Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Father's Garage

Growing up, the garage was my Dad's domain. It still is, though the house has changed and I no longer live with him. In the garage was/is a work bench of some sort, countless small cubbies and jars and drawers filled with the tools of his trade. When I was young my father worked as a cabinet maker before starting his own business running a diner. He's quite handy and would see to the home improvements himself, even larger tasks like cutting a hole in the kitchen floor and building a rounded pine spiral staircase to a now existing basement.
    His drawers full of washers, nuts and bolts, screws and nails, his assortment of tools, his odds and ends inspired me. Where he would put things together, I enjoyed taking things apart. Not with the view of understanding how they worked, usually they were broken things in the first place. I simply enjoyed the piecemeal pastime of slowly taking things apart, my dad's set of mini screwdrivers in hand.
    I would take apart the old clock radio and keep whatever piece I liked. My brother and I were avid scale model makers, so bits of plastic were often the very air we breathed - joined by Testors model cement. Putting models together, taking radios apart, I dealt in fiddly things. Small details, small hands. The parts from long broken models, or the secondary optional pieces were saved for future projects. We already were aware of scratch building and knew that a good model maker had an array of parts to choose from. My relationship with small pieces of junk is informed by this background - my father's garage, model making and taking things apart. Finding things would become the fourth horseman.
    My father's garage, it occurred to me many years later, was what I was ritualizing when I would collect rusted washers and pin them to my jean jacket. Whereas he saw these components as being useful - and knew how to use them, I abstracted them into fetish objects. I took his tools and hardware and turned them into sacred hippie relics, tied up in buckskin pouches, dangling from my closet door handle. He of course made fun of me, seeing me sitting cross legged in my teenaged bedroom, an assortment of seashells, stones, rusted metal, bone and plastic arrayed in front of me as I strung them into necklaces or fashioned velvet pouches to carry them in. I sewed many pouches in my day, and made many pieces of jewellery -part hippie, part urban decay. My father would poke his head in and comment if I was having fun playing with my la-la. Verbatim. My La-La, should be capitalized. Of course I took offense, but knew better to make a big deal of it and just deflected what I could.
    How does a hard working man, whose hands are gnarled tree roots that can easily break me in half, make sense of his long haired son weaving strands of macrame around his wrists, surrounded by pictures of Jesus, Mary and Gandalf ? How can he not make fun of that ? How could anyone not ?
    So today, I am a collector of small objects. I place them in jars, I'm making art from them. I've learned a thing or two about being handy in the real life way and am astounded that some of my forty your old male friends don't know how to put up a shelf. I've learned about home repair, not on a grand scale, but enough to not be too intimidated by renovations. I've taken over my dad's garage, the one he set up in the shop I now run. I've made it mine but have kept tons of his components. I use them. I use the tools. I have a foot in each country, my father's and my own.