Inherent memory

It’s strange how sometimes a memory can be inherent in a physical object.

I was waltzing through the tools in Home Depot last night, buying a few needed items for my big deck project, when I walked by a folding ruler.

I was instantly four years old again, fascinated by my dad’s folding ruler almost exactly like the one above (but wood-grain and brass).

I remember playing with that thing over and over, flipping it around and around and making it into all sorts of shapes.  And, of course, pinching my fingers in the joints.  Dyskinesia said she remembered the same thing with her father’s.

I remember the jeans my dad wore to his construction job, with the rear pockets worn to pieces by him putting that ruler into his pocket and drawing it out again.

You folks that are 30-and-older – do you remember the way things smelled in the 70s?  That indescribable way that things smelled a little more woody, organic, than they do now?  Hell, even that smell came back to me.

I pulled it down and almost bought it just for that memory.  But no.

I’m pretty sure Dad still has his.  Why settle for an imitation?

But it also put me in mind, again, of something I’ve been thinking a lot lately.  This construction project is something of a first for me, but it’s old hat for my dad.  So I’ve been calling him from time to time asking advice.  Dad worked construction from the time he got out of high school until about the time my brother was born, and then he went to work for a local family-owned business that’s peripheral to the construction business.  He’s been at the same place for 30 years this year, actually.  He worked for the second-generation owner, and after he died, for the third-generation owner.   When I was in college, I worked there for a summer job, as did my younger brother.

I remember the third-generation owner, our boss, coming by the house to visit after my dad’s dad died.  He talked about how much he missed his own father, and how odd it was all these years afterward how he’d still sometimes have something he was thinking about and say to himself, “Hmm, I ought to ask Dad” only to realize that Dad wasn’t there anymore.

I know my dad misses his own father.  I can hear it when he (invariably) asks me about the weather, which was the favorite topic of conversation between my granddad and his boys.  And my dad’s not old by any stretch – but sometimes I’ve dreaded that moment that the old boss describes.  That moment when I have a question and Dad’s not there to ask.

In the meantime, tackling this big construction project by myself is something like I’ve wanted to do for years.  I’ve always somewhat regretted not getting an actual construction job myself for my summer job just so I could learn a little more how-to-it stuff, but I’m not completely ignorant.  I helped the old man enough when I was a kid, and paid close enough attention that a lot of stuff rubbed off.  And I’m sure I’ll do my dad proud, even if in the end the results aren’t as neat as if he’d done them himself.

Hopefully my son will take a close enough interest that he can learn something as well.  And hopefully I’ll know how to teach him.


5 Responses

  1. My dad’s (and my grandpa’s for that matter) was the yellow and brass kind. And now that I think of it, I can’t say that I’d like a new one because it wouldn’t smell of grease, sweat, and fabric softener like my dad’s did.

    Though he’d hate to hear me say it like this because he never wanted me to even consider any type of career that involved physical labor (which isn’t to say that he shunned it, but that he grew up poor and felt he didn’t have other options), it smelled like honest work.

    That’s an excellent way to describe it.

  2. My dad’s was the yellow and brass variety too. I would play with it and misplace it with my toys all the time. I don’t know why he didn’t just give me his and buy himself a new one! (I wouldn’t have wanted the new one, myself.)

    I wasn’t allowed to use the hammers after I tried to fit a very large chunk of ice into a very small juice glass…

    HAHAHA! Okay, I never tried that one. When I was probably three my parents gave me a little toy construction set complete with a hammer. It had a handle slightly wider than a pencil, and a little brass head. I got the talking-to when my dad found me pounding nails into one of the trees between our house and my great-grandfather’s store like some little flower-child spiking his first owl habitat.

  3. My oldest boy helps me with some projects. He slows me down A LOT! But he can remember every project that we have done together.

    Measuring deck boards is something he should be able to do. They’ll need to be checked by you, but he’ll love it.

    I think brick and block layers are about the only tradesman to regularly use those folding rulers anymore.

    They had special bricklayer’s folding rulers there, now that you mention it.

    I fully expect that he’ll slow me down a ton if he helps, but it’ll be worth it. And measuring and marking is just what I had in mind. If I was using nails I’d let him swing a hammer a few times, but I’m using screws on this go-round. (And damn those decking screws are expensive!)

  4. I haven’t had to experience the death of a parents, and I don’t even want to think about that happening.

    Matt has lost both of his parents with the past 5 years. He had a very sad, “I should call mom and ask her how long to cook a roas,” moment not long after her death.

    Work shirts and jeans with tiny holes in them always make me think of my dad. He was a welder for 30 years until the coal mine shut down, and always had little burn holes in his clothes (he used the layoff as an opportunity to finally get his college degree).

    I can imagine how those little slag burns must have that little tinge of home and childhood.

    And yep, those “roast” moments are exactly the kind of thing that I think about. It’s hard to contemplate in the abstract, it surely must be rough in reality.

  5. My dad’s ruler was also yellow and brass and just thinking about I can smell it and feel the texture of it in my hands.

    The idea of losing one of my parents stops my breath for a while. I can’t even imagine what my parents feel. My mom recently lost her mom, two brothers and her father.

    My dad lost his dad about five years ago. I guess I’ll never really know how it effected him because he lives out of state from me and I didn’t get to be there. I know that he talks to my Grandma every single day though and IM’s her in the morning.

    I wonder what it is about those rulers that captured our imaginations? Is it one of those “my dad’s important work” things that we barely understand as kids, so they have some sort of “what dad does when he’s not here” mystery about them?

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