Monday, September 20, 2010

Old Guys

Guys used to have tool benches with rows of jars hanging over them. The jar lids would be fastened to the underside of a shelf, each jar containing a different type of screw, nut, or nail. These were often labeled, and it had a certain appeal: here was a guy who was serious, organised about doing work around the house. The jars usually signed that everything else would be similarly well-organised. Saws of various sizes and teeth per inch hung from rafters. Dowels, lengths of wood (divided into pine and hardwood), screwdrivers, drill bits, sandpaper - each had their own area and placed in descending order even within that area. You could count on these guys to have a table saw, probably a drill press and a router, too. Most of the tools, even the power tools, were old - heavy, basic, hand-adjusted items they somehow had had the foresight (and money, even in hard times) to acquire 40 years ago when they first moved into the house.

I suppose if you know you're going to live in a house for fifty years, bringing in oak worktables with two dozen drawers, or a hundred-pound band saw, didn't seem inconvenient. Certainly if you thought you were going to move every ten years you'd hesitate.

They never seemed to buy tools. They had tools. If they went to the hardware store, it was to buy a replacement wooden handle for something. Maybe they inherited them from fathers, grandfathers, uncles. Or from old guys next door who died, and the widow didn't want the stuff around anymore.

My stepfather was one of those guys. I remember digging around old tree roots with an ancient mattock that may have come over with The Conqueror. Does anyone still use a mattock anymore? Or a folding rule, or a two-man saw? Ken was a financial analyst, but his father had been fine-tool maker for Winchester firearms in New Haven. Or maybe it was his grandfather.

My father-in-law was less like this, though he built scientific labs and might be expected to have more of that stuff. Unless he had everything he needed at his company, and could just bring it home if needed.

My biological father, who sold tools (though automotive), for pity's sake, less still. He had the back half of the garage - a separate room in that 30-ft building - that had the heavy benches and table saw, but they were covered with dust and other stuff acquired later, such as boxes with old yearbooks and magazines. The rows of jars were up, but a third of them were missing, and another third empty or nearly so. Of course, he never built things for fun or repaired them unless he had to. He had grown up on a farm and was glad to escape it. Sort of like my Romanian sons having no interest in vegetable gardening, even though they complain that store vegetables have less flavor. I don't think either of them will grow so much as a carrot after their early peasant lives in Derna. Might slaughter an animal given the chance, though.

This wasn't what I was going to write about. I am not one of those guys, my tools and stray bits of construction debris are scattered throughout the basement, the garage, and even a few nooks outdoors. I figure this winter would be a good time to throw away a lot of stuff that I saved but haven't used ten years later, and wondered if anyone had advice. I'm not sure I want advice from someone who is basically one of these old guys who have survived into the 21st C, though. I pretty much know what they're going to say and pretty sure I'm not ever going to do it.


Retriever said...

My father in law had a garage like that but didn't seem to work much in it (he usually hired people to do the real work). My dad had none (they moved about 24 times in 52 years of marriage).

But my husband inherited quite a lot of tools from him that he had inherited. And my husband has an inordinate amount of tools in both garages. My theory is that the old guys and the incipient old guys liked creating a place to escape overwhelming femininity and kiddies in the smaller houses people used to live in. Yes, they might be actually making or fixing something, but it was as much about peace and quiet and escape (and perhaps a nip or two of something and a smoke) as it was about projects. A productive Man Cave, in other words.

Nowadays, watching large screen TVs, indoor gyms, and the internet have largely replaced workshops as the masculine retreat it seems to me. Plus, men don't take shop in school, and most things we buy are half plastic, can't be fixed, or are so cheap and junky you might as well replace as fix.

Also, think how many men used tools on the job, either their regular work, or moonlighting. That was why so many had them in their workshops.

You're right about the moving, tho--easier to set up a workshop if you think you'll be there forever...

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Perhaps all that creation of sanctuary, and indeed the whole world which separated the sexes far more than we do today, was the natural response to a culture that disapproved so greatly of divorce. In its extremes, certainly, those old worksheds where a guy would slowly add a big chair or a cot, a little woodstove, and run a line out for a light fixture and a radio, eventually even sleeping out there, could be interpreted that way. The more modest versions were perhaps just creating a little space.

An elderly psychologist once did say to me "If it weren't for sex, I don't know that men and women would have much to do with each other." Our mixed world likely has something to do with our prosperity, our mobility, our personal freedom. But perhaps there is a psychic cost that our ancestors knew. I'm not saying we shouldn't pay that cost and should embrace more division of the sexes. Yet there might be something we should retain.

Gringo said...

An elderly psychologist once did say to me "If it weren't for sex, I don't know that men and women would have much to do with each other."

My grandmother, who lived to 95, told me things in my adulthood she didn't in my childhood. One thing she said was that if men knew how to cook, she didn't see that they had any need for marriage.

Retriever said...

Gringo, that made me laugh out loud! My husband proposed to me on his birthday and I have always teased him that it was because I made him such a delicious chocolate almond torte that he figured it was the only way to be sure of getting it again...and again...I have given him numerous cookbooks over the years of the "Dad's own cookbook" type and my son tells him "Dad, the world's best chefs are men..." but he professes to prefer my cooking to all others. Good thing I'm a good cook. It has to compensate for a lot of obnoxious character traits and bad habits....

Then there's always the Katherine Hepburn (sic?) remark about how she thought men and women shouldn't live together but next door to each other and just visit. I think it was her...

I think our major bone of contention is me wanting the dog on the bed and him refusing. My family grew up with dogs on the bed. Free heat in the winter.

Ymarsakar said...

Guys used to have tool benches with rows of jars hanging over them. The jar lids would be fastened to the underside of a shelf, each jar containing a different type of screw, nut, or nail.

You mean like the team leader of NCIS, in his basement working on that boat? At times he seems to be dumping that stuff out of those bottles and pouring a drink into it instead.