My son has a project due in a few days. He has to recreate a Trireme. If y’all aren’t currently taking 7th grade History class, it’s a devastating warship which permitted Athens to build her maritime empire and dominate the Aegean in the 5th century BCE. (Thank you, Google.) He’s had weeks to prepare and plan, but decides tonight, after a weekend of camping with the Scouts, tonight, when we’re up to our eyeballs in laundry, and sleeping bag de-sweatification, he will work on it.
As I started dinner, I could hear them in the basement. I could hear the router, imagined the boat being carved out. I could smell the sawdust. Sawdust. And I stopped what I was doing, went to the top of the basement stairs and stood quietly. I closed my eyes and I was brought back to my house in Endicott Street. I’m 8 years old, and standing next to my dad, eyes wide, fascinated with his latest masterpiece.
My dad has always impressed me. Not just because he’s my dad, although when I was little, that was pretty much the only prerequisite. No, my dad has always been special. Losing his dad when he was just 5 years old, and his mother at 24…can change a man. He could have used those tragedies as excuses. Growing up without his father, he never had a male role model in his life; nobody to teach him how to use a hammer, drive a car, shake a hand with just enough strength to convey self-confidence, yet gentle enough to show compassion.
He turned to books for inspiration. He learned about cars, about building things, about science and how things work. He didn’t have money to attend college, so he enlisted in the Army. Worked hard. Self-taught.
When I was just three, we moved into my mom’s dream house; and it was the beginning of a life-long adoration for all my dad has accomplished.
I spent hours watching him cut wood, sand it, stain it…I was always fascinated at the before and after – and then the reveal: a deck surrounding a pool he’d installed by hand, a cabana with sundeck, a 4-seasoned porch, a bar in the basement made with one piece of plywood wrapped around in a semicircle, the bar top, made with foam & wrapped in black leather. It became “the” go-to place for all entertaining. Everyone that came over, had their picture taken, and it went on the bar. By the time I’d moved out there were hundreds of pictures on that thing!
The smell of sawdust brings it all back. And it reminds me how proud I am to be his daughter. How he’s never quit. He’s never given up – not on anything. Even when he lost his fingers in a snowblowing accident, but less than a month later, built a Duesenberg for my production of “Annie” in my sophomore year.
And now I see my son, standing next to his dad. I can see the look on his face. I can see the pride in his eyes. There’s nothing he can’t do.
And the torch has been passed…