Tuesday, March 07, 2006

I bought this foot scraper awhile back because I know come spring time our boots are going to be treading all through the kitchen leaving behind lots and lots of mud and crap. My friend Sharon has one of these outside her house. I love it! It has brushes on the sides and along the bottom and it gets firmly screwed to the deck outside the door. I always have to use it befor she lets me in to visit. I actually come half the time to visit her dog Tish, but Tish would make me scrape my boots too.

In order to attach this to my deck I needed a good heavy screwdriver especially as the deck is pressure treated wood. Well my sis sent me a box of tools from Mom's house that she figures Mom won't need as they were Dad's and Mom doesn't do much in the way of tools. She can always get Michael down the hall to do anything like that or even the maintenance people. I took out this ratchet screwdriver and started in using it. I quickly found that like so much of Dad's stuff, this was a cheap knock-off whose ratchet threads quickly wore out, leaving the poor thing spinning worthlessly. I went back to mine and finished the job. I started thinking about all those tools out in the shop with bad threads and bent metal... all those cheap-o tools dad would buy, often from an ad on the TV or a back of the mag ad. Sometimes cruising through K-Mart Dad would grab some little gadget made in China that looked just like the real thing only at a fraction of the price. They pretty much never worked. There's a coo-coo clock in the bathroom with 12 pictures of songbirds and on the hour there comes from that clock the strangest moaning sounds you ever heard. Nothing like a bird, that's for sure. Mom thinks it's because the batteries are low. I think it's because Dad bought a $19.99 special from Reader's Digest.

As I put away the screwdriver-like thingy I got to thinking about all those $19.99 specials Dad liked to buy. I wonder how much he put into them. I know I had a pair of pants he bought from a magazine that came in with enough waist to put both of us in. There were leather-like shoes that never wore out, unless you wore them. He says he was just trying to save some money but to some extent you know he was trying to have some faith in humanity. He wanted to believe that somewhere someone might sell a great tool or toy for a fraction of what the name brand costs. He wanted so hard to believe that with a smile and a handshake you could get a good deal on a car. You could be sure that If Dad sold you something with a handshake and a smile, that it would not only work, but if by some chance it failed he would buy it back. It was the right thing to do. That's why I never ended up with his survey equipment. He gave it to his crew chief when Dad retired so the guy could make a living with it. Instead the guy made a lamp out of the transit, because no surveyor uses those old optical transits any more. I suppose the level is a doorstop. Trouble is, I know how to use an optical transit and I would have used it to set up my fences and sheds and garage, maybe even survey my garden. Instead I have to look to ebay for a Gurley Transit in good shape with case and tripod. I do this hoping that someone somewhere got an old transit from their dad and now didn't want it or a lamp made from it. Dad would have loved ebay if he could have seen the screen of the computer.

Pappy loved a bargain and not because he was cheap. He loved bargains because we were poor. We were not middle class most of the time, we were poor. And Dad wanted us to have the kinds of things that middle class Americans had. He wanted us to have a nice house, a TV, good food, maybe even a car for him AND Mom. Not so much to ask and certainly not outrageous for a hard working man to expect. So he bought low. He brought home gizzards and salad and big bags of popcorn from the bar. We ate onion soup when we ran out of potatoes and when we ran out of onions dad would get a small jar of chipped beef, some flour and milk and we'd have SOS. He could feed us all with some day old bread and an egg... take that Jesus! Maybe he couldn't walk on water but he sure could stay under a heck of a long time while I rode on his back in the public swimming pool. Maybe he couldn't raise the dead and heal the sick but that didn't stop him from trying. When I got sick Dad was always there, always doing the right thing and without a complaint. Later he would get drunk, when the smoke cleared and he had the time.

It must have driven Dad crazy to have me leave the tools out in the yard after making some crazy toy like a boat for the canals around the nearby fields. I'd follow that boat all over the place on my bike, waiting by the locks and small falls where the water got diverted into the cotton fields. I thought it was because Dad had a fetish about neat, but now I understand why it was such a drag to have a saw get covered in rust, especially a nice one. Now I still leave things out in the yard, but now it's my voice saying "Oh, no! Look at this rust!" Dad used to wonder what it would take to make me learn to put things up. Don't really know, Dad, I still screw up.

And then he'd have to buy some oil or navy jelly and try to fix what I screwed up. I wonder why he didn't make me clean it up? Maybe he tried when I was too young and he just gave up on me. He would do that, expect a 4 year old to understand something a 9 year old might. Why not? He could do that when he was 4! Maybe, maybe he could. I think Dad had selective memory about his youth. That's why he would tell me horror stories about Grand Dad Riley beating him after he stole a car when a later story would have Grand Dad laughing when the cops told him about Dad swapping license plates to avoid getting caught. "Well, well. That was pretty smart!" Riley chuckled. Dad was hiding behind the door in wonder. See, I wouldn't have had the hair to hide from Dad and listen in on one of those busts. Dad would have tanned my hide good. For that matter I don't think I would have stolen a car just to see if I could do it. Dad never sold them, just drove them around. See, he never thought about the money, just trying out his skills and having a good time.

So the foot scraper is done, my ratchet gadget was better made than Dad's. I guess I'll save Dad's and see if it works for small jobs, but I suspect the reason it was stuffed under the sink with those other tools is that Dad found it didn't work and rather than try to get his $19.99 back he wrote it off and stuffed it under the sink. Well, Pappy, maybe I'll figure out what to do with it. Maybe make a sculpture out of it, the kind you might see in a gallery and say, "Jeezus Christ! Look at that, Billy! Hell, you could do something like that and make a million dollars!" Nah, Dad, not a million, but I bet I could find someone to buy it on Ebay for $19.99.

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