every time i turn a knob…
which, as you might imagine, is a hundred times a day in a working kitchen, with two boys, a fat cat, a hungry husband and me. and every single time, since i found out, i think of danny. danny screwed in every one of those ice box catches, as they are called in hardware speak. there are 17 of them in the farmhouse kitchen, and another 23 drawer pulls.
danny, who is no longer, sweated over every last one of all of them.
on a july day so hot he was licking away sweat from his upper lip before the third catch was on, danny and his power driver had at it. during a chapter in the kitchen construction that was nearly a stand-still, they called in danny. to come to our rescue. danny was the kind of guy who comes to your rescue: solid, quiet, get-the-job-done.
danny killed himself exactly three weeks ago today. leaving behind a wife he loved, and three kids, 5, 3, and newborn.
hung himself, danny did.
despondent over lord knows how many things. but one of the things was that he’d been rehabbing his own house, trying to make it stretch for his stretching family. he’d dug a new foundation, right up against the old one. and the rains came one september spell. literally washed his foundation out. the house caved in. danny, 38, wore the weight of it on his taut, slim shoulders.
and every time i turn a knob, i see danny. see a hundred frames of danny getting the job done.
a house, a house lived in by souls who love it, who honor it, who keep an ear open to its many whisperings, is, as any archeologist would tell you, an artifact layered with history and meaning, heartbreak and miracle.
the knobs for me will forever be danny, danny’s heartbreaking story.
besides the fact that we were finally getting knobs on cabinets that had hung naked for weeks, the drama of the week that danny came was that danny had a baby coming any minute. his third baby.
see, danny had grown up on our watch. back at our old house, he was the smart, young kid on the job. the carpenter with the degree in economics from lawrence university, one of those really fine midwest liberal arts schools that pull in really smart kids who might not look toward the coasts. danny could push a pencil, but he thrilled at banging a hammer.
they were a team of four, the builders, our builders, jim&friends. and we loved them. i don’t know how you have a house filled with men hammering and sawing and building your dreams and not love them. each one had a role, a schtick, a something you could count on. characters on the stage of your life for however long the job takes, you await their coming in from the wings each morning, you stand and applaud when they have just sung their hearts out–even when they sing with a hand plane or a power driver.
not long after wrapping up our job in the city, danny decided he needed to hang up his tool belt and become something of which his wife would be proud: an accountant. he took the tests, passed on his first try. danny was always a smart kid. he tried crunching numbers for awhile. but he just didn’t get the buzz that comes from building houses for a living. so he went out on his own, his little family growing right along with his business.
but we needed him this summer. the building had, for a number of reasons, gotten way behind.
the day he showed up, everyone knew we were back on track. he stayed late the night he put the knobs on. we came home to a dark house, but a house with polished-nickel knobs shining.
danny kept coming all week, getting the job done. his wife had the baby the next tuesday. he didn’t come to our house that day. but he came back soon after. he was beaming. he talked about kathy, the kids, he was beaming.
i never talked to him after his house caved in in september. i should have. i was dreaming up some kind of benefit concert, something that would get some cash in his hands. i never got past dreaming.
then jim called one dreary november morn, right before thanksgiving. jim who had worked beside danny since danny was a 15-year-old kid looking to make money during summers in high school. jim who said he cried like a baby when he got the call.
“you remember danny,” he started, oddly. as if. as if i wouldn’t remember.
“he took his life.”
it’s been three weeks. and every time i reach for the knob….i think of those kids, this christmas. i run my fingers slowly over the polished-nickel knob. bless you, danny. bless you.