“Get me a flat head screw driver from the garage.” It was more of a command and not a request. I ran to the garage and looked frantically through the unorganized tools. I’d look and look and my heart would race, if I couldn’t find it, I knew I’d be the one to blame.
“I can’t” My voice was weak and faltering “find it.” I finally blurted out.
“Did you look on the table next to the bag?” My dad would respond barely concealing his annoyance.
“Yes, I looked everywhere.”
A sigh of annoyance followed by a grunt of exertion could be heard as dad pulled himself from beneath the old Ford Pickup. As he plodded toward the garage he grumbled, “if you kids would stay out of my tools…”
I knew this was coming. The blame. It was always my fault when a tool went missing. It wasn’t that he often left his tools lying in the yard where he was last using them, or that he used an old green leather gym bag to store his tools which made it nearly impossible to find anything – no, it was me, I used it, or my sisters used it and we lost it.
Many of my Saturdays were spent doing car repair or other outdoor chores with my dad and I loathed it. My sisters would get to stay inside and clean house with my mom. This was the cruelest part, I envied my sisters this reprieve from spending time with my dad. He was never happy when he was working on a car and I rarely remember him being happy when he worked outside period.
He was always so serious. We didn’t have father and son chats about how I was doing in school or what my teachers were like. He didn’t teach me step-by-step how to install a carburetor or wax on whimsically about his childhood. No, he worked in silence and I was merely there standing by like a gopher or a trained tool monkey expected to fetch on command.
My mother would poke her head out of the house on occasion and sometimes try to rescue me. Seeing her face was like seeing sunshine after being locked in a windowless prison for days. Her voice, her smile, everything about Mom exuded love and warmth, the exact opposite of dad.
Mom was Jesus and I was Lazarus and while she was outside I came back to life. When she back into the house and closed the door it was if she rolled the stone back over the door of my tomb. No more rays of sunshine, just minutes ticking by in quiet desperation wishing that I could be anywhere but here.
Working with dad outside became something I hated more than anything. I memorized his work schedule and delighted when I realized that he would be working on Saturday. During the week I would get off the school bus at my friends house and avoid going home until I knew my dad would already be asleep. Then the worst thing happened – dad got fired from his job. Now I was forced to spend every waking hour doing projects outside with dad and there was no limit to what he could dream up…
The railroad track that ran near our house decided to replace all of the cross ties that were underneath the tracks. My dad made a deal with someone on the construction site to buy all the old cross ties and soon I found myself spending long Saturdays loading up trailer loads of cross ties and then unloading them on our property. There were over 200 cross ties and it took us a few days to retrieve them and pile them up at the edge of our property – but this was the easy part. The hard part came when dad decided to build a large retaining wall around our house and fill it with sand. The sun beat down on us while I loaded the wheel barrow by myself with two cross ties and wheeled them over to my dad. He would then lay them in place and then nail them together using nails that he had made from rebar. We worked and slaved over this project like the Hebrew slaves building pyramids in Egypt. My dad didn’t crack a whip, but he didn’t need to. Years of working with him taught me not to complain and to always have a sense of urgency. We worked hard and as I got older I at least could take pride in the fact that I was getting better at helping him. I don’t remember him praising me much, compliments were sparse, but when they did come it was like salve on a wound or cool water after being stranded in the dessert.
During this time Dad seemed to be less stressed and less severe. Losing his job was probably the best thing that had ever happened to him. Being forced to spend time together actually started bringing us together, but it was the work that we had in common, the sense of accomplishment that bonded us, not the fact that we were father and son. It was more like the admiration of an employer who had a great employee.
It was during these times in my life that I vowed to one day grow up and make enough money that I would never have to work on my own car or mow my own lawn. I didn’t want a job where I had to get my hands dirty or sweat and slave over cars that broke down.
What my mom said was true. I grew up and started working with computers and found that I was really good at it. Computers came easy to me and I understood their interworkings much more than I understood the complexity of a lawn mower or a car engine. Mom was right, I was much more Office Depot than Home Depot and I plan to keep it that way.