if she had a hammer…
if i close my eyes and conjure my mama, i do not see her face. i do not see her knees. or her lap. or her shoulders that have borne their share of weight–and then some.
no, i see my mama’s hands. ample hands. padded hands, not the sculpted sort at all, ones with nails clipped short, plain, unpainted, nails meant to steer clear from distraction, stay of out of the way, stand back and get the job done. i see fingers sturdy. fingers curled around a tool, most likely. most happily, for certain.
i see my mama with her bare, sure hands, on a chill spring day, the clouds erupted in an unrelenting mist. i see her baring down on the handle of a shovel. a shovel above a grave. where she is digging a hole that i might never have been able to dig. she digs a hole for the teeny baby girl we have come to bury, to tuck atop my papa’s chest. or what would have been, once.
i see my mama with a chair upturned, screwing in a leg. making a wobble vanish, disappear, with the alchemy of match sticks and paper wads she is known to pull from her bag of tricks when there is a job to be done and she does it her way. her unschooled, unorthodox, pay-no-mind-to-rules way. she employs pure common sense, and a bit of spit, when necessary.
and so it was, just the other weekend, she and i had at it. just steady hands and a screwdriver or two. maybe a tiny nail, at the start. and, of course, a hammer.
see, i’d cooked up this notion that what my ol’ screen porch needed was a long dining table. not the squat children’s table we’d been hauling over, nestled there between our knees and plates. half the beans, the blueberries tumbling to the floor, as they tried to cross the chasm between where the table left off and our lips began.
a year or so ago i’d eyed an old wood door, a fine door, a door that long ago had marked a fine separation from one chamber to another.
somehow, that old door had been discarded, its time up. its journey through.
it was tossed out where the dumpsters are. and where the great green garbage trucks rumble by, chew what’s left out for their week’s digestion.
i spied that door before the trucks rolled up. i hauled it home. breathed possibility down its rough-hewn, paint-flaked neck. wasn’t sure quite what i’d do, or how i’d use that plank of oak. but i was not letting it get away. not abetting its demise.
its journey hardly ended, i turned it on its side in my garage. i let it incubate, summer, winter, spring. and then, i do believe, once again as well.
but then, one too many blueberries lost between my thighs, i suddenly saw its next incarnation.
that door would be my dining table. it would be the launching pad for meals and nights that lingered on, until the last star twinkled. it would be the plane where elbows, deep in thought, were planted–despite the rudiments of etiquette that chide such churlish plunking down of joints.
upon my table’s woody cheeks, years and years of candle wax would drip. heaven’s sake, who would mind a spill?
i could picture it, the whole of it: that re-anointed door would anchor all the summers’ meals where lake breeze and nightsounds were as much a part of what was served as the gazpacho and the endless wine.
only thing is, i am the apprentice. my mama, she’s the one who forges on, without much thought. not a synapse stalled, worrying about a glitch that might or might not be. she’ll muscle through. she’s got the hands, after all.
me, i think and plot. take time to launch these notions.
not my mama.
day after i mentioned my passing thought, she was at the hardware store. and then the lumber yard.
i was still drawing pictures in my head. she had four legs and screws and metal plates, all picked out and paid for.
she was coming by, she said, on saturday.
well, well, i thought. so here we go.
sure enough. we had that table upturned in no time. brushed off the flakes of paint, sheared off years of dirt.
without a ruler by her side, she used her pointer and her thumb to mark off just where the plate should be. she screwed and screwed. showed me how to do it, and along the way, made me see, just how fine it is to build the things of which you dream.
don’t be afraid, she did not say. but i heard it loud and clear.
she’d said she hoped to teach my firstborn a thing or two that day. how to work the screwdriver. how to build with little fuss.
“he’ll be off in college soon,” she said. “he’ll need to know how to do things for himself.”
he was nowhere in sight that day. but i was there, all ears and eyes. i was memorizing all she said and didn’t say. i was absorbing my mama’s truest truth: barge ahead, have no fear. fend for yourself. screw madly.
we turned the table upside up. it wobbled just a little bit. but there it was, a place to dine. the table i’d imagined. complete with brass knob still attached. how fine is that, i ask you.
all weekend we ate, we talked, we laughed there. eight good souls pulled up that very night. didn’t wobble too, too much. what with the sticks of wood my mate stuffed underneath, despite the dent to my ego, when he declared no one could eat there, not the way it wobbled.
next morn, we had pancakes too. and syrup. and coffee in a mug that never dared to slosh overboard.
i am busy now, collecting chairs from rummage sales and cobwebbed corners of my friend’s garage. i am splattering each with paint. distressing.
i have no idea what i’m doing, really. but i am not afraid. and i’m not one bit worried.
i am doing what my mama taught me on that perfect summer’s afternoon: i am inventing as i go. i am making what i dream of. i am, deep inside, quite content with tools i never knew i owned.
not the least of which is powered solely by my willingness to try. and care not about a piddly little wobble.
do you like to bang around with a box of tools? do you get a kick out of building things you dream of? do you whip up the curtains of your dreams? or stuff a chair, perhaps, just because you see one in your mind? what are some of the lessons you learned at your mama’s side, or your papa’s, when you were old enough to have long been on your own?