It's going to look great when it's done. Probably.
It’s going to look great when it’s done. Probably.

I‘ve had quite of bit of time to myself this past week as my bride returned to Texas to help care for her ailing father, Frank. Frank is expected to succumb to the ravages of time and his many ailments in the next few days. 

In this span I’ve had to have a number of conversations with our boys about the realities of life, and loss. There are times when people just aren’t going to get better. 

“Where do you think he’ll go when he dies?” 

Thing #2’s question was well-asked. I told him the only thing I truly know. “As long as all of us remember him he hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s here with us all the time.”

Both Thing #1 and #2 pondered my response silently. I don’t know that my answer satisfied anyone, including me. I do know that over the course of the past few days I spent some of my alone time working to take three pieces of rough lumber to try and fashion them into the shelf system I’d promised my bride. In this time, with only my thoughts to accompany/torment me, I came to find that, at least for me, my answer is true.

Before my bride left I showed her a rough sketch of my plans for the promised piece of furniture. Her eyes widened and she made a face that indicated, justifiably, that perhaps hiring someone that actually knew what they were doing was a better course of action. She also noted that my drawing indicated that I was constructing some sort of wooden pyramid.

I reminded her that I’d made a deal with one of the guys in town whereby I’d give him one of my fishing rods if he promised to come back and construct the shelves. The rod was given. Repeated calls were then made to a no-longer working number, and we arrived back to the notion that I’m my own carpenter.

I threw caution to the wind and pressed forward with the project. With great trepidation, I used the T-square given to me by Frank to help make the initial cuts (the cuts that would either prove valid or, in turn, require another trip to the lumber yard). 

With only nominal failures I continued on, using the technique with wood glue shown to me by our late cousin, Carl, who passed last year. I also relied heavily on the assortment of drill bits in a large case that Carl had given me — an inventory so expansive that Carl promised me that I’d end up leaving it to one of my boys.

In the final stages of assembly I used a set of furniture clamps that I’d inherited from my bride’s grandfather, Louis. I am fairly certain that several of these clamps pre-date my existence by several years but they still hold — fast and true. Louis passed at the ripe old age of 95 back in 2009. 

All of these men took time and effort to pass along their knowledge to me. I did know which end of a hammer to use, but other than that tidbit my experience with carpentry, plumbing, electricity, cows, horses and tractors was non-existent.

Carl was the most patient, and generally giggled at my missteps. Frank was not the sensitive type in this regard, but continued to thrust me into situations beyond my expertise with the idea that, sooner or later, I’d figure it out. Louis was by far the most direct. One of my now favorite quotes from him came on the heels of a conversation regarding obesity where he turned to me and said, “…people with weight problems. Like yourself.” This was during a period of my life when I was – relatively — skinny, so I had to find the resolve to handle blunt assessments for what they were: true.

All of these disparate men had a couple of core beliefs in common: never shy away from a challenge, and any work you can undertake yourself is far more valuable than something you paid someone else to do for you.

I feel like I’ve spent the past couple of afternoons with all of these men in my garage on what I’ll always think of as my Franken-Carl-Louis piece of furniture. I don’t doubt that my efforts would have elicited a few giggles, some rolled eyes and perhaps a suggestion to build a fire, but when my shelf system is eventually finished it will indeed mean a lot more to me than if I’d found an experienced carpenter to do it for me. We do lose people, but then again they are always with us.

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