“You know Deets is like me — he’s not one to quit on a garment just because it’s got a little age.” (Spoken by Augustus McCrae)
― Larry McMurtry,
Peeling back the layers of a lifetime, Dad’s workshop was slowly being emptied.
Years of debris, crumpled boxes, trays of old tools … the mostly forgotten flotsam and jetsam of a lifetime was being triaged … into boxes to be saved, into piles for further study and into bags for the trash bin.
Eventually, the old familiar toolbox worked its way to the front of the pile.
The heavy tin box, its hidden treasure heavier than anything yet discovered, deserved a closer look.
It might have been painted and shiny at one time, but that bright existence predated me by decades. Memory could only take me back to when I was fairly new and it was already old … a lifeless dirty gray tin box with a sturdy but creaking lid and a thin metal handle.
Inside, no treasure; only memories … hundreds of mismatched nuts and bolts.
Dad was a mechanic, self-taught, war-seasoned and farm-finished. He could fix any tool, repair any machine, fabricate any missing part. And he never threw away a functioning nut, bolt or screw. Some would say, like father — like son. Not the mechanical ability, just the unwillingness to part with an object that shows a little wear.
But the gray toolbox was more than that. It was Dad’s way of putting his three sons to work. Long before we were strong enough to heft a plow blade into place or apply enough torque to bolts holding it tight … we were his runners.
“Fetch me a three-quarter-inch box-end wrench,” he would command from under the combine, and off we would run. Retrieving wrenches, screwdrivers, sockets and hammers was easy. We knew the difference between a box-end, open-end or crescent wrench; a ball-peen, sledge or claw hammer; a flat-blade or Phillips screwdriver.
The challenge came when he twisted off a rusted nut or stripped the threads on a damaged bolt. He would toss down the wounded part and say, “See if you can find one like this,” or “a nut to fit this,” or “a bolt just a smidge longer.”
That’s when my two brothers and I headed for that heavy tin box. Digging around in that chest of mismatched nuts and bolts, we would look for a likely pair and try one after another until we found a match. Coarse threads, fine threads, bunged up or in good shape. If it was a bit tight, zap it with WD-40 and run it back to Dad, who was waiting patiently inside, atop or under whatever piece of machinery was being repaired. Speed was always appreciated.
A tool chest, battered and dirty, full of rusted mismatched nuts and bolts ... what do you do with a heavy box of memories like that? First, you get your hands dirty, rummage around in it, feel the texture of the threaded bolts, listen to the sound of the nuts clattering around in the metal case.
Then, you take a photo, lock the memory in place and heft the heavy box and its contents one last time onto a pile for recycling.
Dave Berry is editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. His column appears every Sunday. Next week, in “In Search of the Batfish,” we’ll escort a former sailor through the Navy Museum in Washington, D.C., in search of a submarine. Thanks for reading.