This past summer my neighbor asked me to help her clean her grandparent’s house. They both had passed away, and since she was the closest living relative she was in charge of their home and the estate sale.
We spent two weeks sorting through, and cleaning out every room in the house. There were days of tears, days of sharing humorous stories, and days where no words were spoken, just raw emotions.
During the cleaning process I was given the opportunity to choose items that would remind me of this man, whom I affectionately called “Old Man.” I picked nine items. I chose a coffee cup that he drank out of every morning, an old worn out hat he wore. A lime green chair cushion he used to sit on in the man cave, four skill saw blades, and two pairs of his jeans. An odd combination, one may say, yet all of them have one central story surrounding them.
It was August 2004 and I had been asked, by his daughter who lived in Texas, to hang a door on the back porch where he always sat. A back porch that he named the “Man Cave.”
Old Man was battling cancer. Due to his chemotherapy treatments, and weak immune system, he was susceptible to illness so a door needed to be installed before the cold weather set in. He spent most of his day sitting in a green plastic chair in the man cave listening to country music and waving at the neighbors as they drove by. The man cave was the central part of his life.
There was a good used solid, exterior door with the door casing that could be used and had been leaning against the exterior wall of the man cave. I didn’t know where the door came from; it was just there. So, when I arrived that morning I put the door and the door casing on the sawhorses I brought from my garage. My first cuts would be on the casings.
I took the door off the casing and then took the door casing/jam apart. I measured the door opening, measured and marked each door casing board, and pulled out any old nails I saw. I have found that nothing will dull a skill saw blade quicker than trying to cut through a nail.
I picked up my saw and prepared to make my first cut when Old man cautioned me.
“Kid? Did you check that for nails?”
“Yep, I sure did.” I affirmed, as I pulled the trigger on my skill-saw.
I hit a nail! It was a small nail, a brad nail. The kind of nail no one ever uses for installing a door casing. I am not sure why they were even there. They are about an inch long, with little to no head, and the diameter of a sewing needle.
Did I tell you I am basically blind without my bifocals? Well I am, and that morning I did not wear my glasses and Old Man knew that. Needless to say, I could not see it. Looking back I should have known why he asked me if I had checked for nails.
Anyway, I did not have a back up blade; a new saw blade had to be bought. I had to make a trip to the local hardware store. Which, in a way, was a good thing. Leaving the property helped me to calm down.
I enjoy carpentry jobs, and I enjoyed my times with old man. I was looking forward to this task because it combined the two things I like and enjoy. This day though, both of the things I enjoy were colliding and forming “the perfect ugly storm.” This task was not going as smoothly as I had anticipated.
Eventually the door casing was installed, but what should have taken me an hour, took me about three hours.
Now it was time to turn my attention to the door. I put the door on the sawhorses, measured the door opening, measured the door and snapped the chalk line. My patience was close to being gone at this point. Old Man and his wife were fighting. He had started drinking early so she started nagging early, and those two knew how to fight. 51 years together had helped them to perfect their “art.” Because their fighting was getting to me I should have walked away for the day. I didn’t, but I should have.
I picked up my skill saw and went to cut the door along the chalk line when Old Man shifted in his chair and asked again,
“Kid, did you check for nails?”
I let go of the trigger on the skill saw, turned towards him and snapped,
“I think I know what I am doing, and yes I checked for nails!”
I started cutting the door, and sure enough I hit another nail. I looked down and saw it. Another small nail! There was no justifiable reason for these tiny nails, none whatsoever! Just that quick the new blade was dull. Old Man stood up, adjusted his jeans, sat back on his chair, took a sip from his coffee cup, raised his hat on his forehead, grinned, and said,
“Good thing you are a professional and know what you are doing.”
He reached in his wallet, pulled out a twenty and said,
“Better get two or three blades this time.”
I was livid. Between my frustration for the small nails, their fighting and this project lasting much longer then I had wanted I could feel an ulcer forming in my stomach as I stood there.
I snatched the twenty out of his hand and muttered,
“I wish you’d just shut up.”
Since his hearing was so bad, and I was muttering, he looked at me and asked,
“What was that Kid?”
I shook my head and said,
“Nothing, I will be back in a few minutes.”
I went to the hardware store and bought three blades this time. I knew if we didn’t use them all on this project, because of the small nails, we could use them for something else down the line. Upon returning I put the new blade on the skill saw, and placed the skill saw on the door near the chalk line. Once again Old Man asked,
“Kid, did you check for nails?”
I responded with as much patience as I could muster up. My jaw was tense, I bit through my lip, and I was grinding my teeth as I began swallowing blood when I responded with,
“Yes I did. I do not see any nails!”
I turned on the skill saw and sawed maybe six inches and hit another nail. That was the last straw. I tried deep breathing, and ended up almost passing out. Needless to say, I have not learned the art of breathing deep. I was beyond livid. He began to say something to me when his wife opened the back door, and once again they exchanged heated words.
I grabbed the hair on the top of my head and pulled. I thought maybe that pain would help take my mind off the fact that I wanted to throw my skill saw, and knock the door off the saw horses, while simultaneously smashing all the fingers on my left hand with my hammer. I took another deep breath and then all hell broke loose. Old man looked at me and asked a fatal question.
“Is this door going to be hung before wet weather arrives? If so we only have about a month to complete the job.”
I dropped the skill saw on the ground with my left hand, while still pulling the hair on the top of my head with my right hand, and a full verbal exchange commenced. I am not sure how long we yelled at each other, but long enough for each of us to use derogatory remarks about each other’s mothers.
Several minutes into the exchange I noticed he was no longer arguing, he was grinning. I saw the grin and knew I needed to stop my foolish behavior. I took another deep breath, let go of the hair on the top of my head, and walked in and sat down in one of the chairs. It was silent for several minutes.
He finally looked at me and said,
“Sorry, Kid, got a little heated didn’t it?”
I shook my head yes, and apologized as well. We took an extended break and just talked. During this time, once I calmed down, I looked at him and asked him where he got the door. I mean, it just showed up one day out of the blue.
“Well, kid, my brother brought the door over a couple months back. I am not sure where he got it, but he knew I needed a door.”
“Did you know it had small brad nails in them?”
“Yup, I did. Why do think I kept asking if you had checked it for nails.”
There have been very few times in life when I have been speechless. That was one of those times. I sat there stammering. In a way I was blowing smoke and fire out of my mouth, nose and ears, and I really wanted to hit him upside his head, but I didn’t. Instead, I just looked at him and said,
“You know, you could have told me there were brad nails in that thing. I would have went home and got my glasses.”
He just shrugged his shoulders, grinned, took a sip of his beer, and lit up another cigarette.
The door was hung that day. It took a lot longer than I had thought it would take, but it was completed in one day, not one month.
That is why I chose the nine items I did. When I saw them they reminded me of a better time, they reminded me of that day, and of him.
Today as I went out to feed my animals I noticed the new neighbors began tearing down the man cave and Old Mans home. I knew this day was coming, but I was unaware of the emotional reaction I was going to have. I wept for the better part of the day.
Even though I will miss seeing him in the man cave, and I will miss physically seeing the man cave, I can take comfort in the fact that he really is not completely gone. He is in my heart, my mind and in my memories, and if I want to remember him, all I need to do is take a stroll down memory lane while I drink coffee from his cup.