Don didn’t seem to think it was odd I packed sandpaper for our vacation. Neither did Celeste.
The week prior to our trip, the stack of typical vacation essentials — like sunscreen, beach towels and books — that grew in preparation just inside our door also came to include a few power and hand tools, Bri Wax and stain, and no one even questioned what I was planning. What have I done to these people that they didn’t even bat an eye?
“Some folks pay for therapy,” Celeste said. “You sand your issues away.”
I didn’t take any projects along on the trip. I trusted they’d appear on their own in an “If you build it, they will come” sort of way. All I needed were the tools.
The first evening of our trip involved driving from Atlanta to Hinton. For any who long to live in the city, know that it took nearly two hours to go the first 18 miles. Jobs are plentiful there, but their roads take a toll.
We traveled the next six and a half hours easily, landing at Don’s family camp on the New River in Hinton, West Virginia, in the middle of the night.
There, we unloaded my sandpaper collection and most of our gear, recuperated from the drive for a day, and then headed to Kent, Ohio, where my parents now reside with my brother.
My cousin, who also lives in that area, was hosting a memorial gathering for our aunt Wilma, who died in June. It was the first time in many years (since the last funeral) our small family was together.
At the party, my cousin Vicki and I shared a few bonding moments, admiring each other’s cellphone pictures of furniture projects and flea market finds, but we were the odd ducks in that pond. The rest seemed only to be drawn to brand-spanking new.
They’re hunters, fishermen, sports fanatics and race fans. My gene pool, though filled from the same source, flows a different direction. Even so, it was fun to catch up, to see kids who weren’t far from toddling at our last get-together now driving cars, talking college.
I’m often envious of large and boisterous families that gather regularly, without someone’s death as a precursor. Don’s family is spread nearly as far apart as my own, yet the core group of his remains close and in more constant contact than ours.
It occurred to me this might be a project for me to take on, but unless sandpaper and stain are involved, I just stumble about, clueless where or how to begin.
We visited for a few days, and then got on the road and headed back toward Hinton.
My first project appeared by way of a flea market somewhere around the Ohio-West Virginia border. There was a single vendor set up outside, and he was so hungry to make a sale he began throwing prices at me for every item I so much as glanced at, and then dropped the price significantly each time it appeared I might step away. His sales technique was so very much like Mr. Haney from “Green Acres” it prompted Don, a human parrot, to do his Haney voice for most of the next hour or two.
There are occasions when I buy something not because I like it, but because the seller seems to need to make a sale. This was one of those times. The only wooden item he had in need of refinishing was a rather large toolbox with primitive handles. It was handmade from random scraps of wood, and then stained and shellacked. And then, at some point, forgotten. For a great many years. Until the tools inside began to grow together, bonded by rust, sawdust and funk.
The seller misread my hesitation as being price-related, so continued dropping the amount. My delay was actually tied more to considering the many hours we’d spend trapped in the truck with something that large and stinky, especially since the only place it would fit would be on the back seat, with Celeste.
I recalled the time, many years back, when Celeste’s pediatrician talked of the importance of exposing children to dirt and germs. “That’s how they build a resistance,” he’d said.
I shared this with her shortly after handing cash to the seller.
“This will make you strong,” I said.
She eyed the box with nose snarled.
“That,” she said, “just might give me superpowers.”
When we arrived at the camp, we dragged the box to the back porch, and I spent several hours, happily sanding away. It was amazing to be able to glance up from my work and see the New River, just feet from our door. I could get myself all covered in saw dust and grime, and then walk down the yard, wade in and wash off.
I filled a tub with water and spent ages scrubbing the old tools that came with the box. They’ve become strangely beautiful, especially two of the old hand drills. Apparently, being saturated with grease for a few decades can produce a gorgeous patina. I’ve never seen wood glow quite this way.
I didn’t need another toolbox, nor the tools, and have no clue what to do with them now that they’re done.
Don stood beside me on the deck, admiring my work, as I arranged the pieces for a photo.
“I doubt anyone else would’ve taken that on,” he said. “They needed you to find them.”
And although I’m not exactly sure why, I think I needed them, too.