An Old, Red Hammer
Remembering my dad and celebrating my husband and son-in-law this Father's Day.
A hammer, a beat up, old red hammer, but what it symbolizes for me is a lifetime of a father’s and grandfather’s love. This well used hammer conjures up a flood of memories of my father. Walking two blocks from the bus stop, his arrival from work was promptly at 5:30 every evening. He changed from his suit and tie into his “house” clothes and after reading a prayer from his devotional book, we all ate the meal my mother had prepared from scratch. After supper, my dad headed outside to work on the house. Fitting construction in between work and four children, he and my mother painstakingly built our home with their own two hands. They built at the rate (slowly) they could afford supplies, never going into debt.
My dad spent hours after work and on weekends building our house.
The building seemed to take forever, and we spent most of my childhood living in a house in various stages of construction, at one point even spending months sleeping in a screened-in porch. Most of my classmates lived in nice, new homes that were fairly cookie cutter in appearance, but I had a childhood that was an adventure. Who cared what the house looked like, I was an outdoors girl and loved living on several acres of land with trees to climb and animals aplenty–horses, cows, chickens, cats and dogs.
My father was an organic gardener before it was a hip thing, keeping a steady flow of fresh vegetables on the table. I was a partner in the organic gardening, often “helping” my dad in the garden. One day I was walking hand in hand with my dad out to the garden and I said, “Daddy, you don’t have to worry. I’m never going to get married, I’ll stay here forever and help you garden.” I’m sure my words, spoken innocently and sincerely, evoked panic in his heart, but he responded with love and tenderness, assuring me I could always come and help him. I couldn’t imagine a time my dad wouldn’t be there, waiting for me to garden with him.
Me “helping” my dad in the garden. We lived east of Peoria and there was nothing between our house and Turkey mountain except for the Arkansas river!
I should probably have listened to my five-year-old self but no, I left home for college and eventually married. I broke my promise to always stay home and help my dad, and in fact, he ended up helping me many times after my divorce. As a single mother with two young children, I couldn’t keep up with the endless projects being a homeowner involved, and I certainly couldn’t afford to hire professionals. My parents stepped in and helped me tile a floor, build a fence and assisted with too many repairs to mention.
In the ten years between my marriages, my dad returned to the protector role; coming over late at night to assure my daughters and me there were no intruders, questioning me about my potential boyfriends and going to the car dealerships with me so I didn’t get scammed. My dad, my kids’ grandfather, always at the ready with the figurative and the literal “red hammer.”
My dad helping me tile a floor when I was a single mom.
My kids were frequent visitors at their grandparents’ house and took my place helping my dad in the garden. He had hats for them that he kept hanging on a hook near the back door, and he would say, “Girls, go get your farm hats and come help me in the garden”. They would rush over to get their hats, anxious to be grandpa’s helpers.
My daughters at two and three in their “farm hats”! Their help probably made gardening a little tougher on my dad, but they loved it!
As they outgrew the “farm hats” stage, he found other ways to be involved. He taught my ten-year-old daughter to use the red hammer, building a doghouse for her beloved first dog. Less tangible but more valuable, they built memories. Years later, I remember him making repairs on the roof, tool belt around his waist, the red hammer remaining a constant accessory, my dad still a strong, able man in his 90s.
My daughter holding the red hammer while she and her grandfather build a doghouse for her first dog!
My father wasn’t perfect; he had a temper that sent me running for cover, he was hardheaded, stubborn and hated to admit that my mother was usually right. Yet he had a soft, nurturing side that left him shedding tears at those gut-wrenching SPCA commercials and making up bedtime stories for me when I was way too old to be indulged. I miss seeing those leathery, rough hands grasping the old red hammer and those same calloused hands tenderly holding his grandchildren’s tiny, soft hands as they walked to the garden.
I will always miss my dad, but now Father’s Day is about my husband and my son-in-law carrying on the work and traditions of fathering but minus the beloved red hammer. I inherited the red hammer and selfishly keep it sequestered away in my closet, saving it for the day I can help my grandson build his first doghouse. When I pass from this earth, I hope my grandson will be the kind of man who will understand the significance of inheriting the old red hammer and be proud to carry on the legacy of a man he never knew, his great-grandfather.
Happy Father’s Day to all Dads!