Grandpa’s Tools

9 Jun

Shamelessly stolen from The HAMB.

My garage is full of tools that were once my grandpa’s, so maybe this hits close to home for me… but I have a feeling just about any gearhead who picked up their appreciation from a previous generation will love it all the same.

Grandpa’s Tools
A Short Story By Jason Friend

Alex was chasing daylight. And not just daylight, the weather as well. It was that time of the year when by 4 o’clock he had to be out of his driveway and back into the warmth of his house. It always amused him when people talked to him about living in California and how beautiful the weather must be there. They were all fooled. Everyone probably got the same postcard in the mail showing the Golden Gate Bridge all lit up in sunlight, no fog, no wind. Northern California was not the perfect 72 degree weather of Los Angeles. Tourists would hop off the planes in shorts and t-shirts and head right for the vendors selling hooded sweat shirts with cable cars on them. Be sure to put a flower in your hair, and bring your jacket.

Alex could see the huge wall of fog rolling in from the west as he knelt beside the old ’53 and figured he had about an hour left before it just wasn’t worth staying out anymore. His butt was cold and numb from sitting on the driveway, but he had to get these last two brake cylinders installed tonight so he could use tomorrow to bleed the brakes and work out any problems. Everything had to be done and working by Monday or he’d have to take another day off from work, which his boss would just love.

“Why don’t you just get yourself a more reliable car, Alex? We wouldn’t have these problems?” Alex would never respond with more than a shrug.

He couldn’t afford a new car, not that he’d want one. He could probably drop a grand down on some ten year old beater, but it just didn’t seem right. He loved his Dodge and couldn’t imagine having any other vehicle. There was no heat, no defrost, no radio, and it was still a 6 volt system. The charging system wasn’t working, but he had a system worked out of swapping batteries when one went dead (usually in the middle of driving). The interior was original and looked it. Duct tape held most of the seats together and a few blankets provided cushion while also keeping the hardened foam dust from flying around while he drove. The fuel gauge didn’t work but he was happy the speedometer was functioning, not that there was any real concern of being pulled over for speeding in this boat.

The old Dodge surely wasn’t practical, but it just made him happy. The windows rolled down, it ran, and it stopped. Well, it kind of stopped, which is why he was rushing to fix the brakes during the weekend. Alex wasn’t the best at making friends, so as usual, this was a one-man job. He had finished the front wheels and now the rear cylinders needed to be attached and plumbed. It would be close.

Down at the corner a blacked out sedan turned left and crept up the street, parking in front of the driveway. Alex looked up and recognized his father’s car, but kept working. He heard the door open, the dinging of the open door alert, and then the sound of a trunk popping. Alex tightened the bolt holding the rear passenger brake cylinder on, put down his socket wrench, and grabbed a rag.

“Hey pop.” He wiped his hands as best he could. He saw his father awkwardly lift a black box out of his trunk. “I didn’t know you were comin’ over today.”

His father slammed the trunk down and walked up the driveway with a strained grin on his face. “I brought you a little something.”

Alex watched his father try to balance himself as he carried the heavy box in his right hand. He was a 62 year old man, but still was stubborn and would refuse any help, so Alex knew better than to offer. It then dawned on him what his father was carrying and he jumped up to stand.

“Your mother and I just got back yesterday. We probably spent a week going through your grandpa’s things, most of it junk. We set aside anything we thought you might want to have, some old tools, that recliner of his you liked. The grandfather clock is going to your sister, though. You’ll just need to make a trip out to get what you want. The rest will go to auction.”

Alex wasn’t too interested in his words, just what he was carrying.

“But we did bring this back for you, your grandpa had specifically asked us to give it to you before he died.”

He recognized the box. It was his grandpa’s old toolbox. The old, black enamel was chipped and rusting, but it instantly flooded his memories of sitting beside his grandpa as they worked on his old truck. His grandpa had shown him how to rebuild his first carburetor with those tools.

His father plopped the box down and wiped his hands together. “Here ya go.”

“So how are you and mom doing?” Alex didn’t look at his father, just the tool box.

“We’re doing fine, we had been preparing for it for a while. Your mother is still a wreck, but she loved him just as much as I did. We brought his ashes back, and we’ll probably have some sort of ceremony soon. We need to get all you kids here, and we know how hard it is to do that.”

“I’d definitely like to help with whatever I can.” This time he looked his father in the eye.

“Alright. We’ll talk about it tomorrow. It’s getting late and your mother’s got dinner cooking. I just wanted to bring these by tonight.”

“Thank you, pop.”

Alex walked him back to his car. He’d have normally hugged him, but the grease on his shirt told him to keep his distance. He waved goodbye, still wiping his hands on the rag. There wasn’t much sun left. No real point in working any more tonight. He’d just get that fourth brake cylinder on tomorrow, there shouldn’t be a problem. Past experience told him otherwise, but he was tired and it was getting cold.

He stared at the old tool box, lifted it up by its well-worn wooden handle and carried it into the garage. He turned on the lights, picked up his tools from the driveway, and shut the garage door to keep out the cold and fog. Led Zeppelin was crackling on the speakers. “Raaa…mmble… on”

He pulled up a chair and slid the tool box in front of him. On the back was a faded stamp. “Kennedy Kits – Made of Metal – Patented – Van Wert, Ohio.” His grandpa grew up in Van Wert. Lived in Van Wert. Died in Van Wert. He had been a factory worker in midwest back when there was a huge industry boom. No problem finding a factory job back then. After the war he headed back with plenty of skills from repairing the planes on the aircraft carriers. He had done some time in Detroit working for Chrysler, but eventually settled back in Ohio where he worked the rest of his life as a machinist at a farm equipment manufacturer.

When Alex was looking for an old car to fix up, his grandpa helped him choose the Coronet. “Ya know? I probably helped make that one, Alex.” That’s all he had to say and he bought it from an old farmer in Napa.

He turned the tool box around a few times and then faced it towards him. He flipped the three latches open and delicately peeled the two top halves open. He could smell the old oil. His grandfather always had that smell. The smell of hot metal cooled by oil working the lathes and mills. The smell would stick to his clothes. It was a sweet smell, a pleasant smell. Whenever he would visit his grandfather he would hold his cracked, grease-caked hands as they walked to his garage. His young hands would have the same smell. It was comforting.

Alex sat there under the incandescent work lamp and let the memories flood back. His grandpa was the one who made him who he is. He was a quiet man. An honorable man. And good with his hands. Somehow the latter had skipped a generation with his father. His father couldn’t even unscrew a lightbulb. Maybe he rebelled against having a blue collar life. He had latched on to the flower-power scene in the late 60’s and made the pilgramage to San Francisco. He was a Class 1 Hippy, the works. The hair, the clothes, the VW bus filled with incense infused curtains and shag carpeting. But like many of his generation, after the hippy trend died off, he cut his hair and fell right into a dull desk job working for a chemical company in Monterey. Sure, he couldn’t repair a flat, but he could sell you 100 cases of petroleum based cleaner with a smile and a handshake.

It must have skipped a generation. Alex would spend his summers with his brother and sister at his grandpa’s. His parents would use the summer to go on some vacation to the British Islands or Corsica. This was fine with Alex. He loved just being in the presence of his grandfather. He was a kind man and spent every moment of the summer spoiling his grandkids. They spent most of the time at his house, but it was like summer camp. He’d always keep them busy with projects. And he made the best fried bologna sandwiches, cut like Pac Man, in the midwest on white bread; slightly greasy finger prints usually included. His brother was the artist, liked to draw, and his grandfather encouraged him by buying him pads of paper and paints and canvas. His sister hosted tea parties with her dollie; Grandpa always had a seat. But with him his grandfather recognized he was good with his hands. Many a day were spent rebuilding mower small gas engines and showing him how to do repairs on the house. Alex was too eager to help. And learn.

Alex got up and opened the garage door. The fog was rolling in and starting to fold around the Dodge and the neighbors’ cars. The windows were covered in condensation and it was chilly. He pulled the garage door back down and started up the electric heater in the garage. Creedence was on the radio. “I ainnn’t noo fortunate son, no!”

He went and sat back down in front of the tool box. The top tray was filled with standard 3/8″ drive sockets and an old Craftsman socket wrench. These were good tools. They didn’t make them like this anymore. These tools would last another 1000 years and were actually made in the U.S.A., not like the cheap Chinese shit of today. He was also impressed that it was a complete set of sockets. Try as he might, Alex could never keep a complete set. He’d always lose one or two somewhere. The biggest problem was the hill he lived on. If he accidentally set something on its side, it would just roll, roll, roll down the hill to god knows where. He couldn’t count the times he had to chase after sockets, rolls of tape, and spray paint cans. Occasionally something would get away from him.

He picked up the socket wrench. It almost felt warm. It probably was still covered in grease and palm oils from his grandfather. It felt good, solid. He attached one of the sockets and rotated it back and forth on the wrench listening to the “click.” It sounded like a clock ticking. It put his modern Craftsman wrench to shame. Mixed in with the sockets and wrench were some small screwdrivers and some spare fuses, automobile light bulbs, and various keys to who knows. Things like that always seem to somehow find there way to a toolbox. Whatever these keys belong to probably doesn’t even exist anymore. And he was sure the fuses and bulbs were blown.

The top tray lifted up with a little work and exposed the bottom section of the tool box. Laying in there was an assortment of wooden-handled metal working hammers, screw drivers, c-clamps, pliers, cutting shears, crescent wrenches, some worn milling bits, and a set of drill bits. Alex pulled each tool out and studied it, before carefully placing them in a pile on the garage floor. As he got the bottom, there were a couple rusty screws, an old fishing lure. “That will make a great little decoration for my Dodge’s sun visor.”

The tool box was empty of tools. But it wasn’t empty. On the bottom of the tool box there was a envelope, stained from oil and years of water moisture and covered in dust. Alex turned the tool box over and banged on the bottom, hoping it would dislodge the envelope. No luck. He turned the box back over and wiped the envelope with his rag.

“Alex” was written in pencil in a man’s cursive handwriting.

He felt a knot grow in his throat and stared at the writing for a few moments. “A letter? For him?” He slid a fingernail under the edge and carefully peeled the envelope off the bottom. It was held on by tacky residue of some sort, but it came off clean. Holding the envelope in his hands he sat back in the chair. He held it up to the work light and could clearly see a folded piece of paper inside. He tapped it a few times on one side and cut the other side open with his pocket knife (given to him by his grandpa). The radio crackled, America was playing. “This is for alll the lonely peeeeople…”

He turned it over and tapped it until the letter fell out onto the floor. He started to unfold it. It was folded twice, very neatly. He turned his body to get the light to shine on the letter.

Your parents just picked you kids up and I said good bye for the year. I just wanted to let you know how much I love you all and how much you mean to your ol’ grandpappy. I’m writing this letter as I know that someday you will read this. Probably not for many years. Probably not until I am long gone. It will get to you somehow. Alex, you and me, we’re the same. You have made this lonely old man happy. And probably added a few years to my life. I sure miss your grandma, but when you kids are around, I feel truly happy again. Just always remember that I love you and will always be with you.
Love forever,
September 1985″

Alex could barely read the last few sentences. His eyes were cloudy and filled with tears. A few drops had fallen over the bottom of the letter. He got up, sniffed in a few times, and folded the letter back and put it back in the envelope. He neatly repacked the tool box, placing the letter on the top tray, and closed the lid. He snapped all three latches back and lifted the tool box over to a shelf and slid it into an open space.

Wiping his eyes with his shirt sleeve, he turned off the light and the radio and went inside for the night. The garage went black. The only sounds were the wind whistling against the garage. Tomorrow he’d get that last brake cylinder on, bleed the brakes, and everything will be just fine. There won’t be a problem. His grandpa had taught him well. And his grandpa helped make a great car.

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