Abby Lab, our new rescue settled right into her dog bed, happy to be back, and I headed on downstairs, to run a load of laundry and tackle a project downstairs. The Shopsmith stuff was in the garage with the latest British car project, but the walkout basement (with single bath) had been converted to a shop, with one corner of tables and cabinets (and a big tub sink) for prepping and brewing (the Range is known to make some wicked mead).
It's shadowed and it's old and it has little in the way of modern conveniences. But I like it that way. It's a place where tools are old, wood is honed, metal is bent and burnt offerings are offered to Lucas, Prince of Darkness (or Dimness, depending upon your religious persuasion). It's easy to spend hours down there without realizing it, the space between tasks still composing time, yet consisting of minutes that no longer run straight ahead in diminishing allotment, but rather run parallel between, like looping bands of wiring, without apparent ending.
Most of my neighbors now are parked in the driveway, their garages full of "stuff", boxes, bikes, lawn and exercise equipment, you name it. When I was a kid, it seemed most of our cars were actually IN the garage. Ours was a dark green ranch house with a dark green Chevy Malibu in the garage. Outside, at the front edge of the lawn, there was a huge tree that Mom loved, that draped its branches over the driveway like a canopy, filling up the gutters with leaves every year.
No one seems to have their cars in their garages anymore. Is it because we now, as a society, amass more "stuff", or are we more transitory, moving more often, with those things that are precious to us, left in boxes in the garage in between? It's a little bit of both, perhaps.
In the corner were he and Big Bro's golf clubs, in front of them, space where we used to park our bikes. My last one was a Huffy 10 speed that Dad waited hours to bid on at a police auction of unclaimed bikes, knowing how much I wanted a new yellow Schwinn, knowing he couldn't afford $100 for one. He got it and cleaned it all up so it looked new. I wasn't what I'd wanted, but it was much more, as it was offered with quiet and undiluted love, the faithful care and attention that most don't put into anything anymore. That was a lesson that I may not have recognized then, but I do today.
The biggest decorative item in the garage was the tacky Mexican bullfighting picture he bought for he and Mom's first home which was immediately banished to the garage. It joined a well-used dartboard and other works of fine art that found a home in Dad's "man cave".
Off to one side of the garage was a big workbench, with cupboards built above for storage. To the day the home sold, it had not changed, except for the calendar, always the smiling, buxom girl in shorts and a T-shirt or a swimsuit, selling tools or beer.
In the shadows of the other side of the garage were deep storage cabinets where Dad stored all his fishing and outdoor gear. Everything was meticulously kept in place, even as the fabric of the net rotted, laying in wait with that spent but alert quality that aging things bear, as if they doubted the absoluteness of their eventual discard, as if they will be necessary and needed tomorrow.
In the driveway, there used to be a little VW Beetle, Mom's official Bug out Vehicle which later became my car. But the Chevy was always stored in the garage, but for those rainy weekends where we set up the Lionel trains on large pieces of sheet plywood, spray-painted green, sitting on trestles. Old Pringle containers were fastened underneath to hold the tracks, and we'd run the trains along frantic loops of a track until our stomachs growled and the fading evening light illuminated them like silvered spider webs that run off into the distance. Only then, on Sunday night, were the trains put away amidst the other supplies.
As we got older, the trains we played with were replaced by Big Bro's first car. He and his friends forever tinkering with something they bought cheap and fixed up. One day while I was hanging around, just to be close to him, as he was changing the oil, he handed me a wrench and said: "let me show you how to do this". I asked, "why?" His voice stopped for a moment, though his tone remained in the air, like when the needle is lifted off an old record album by the hand of someone wondering if someone else hears the same music.
Salt and truth. He knew me better than I knew myself. To my Dad I would always be his little girl, to protect and to care for. But Big Bro recognized that I was not the type to be happy dependent on someone, fated to dependency, to settle for flesh and bone durable enough to do battle for both of us, while I stood in the shadows, the inviolate bride of silence, doomed to fail. He saw that, though it was a while and some tears before I learned it for myself.
So I learned how to change my oil and a tire, to do a basic tune-up, and keep my car in running order. While female classmates were frosting each other's hair blonder, I was putting Purple Horny Headers on my VW Bug (it was still a Bug, but you could hear me coming 5 blocks away) while we listened to an old transistor radio. I learned the safe handling of tools and what was used for what purpose, working together out in the garage as if our forms were joined by some mechanical arm. We'd work until my arms ached, fading light drowsing on the floor like a drop cloth, slowed down by fatigue but still motion, still inevitable. Only when Mom, or later Dad, called us into supper, would we quit.
I stayed just long enough to take out the trash to the barrel outside and to check the freezer to see if I needed to buy Dad some more ice cream for his last few days in his home. It was hard to see inside, my eyes misty, breathing in the bracing density of cold air laced with pine and motor oil, a smell I loved, even after all those years. It is the smell of morning's breath, full of wood and silence.
It was in that driveway he finally collapsed, tending to Dad as we both have always done. We later asked ourselves, if he'd tended more to himself, and less to the family; had he shared the pain he was hiding, would he have had a few months longer? But that is just who he was, always a submariner, always on the quiet watch, the risk and the fear of death second to those things which men store within the depths of a human heart.
As I stood on the step from the garage to the laundry room, hitting the button for the garage door, I took in the sight, the smell of it. I can't imagine him not being here, something that just IS, like the loud CRACK of a bat hitting a Wiffle ball, the bounce of a bicycle off of gravel as kids come careening into home, the way an old baseball game seeps out of a transistor radio as a loved one works away, sounds that echo even as the door closes and darkness descends.