Who's Been Using My Hammer?
CHARLES LEONARD MOORE said, "Chance and the tools [go] to those who use them best." My father, whose early adult years were spent denying the Great Depression's sovereignty over his young family, was too busy to contemplate the role of chance in his affairs, but he surely believed that tools, especially his, should be available only to users who would treat them properly.Skip to next paragraph
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A farmer by trade and tradition, my dad was quick of mind and sure of hand. His accomplishments belied his sixth-grade education, and it seemed he could make or fix anything. During the Depression, he mended our shoes on ancient cobbler lasts, made all our Christmas toys, repaired harnesses, and maintained farm implements - all after putting in heavy hours at the nearby flour mill for $18 a week.
My dad could build anything from a shed to a showplace, and the entire job would be done by hand. He owned no work-saving power tools. Dad's tools included cross- and rip-saws, a carpenter's square, a couple of planes, a half-dozen chisels, a brace with several bits, two or three screwdrivers, a pair of hatchets, a crowbar, a well-balanced claw hammer, a blue-chalked snap string, and a good eye. Combined with abundant energy and Dad's pride in his work, those tools built his path to personal esteem and f amily subsistence.
From the time I held the first board-end and watched cascades of wood dust spout from his saw's gnawing teeth, Dad's hand tools were important components of my childhood. How to maintain them, where to store them ("a place for everything and everything in its place"), and, most important, who could use them for what purposes - all these were part of my formula for responsible childhood.
The tool my hands itched most to use was my dad's hammer. Its leather-wrapped handle was well formed and comfortably grasped, its claws were graceful, and its smooth, hard head got immediate results - nails slickly penetrated the most resistant woods when their heads were brightly struck. I knew that saws were dangerous in a child's hands; chisels, bits, and planes possessed edges that became noticeably dulled in the hands of an amateur and were thus rendered less usable to the professional. Screwdrivers
were fun if one had screws to tighten, but could a mere child presume to tighten a screw already twisted into place by a strong adult? A carpenter's square was, well, inert, boring, no fun at all. A genuine hammer was the tool I was most anxious to call my own.
To possess one's own hammer! At the very least, a hammer made noise, and at its best, it fastened wooden parts together to confirm the builder's plan. A hammer's claws also extended the life of nails that somehow bent over when weakly driven into the four-by-four on the workbench. The same claws readily retrieved most of the nails that didn't seat flush with the block's splintery surface, leaving only a few telltale holes and a host of bent nails for someone to straighten later.
Dad's hammer was always suspended between two nails that projected from a board mounted on the wall behind the workbench. During most of my early years in the construction business, I was so short that I had to climb onto the bench to reach the hammer. And it was usually during the most interesting stage of my project that I would be called to dinner or to finish a chore left neglected in favor of the hammer's company. I would rush up the basement stairs, fully intending to return and complete my work. O ccasionally though, I remained upstairs and forgot that the hammer had been left out of place. Soon after Dad arrived home, however, I would be reminded of my dereliction.