It was a place of eternal fascination for me as a child.
My grandmother in Shreveport had a small house with a detached one-car garage. The garage was where she parked her 1940 Ford, which was 20 years old by the time she and I would go the grocery store or the bank, and the car inevitably breaking down. The garage had no door.
But the parking area was only half of the structure. The other half, probably a good 15- by-30-foot space, was kept locked and untouched, until I would come for a visit. At some point in the visit, my grandmother would invariably say, “You know where the key is.” And I did – it hung on a string on the wall of the garage.
I’d unlocked the door (the lock was a padlock type), swing it open, and spend a few minutes simply staring.
It was my grandfather’s workshop.
I never knew either of my grandfathers. My mother’s father died of a ruptured appendix when my mother was 12; all I knew of him was a few stories and a very few old, fragile photographs. My father’s father died when I was nine months old, and I was part of his deathbed scene – until my parents could travel in from out of town, the only thing he said that anyone could understand was “I want to see the baby.” We arrived, they put me on the bed with him, he touched me, and then a few hours later he died.
There were more stories about him than my maternal grandfather, but he had also lived longer. And one physical expression of who he was – his workshop.
My grandmother would not clean it out. She left it exactly as it was the day he died. I remember the smell – wood and motor oil. And dust everywhere. The two small windows had become dirty enough that only a little light filtered in. It was definitely a gloomy place, but it was also a magic place for me.
I imagined him sawing wood – the saw, rusting, was still there, and numerous pieces of old wood. His toolbox was right where he left it, and it contained several hammers, a file, screwdrivers and the usual assortment of tools. These were the tools he used to build the house for my grandmother and himself.
I could see him hit his finger with a hammer, and unsuccessfully trying to stifle a swear word or two.
I can recall a box of old bottles, too, with the necks of several liquor bottles sticking out. A couple of old calendars hung on the walls. Boxes were haphazardly stacked in a few places, as if he just hadn’t had the time to sort it all out yet. And the peg on the wall where he hung his broad-brimmed hat.
This was the place he came to think, to be by himself for a time, and to worry. This is where he’d debate and argue with himself, and where he’d work out problems by working with wood.
I never moved anything, but I think I probably touched everything in the place. That dusty workshop was the closest thing I had to a grandfather, and sometimes, if I listened intently enough, I could hear him speak.
The key hangs on a string on a nail
on the wall, waiting until the boy
returns for the mystery. The lock
springs, the door creaks open,
the dark interior, a masculine womb,
beckons as always. Smells of wood
and oil and dust mingle with remnants
of cigarette smoke and a small pipe
or two. The tools carefully rust
in their box, tools worn and old but
still tools, still useful. It is here
the boy imagines the man; here
the man imagines the boy.
Over at Tweetspeak Poetry today, we’re continuing our discussion of poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. There were numerous assignments we could choose, and I selected the one that said to “think of a place that has the mystery or beauty of a poem to you.”
The workshop had both mystery and beauty, and it was the poem of part of my grandfather’s life. When my grandmother died, someone – aunts, cousins – had to clean out the workshop before the house could be sold. I hope someone kept at least some of the tools, but it doesn’t ultimately matter, not really. What I have instead is the poem of the grandfather I never met, but whom I think I knew.
You can see and join the discussion by visiting Tweetspeak Poetry.