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On Putting Tools Away 

It is 7:30 p.m. and my wife comes into the bedroom, crosses to the closet and pulls open the two bi-folding doors. Although I can't see her face, I know she's pleased. I built this closet for her. Her wardrobe hangs in front of her, each dress sorted according to style, color and season. The same goes for the pants and the sweaters and the shoes - the multitude of shoes - each pair tucked into its private cubbyhole like a pigeon at roost. My wife has yet to enter and instead stands there like a general surveying her troops. I close my book and put on a pair of light shoes and walk out to the shop. I will leave my wife to her weighty decisions.

In the shop, the hammers are in place: framing, finishing, roofing, ball peen. The screwdrivers, upright in their holes, are arranged in descending order like siblings posed for a picture at a family reunion. The sockets are neatly stored, knuckled down in their snapping trays, and the planer with its narrow maw is tucked back in its corner. Along the back wall, the hand power tools squat in their boxes, their electric cords curled around them like tails. I walk the length of the workbench letting my fingers drift across the smooth surface. I'm gladdened beyond all reason by its solid touch. Back inside, my wife brushes her fingers down the parallel racks of clothes, holds one dress up to her neck and then another, twists a heel sideways to admire a shoe in the mirror.

As always, a great silence has invaded my shop, made more powerful by the noise that so often fills it. There's a cathedral-like quality here, a residue of the sacred. Holy things take place within these walls. As do violence and care. Swear words - their own kind of prayer - have been mumbled into shirt collars and shouted at the rafters. I picture them embedded in the grain of the wood. Along with them are hours and hours of squint-eyed concentration, mixing, as all things do, with the odor of sawdust, paint thinner and sweat. Carl Jung wrote, "In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order." I pick up a saw and my father's voice reaches across the decades. "Put it back where you found it."

It was practically his mantra, in no small part because I was so poor at following his simple order. Placing the saw where it belongs, I no longer see the tool in front of me, but instead watch a boy in a crew cut with a paper hat. My father would make these hats, folding the sports sections of the newspaper into narrow wedges like carpenters would in the '20s. His would be splattered with paint and across the front in thick block lettering would be printed, "EDWARD FINN, MASTER CARPENTER." Mine would read, "CHARLES ANDREW FINN, CARPENTER'S ASSISTANT." Both were out and out lies, but my father enjoyed the joke. We'd be down in the basement after dinner and I'd barely come up to his belt buckle. He'd have me hold the end of the tape measure while he stretched it down a length of wood. "Measure twice and cut once," he'd say, and look me in the eye. "That's what my father taught me."

In my travels I have come across two types of shops, both of which I admire. There are the shops that are a complete mess and chaos, and then there are the immaculate, spotless ones. I've worked in both, been frustrated and confused and thankful in both.

Back in the bedroom, my wife rehangs a pair of jeans. She tries on a different pair of shoes. In the shop I place a can of paint on a shelf. My wife refolds a scarf. For the next hour I put tools away, balancing on the top rung of emotion. There is the curling of extension cords and the swip swip of the shop broom - poetry of the first order - and the silence, an ode, filtering down like mice from the rafters. Before turning off the lights, I hear my father call upstairs to my mother, "I'm almost done."

As I close the two big bay doors, my wife slips off her bathrobe and hangs it on the hook where it belongs.


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