My Father’s Workbench

My Mother is moving. It’s a good thing.

Downsizing. Big estate/garage sale on the day after Thanksgiving. Our own family-led “Black Friday.”
Pray for us…

But it means we are disassembling the home where she and Dad lived for 40 years.
Closet-by-closet, room-by-room, we are pulling out all the lovingly stored items.

“We,” by the way, is mostly my sisters, Dianne and Linda . They’ve been here a week, supervising all of this. And I’m so grateful to them.

But I preached a bit about this yesterday, in a sermon on gratitude and fear. I talked about how fear causes us to cling to things. The fear-response in our bodies literally causes the blood to cling to our muscles (so we can flee from a Tiger, for example…).

But that same desire causes us to cling to our stuff, too.

For example, we have discovered that Mom owns four, yes four, variously-sized coffee machines….in addition to the Kuerig she now uses.

FOUR.

We’ve discovered, in various closest around the house, an entire couch-full of empty picture frames, never used, or never used for decades. There’s another whole table-full of old flower vases.

Nobody needs this much stuff. Mom even knows she doesn’t need it.

Which led me to quote that great blog I talked about. It’s a blog we should all read and all come to know…

Nobody Wants Your Parent’s Stuff,” by Richard Eisenberg.

Google it. Read it. It’s worth your time.

The money-shot of the blog is that things about “things” have generationally shifted in a way that feels permanent. The younger generation is not interested in keeping all of their parent’s stuff. And everybody over-values their own stuff.

Eisenberg cites Mary Kay Buysee, who says:

“For the first time in history of the world, two generations are downsizing simultaneously…”

She talks of her own 90-year-old Mom, and how she and her siblings are also downsizing, not upsizing…

That’s definitely happening in our lives, right now. My sister, Dianne, just moved back to her smaller house. Me and Dennise just moved back to *our* smaller house. We are getting RID of stuff, not in the mood to get *more* stuff.

Right at this very time, along comes my Mom, with all her accumulated stuff, some of which was my grandparents as well.

Buysee calls the younger generation (adults who are ten or twenty-years younger than me…) the “Ikea Generation.”

They don’t want a bookshelf full of books.
They don’t want a Mahogany Pie Chest.

So, this is what I preached yesterday…..the implication of which was that we should *all* be downsizing, getting rid of what we don’t use, and don’t need, so that we can share with others.

Then, just hours after those bold and prophetic words, I was face-to-face with my Dad’s workbench in the garage.

And I wept.

I walk PAST the workbench several times a month, visiting Mom. I probably hadn’t actually looked at it in years.

It was disheveled, to be sure. For perhaps a decade now, stuff just got piled on top of it, willy nilly. But the outlines of my Father’s organization were still there. Every part of it spoke to me of the many times he and I worked in the garage on some project. Those times are some of the best memories of my childhood.

And it not only reminds me of my own Father, it also reminds me of my Grandfather, Frankie, too. The very first workbench I remember belonged to him. Frankie’s garage in Covington, Kentucky was a magical world.

As you walked out the door of the kitchen, and down the stairs toward the garage, every inch of wallspace was covered with pegboard….and hanging from them were rows and rows of tools.

Tools lined the walls of that hallway, and lined the walls of the garage itself. That garage was where Frankie’s ’65 Mustang lived. Dad and Me worked on it in that garage, when Grandmother later gave it to me. We changed the spark plugs using Frankie’s tools. We tuned up the carburator, and we drove the car back to Dallas. And for years after, we worked on that car in Dad’s garage too.

And so, standing before Dad’s workbench, I remembered Frankie’s workbench. And I found all sorts of other treasures, each filled with memory.

I found the bike repair book we used to use on our bikes….along with his copious notes on the inside and tire repair kit. I found the very old handyman book, with a picture of Father and Son on the inside. I remember reading through that book while he worked on stuff, and believing that we were that Father/Son.

There were rows of nails, screws, bolts, and couplings…lovingly stored inside of Gerbers Baby Food Jars. There were dozens of washers for hoses.

And what brought me to tears was remembering that no doubt every jar was filled by my Father. Every jar was probably rinsed and cleaned by my Father, and THEN filled. Some of them might have been jars he bought when I was a baby in California, on some late night run to the grocery store.

Those jars were all assembled in a way that made sense to Dad. Each inch of that workbench speaks to me of him. And it was my job to disassemble it all.

It felt a bit like killing some part of him. Like killing some part of my grandfather too. Like ending forever something sacred and holy that is deep in my soul.

To be clear, I never use that bench. I never work there. Not for decades. Dad hasn’t either. And some of stuff is useless. Those garden hose washers?

They’re dried up and crumbling.
Useless.

So, I know some of the stuff is never gonna get used again by anyone. And some of the way that Dad kept stuff…that has also changed.
For example…

Dad stored dozens of hose couplings for garden hoses. You can buy them for probably 50 cents at True Value. But Dad bought a dozen of them and kept them on the workbench. Not only did he keep them, their presence shows that Dad never bought NEW hoses. He repaired old ones.

In fact, the last time I ever worked at that bench was just a few years ago now. He was already very sick with Pulmonary Fibrosis. He couldn’t move much. He couldn’t breath much. But he had a “soaker hose” that was leaking. And so, he watched and supervised as I repaired the hose, using those very couplings.

It was work for me that I grumbled about at the time. And I worried that he was gonna get too tired, supervising me. But, damn it, we were gonna fix those hoses…

Nobody repairs new hoses today, of course. We just throw out the old and get a new one.

Is that horrible? No, it’s just life. Nobody stores dozens of garden hose couplings in their garage any more. At least, not men my generation.

That’s the metaphor, then. It IS back to the blog about “Nobody Wants Your Parent’s Stuff.”

It’s just waaaay more painful and tender than I let myself believe, before the moment I actually stood in front of the workbench yesterday. It’s like letting go of some bedrock and foundational part of yourself. Like looking inside a bank vault, and realizing that somebody stole all the gold bullion.

You don’t ever SPEND the gold bullion. You don’t even notice it, day to day. But if it was gone tomorrow, you’d be much less rich.

I won’t be physically less rich after this garage sale. But spiritually and emotionally?
Yes.

And yet. And yet…
This is as it should be. And as it must be.

So, I have known for years that this day was coming. I’ve known for years that the generations of workbenches in our family would stop with me. We don’t have a garage. Dennise and me have a small toolshed, and small tool closet. They get us by. Truthfully, I don’t WANT a workbench.

Even so, those of you following my Facebook posts will know that I’ve certainly done a lot of home improvement stuff around the house. Dad taught me well.

But my workspace is different. It’s not a garage and a workbench. Is this writing desk where I sit now. It’s my music studio and guitars, across the room. In my life, these things are my “garage.” This is where I work.

And I came to another thought, even as I was writing this blog. Sometime in 1982, my Father and I disassembled Frankie’s garage and workbench, after my Grandmother died. All those tools that Frankie had lovingly and carefully arranged on those pegboards down the stairwell.

We didn’t bring them all back to Texas. I don’t know what happened to them. Maybe they got repurposed. Maybe they got thrown away.

The point is, we didn’t keep them. Dad didn’t keep them. I need to remember this.

We did keep one set of Frankie’s tools that Dad gave me to some years ago. I use them, now and then, on the log house, as I am making our home repairs. And, just last night, we put up the wall clock from my other grandfather’s grocery store. It’s been with my parents for decades, and it’s new home is in our dining room.

So, small symbols of meaning. We take those with us. And we give thanks.

And there’s this can….Sir Walter Raleigh Pipe Tobacco. Frankie smoked a pipe. Dad did too as a young man, but quit when I was a baby. This can stored Dad’s oil cans on the workbench. It’s one of the oldest things on the workbench, to my memory. I remember seeing that can, and those oil cans, all my life. And it brings me back not only to Dad, to to Frankie and all hours of those three generations of us working together.

So, i think I’ll empty out the oil, and repurpose it as a memento, here in my study.

Every generation is different.
Every generation should be.

Two quotes stick with me today. One from St. Paul, in a letter to Timothy:

“Tell them to be good, to be rich in the good things they do, to be generous, and to share with others.”

And Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison:

“I set out on this ground which I suppose to be self evident, “that the earth belongs (for the enjoyment of) the living;” that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it.”

Both quotes are connected to me and my Father’s workbench. And maybe to you and your family’s “stuff.”

Paul is talking about wealthy people Timothy is encountering. He cajoles them to be “rich” in the good things they DO, not in the stuff they accumulate.

Word.

My progressive social view teaches me that Jefferson’s thought is also is true, and connected to Paul’s.

Every generation must reinvent itself and move forward into the future. What “stuff” we have been given, has been given to us to share with others. And the world itself *must* belong to the future, not the past.

And so, later today, I will likely finish going through my Father’s workbench. It will be gone, physically, forever.

But I will never, ever, forget it.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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