opens the cold drink and is happy with my joke. I continue sanding. I glance up after a few minutes and see him looking up into the rafters and spying his father’s fly rod there, my grandfather’s. He says, “I see you are taking good care of things, John Wilson.” I know that he is talking about more than the fly rod. I respond , “Yes, sir.”
He sees the wood stacked near the stove, and he too knows what type it is. I ask him about what type of tree a larch is, for the night before I saw a show where a man was building something with larch. It was up north somewhere. I ask my father, a Southerner, because he will know about larch.
I then wonder what the sign above me is made of. I knew at one time, but do not trouble to ask. The sign was a gift from my father. He had crafted it himself from a board taken from the house in which he grew up. A house down in the deep South, the old South. I wonder if he remembers the type of wood. It is enough for me that he built it, and that it hangs true by the hands of my son now gone off to his own work.
At some point that morning my father-in-law comes over. We sit and talk for a bit, the three of us, and I offer him a cold Pepsi as well. He probably tells me, again, of an old car he once owned…. one that he never should have sold. Never. He grabs the edge of his cap and shakes his head a little at youth’s folly. Life’s edges crowd out the luxuries sometimes, and I wish for him that the car he loved so could be there in my shop, magically, hidden under a tarp. I could fill up the tank with gas and give him the keys. I can’t do that, and the car will not magically appear, so as small solace I ask him to tell me more about the car. The finer points. Color, how fast it was. Where he bought it and for how much. What did his dad think of his son owning such a fast car?
I think of my own son, away at his first job out of college. He left his mark all over this place. There in the back, under a tarp, is the 1965 Mustang he and I redid together. He is old enough now to take it, but it is still there, waiting. He bought it with my help, right after he turned 14. Years of paper routes and chores added up. What a find. Low miles, original everything, mostly. We redid it together, and now it is waiting for him. Someday it will leave too, when he gets his own garage.
My father-in-law starts working on the engine of my Chevy while I continue to sand. There are a lot of fine points to working on an engine, and he is doing this because he knows far more than I do about engines and such. Soon, perhaps by mid-summer, we will hear the faithful velvet of the 8 cylinders, finely tuned together in chorus.
The sign will hang then, still on its trusty nail, a Scripture rooted into my heart.
For now, we continue our work. I get up and change the station to something my guests like better. They tell me I don’t have to do that, but I lie and tell them that I’m tired of the station that’s on. It’s okay to lie, isn’t it? When we do it for kindness.
My father asks me when I will build another canoe. I tell him I’m thinking it will be autumn, and he tells me he is looking forward to seeing it. I ask him if he will help me pick out the best pieces of wood for the job. He finishes his Pepsi, and gives me the thumbs up.
Sooner than I want, the sun slants low, melancholy. My turn at this day is done. My guests are gone, and my family now waits for me in the house.
I replace the tools I have used, each to its own place. I straighten up a little and consider sweeping the floor. Another day. I place two Pepsis into the fridge to chill for next time. I turn off the radio and the lights, and I take one look up at the sign before shutting and locking the door. It is my turn now. It is a joyful task, this taking good care of things. I walk out of the shop, the last one to leave.
Proverbs 27: 23-27 – “Know well the condition of your flocks, And pay attention to your herds; For riches are not forever, Nor does a crown endure to all generations. When the grass disappears, the new growth is seen, And the herbs of the mountains are gathered in, The lambs will be for your clothing, And the goats will bring the price of a field, And there will be goats’ milk enough for your food, For the food of your household, And sustenance for your maidens.”