Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Rummaging in someone else's past

My employer purchased a piece of adjoining property that has what is now a vacant house on the lot. It's previous residents were an aged couple, the last being a man who died in February at the age of 85. We were told that we could wander the house and take whatever we found to be useful or valuable. When I stepped into the garage with my coworker, I was not expecting what was there and to be honest, it kinda put me back on my heels.

A whole garage work space that reminded me of a lot of garages, particularly my dad's, my grandpas' (yeah, both of 'em), and my own to some extent (I still haven't organized it really). I realized there was nothing of value to me in the place except for the scroll saw which we had already decided to adopt, so I opted to wander around and be archaeological; look for clues, tidbits, interesting things.

I caught myself getting choked up on several occasions. Here were things that hadn't been messed with since at least six months ago; possibly last touched by a man who's been long gone. I searched for items that had clearly been untouched by other visitors like myself. This collection of eye glasses was obviously collected and gathered together on a kitchen counter. It felt very unceremonious.

There were the obligatory food jars re-purposed to hold hardware; nails, nuts, bolts, screws, washers, cotter pins, and myriad other bits of loose hardware collected over the years. The box that reads "20 OLD" was a collection of chainsaw links that had been sharpened and resharpened to point that the man who lived there viewed them only as viable spare parts in case his better or newer chain developed a problem.

The classic pegboard was loaded with hooks and loops designed to hold shelves of solvents and adhesives as well as hand tools, most of the tool-holding loops were empty, previously raided by other coworkers or family members of the previous owners.

By the back door into the yard was a key ring holder that reads "Home is where the heart is," possibly an attempt by his wife to spruce the place up or maybe the work of an old softie who liked to be reminded of such things. Maybe it was just a utilitarian purchase at a yard sale down the street. The function is still there but the motivation behind the aesthetic will be lost to history.

A drawer full of electrical parts and projects, items stripped of valuable parts or in the midst of repair or waiting to be skeletonized for some future project.

This cupboard was the most interesting to me as it held binders filled with parts receipts from lawn mower repair to chainsaw sharpening to home decor purchases at Lowes. I flipped through his meticulous records and saw the copies and clippings of woodworking projects or landscaping projects that he endeavored to create. That was, of course, where I found his name. Being of the generation that I am, I immediately set to searching the internet for his name (a very unique one which made it easy to find his obituary).

He was born in Stamps, Arkansas on April 18, 1926 and died February 11, 2012 in Fresno. He served in the Army during WW II with a tour of duty in Europe. He moved to Bakersfield to be near his sister, and met his wife there where they married in 1958. He worked for United Grocers/Fleming and drove truck for 34 years. And he loved golf, baseball, and bowling, which is what tipped me off to his little Scottie made of golf balls with a golf tee tail that was tucked away on a high shelf above his work bench.

I also found this little figurine of a miner on a shelf above the bench. You can see him peeking out near the bottle of Elmer's glue in a picture above. This is actually the only thing I took from the garage. I don't know why but I was drawn to it.

Across from the bench was another shelf of hardware in reused bottles, jars, and cans as well as this clock radio and lamp on a spring-tension arm.

Near the side of the garage was the box for what probably ended up being one of the last bits of hardware he owned.

Near the back door, I found his yard work footwear and hat; years of grass and dirt built up where his jeans didn't overlap the leather of his boots.

The view from his workbench into the backyard.

The only book I found near his workbench, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. As Publisher's Weekly put it, "Former Secretary of Defense McNamara's controversial indictment of American policy in Vietnam."

And of course his chair, sturdy and waiting.

1 comment: