Memory Lane: The Workbench

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When I was a boy, my father, my grandpa, my uncles, and our neighbors all had workbenches, with lots and lots of tools. Most of them were in the basement, but some of them were in the garage. Ours was always down below.

I’m sure some of you have workbenches–but at one time, virtually every household with a father in it had one. My father tinkered with radios and built shelves and cabinets as needed. Uncle Ferdie invented things–had dozens of patents. Grandpa made toys for us kids. I haven’t collected evidence for it, but I think people used to be a lot handier than they are now. Heck, I used to be a lot handier than I am now.

We don’t have a workbench. Living in an apartment, where would we put it? But there was something magical, on a rainy Saturday, in watching my father shave lumber with his jack-plane, drill holes, tap nails into place, and wind up making something we could use.

Ah! You should’ve seen him and Ferdie tackle a failed TV set. But that’s another story.

Wahoo! I Did It!

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I’ve never claimed to be a Mr. Fixit. When called upon to play that role, I dread it.

Today I had to unclog the bathroom sink. This job has been known to take me as long as two hours. It should take 15 minutes. The problem is that our bathroom is very small, the drain is inside a cabinet that takes up valuable floor space, and I’m just too big to get in there without contortions.

The last time I did it, or rather thought I’d done it, I finished the job in 20 minutes and proclaimed myself a living legend–until I turned the tap and water started spurting all over the place. It turned out that I’d forgotten to re-install a washer, so I had to do the whole blamed thing all over again.

Today, not counting going up and down the stairs for assorted items of equipment–less than half an hour! Calloo, callay, O frabjous day! I turned on the tap and nothing bad happened. I think I got all the parts in that should be in.

Dare I celebrate with a second cigar? Or would that be altogether too sybaritic, not to mention hubris?

But first feed the cat, she’s nagging me.

Memory Lane: The Workbench

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When I was a boy, I never met a man who didn’t have a workbench either in his basement or his garage.

I can see it now, my father’s work area. The big bench strewn with tools, and more tools stored in old dressers on the flanks. Jars full of screws and nuts and nails of all different sizes. Uncle Bernie’s work area was nice and neat, like the one in the picture above, but my father’s was more mystical: more intriguing.

In those days, men were expected to know how to fix things, and even how to build some of the things they needed, rather than buy them. Was this because they were all biggits? But what a world of wonder for us kids! I wouldn’t have dared switch on the power saw. But the vise! Hammers! Screwdrivers! And all those cool doo-dads he used to bring home from the Ford plant. I wound up making a lot of my own toys–a whole Civil War flotilla, back in 1961, ideal for naval engagements on various mud puddles in the neighborhood.

I don’t know if every household still has such a magical alcove as a workbench area, these days. I was never very good with tools, but they were so much a part of everyday life, you just couldn’t help learning how to use them. All you had to do was watch your father, and you’d pick it up.

Need I add that my sister had free access to all this fun, just like her brothers?

All I can say now is, I should’ve spent even more time watching my father and my uncles, my grandparents, my mother and my aunts. I would have learned a lot more!