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The Tools We Have

I remember when I began building things. When I was about 12 or 13 there was an old shack in our back yard. I’m not sure why it was there or what its original use was, but over the years it had become nothing more than a storage shed filled with useless artifacts that no one wanted or needed. There were several such old out-buildings…I think at one time we had people that worked on our farm and they were used as lodging for them – at least that’s the story I heard, not sure if it is true or not. This particular shack was only about 8 feet square, rough sawn two by four construction with a hip roof and one window and door on the front.

I spent the better part of a week rummaging through the junk inside cleaning it out. I did find some interesting things inside – a few cobbler’s wooden shoe forms, an old butter churn, some really old rusty square head nails in a coffee can, some old newspapers, an old twin bed spring with a musty old mattress – maybe someone did sleep here at one time… After it was cleaned out I had my brother use our tractor to drag it down near the river that ran through our property. Maybe I was a little tired of living in a house of girls and wanted my own space. My dad had died unexpectedly a year before leaving my mom and three sisters…and me.

It was great having this getaway, but with only one small window I could not see the view of the river unless I was standing right in front of it, so I decided a few modifications were in order. I gathered what tools I had – an old hammer, a can of rusty bent nails, and a hand saw – and tore the entire front of the little old shack off. I scrounged up some old lumber from some of the other out buildings we had and even found some old windows in the back of one of them. I built a platform onto the front, put walls up and extended the roof, then put all the windows that would fit into the walls and boarded up any remaining space. It looked like something a 12-year-old first time builder would build…rickety and rackety, wonky and a little wobbly – not exactly what I had envisioned but the best I could do with the three tools I had. Now I could lay on the musty old bed and see the beautiful river flowing by…I had found peace and quiet.

I have been thinking a lot about tools lately. Maybe I’m dreading the long cold winter and missing the smell of fresh-sawn wood from all the projects I want to get cracking at stirring in my head. To do them right will take a little more than a rusty old hammer and a hand saw. I have built things with the wrong tools before and the result has always been less than I had planned – good for a bit but in then end falling apart, needing repair, and not very useful. Better to build it right the first time and not have to fix it later – measure twice, cut once. I have also learned that if you don’t use the tools, you will never learn to use them well. It took me forever to hit a nail on its head and to cut in a straight line with a circular saw. Maybe it has more to do with my kids entering adulthood and watching them explore and build new lives for themselves with the tools my wife and I gave them. It is so hard not to just jump in and do it for them the right way…even more difficult NOT to be their chief critic and point out all they should be doing differently. It is very difficult to see the mistake and let it be the teacher later. They will learn…as I did.

There are tools we have been given that we all need to learn how to use if we are ever to build something that will stand the tests and times. We all start out on the banks of a beautiful river…in a rickety old shack we built ourselves.


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