Wednesday, January 19, 2011

life's toolbox

etched intaglio print that i did of ed in 2005 for my senior art show in college

there was something else i'd planned on posting today, but i got a call last night that changed my mind. my mom called to tell me about the passing of a very special person in my life named Ed and i decided it was something that i wanted and needed to share.

Ed and his wife owned the antique store that many of you have heard me mention before. I came in after school and on weekends to help restore old furniture, research vintage glass, help haul big items at auctions, and dust dust dust (sometimes wearing a vintage hat or apron with the price tag on...just because we were silly like that)! By the time i was working in the shop, Ed's daughter and her husband were running the place, but Ed still had his little workshop in back where he took me under his wing and taught me everything he knew about restoring old furniture from hutches and tables to rocking chairs and lamps. he would loan me one of his grimy work smocks and an oversize pair of gloves and we would work together for hours on end at removing the paint that some not-so-smart person had applied to a beautiful antique oak piece.

ed could talk circles around most folks but when he was in his workshop and focused on the task at hand, he would mostly just grumble and mumble. occasionally, i would head up to the front of the shop to grab something or ask a question of his daughter chris (still in my smock and gloves) and she would laugh as i responded to her with grunts and frowns pretending to be ed. this is how i got the name "little ed" and when he became "big ed."

i've never said much about it here, but when i was in high school, i got very sick and had to drop out for a semester. just before that, i'd started work on a classic Hoosier hutch with ed that i was going to keep (i'd been drooling over them ever since i started working there). i got it cheap because it was in disrepair and needed to be stripped of several layers of paint. once i got sick though, the work ceased. little did i know that ed continued working on it and when my high school open house rolled around, there was ed with the beautiful and lovingly restored Hoosier.

Ed's toolbox
some of ed's tools which he passed on to my husband and i upon our marriage

whenever i went back to michigan for a visit, i would try to stop into the antique store. if i was lucky, chris would have lunch going on the old cookstove and i would be able to find ed in the back mumbling over the latest thing he was tinkering with, even in his late eighties. more than anyone, they had become like a second family to me, and the shop a second home.

just this past summer, when we went home for our wedding reception, i got to see ed one last time and introduce him to my husband. i was so happy that he was able to make it to our party despite being sick and i knew it was something special to have him there with us. he brought with him a blue plastic toolbox and i began to cry when i saw what was inside: he'd taken some of his favorite old tools, cleaned them up and oiled them, and given them to us. i smiled as i caught the scent of the oil and was immediately transported back to ed's workroom and our long talks. i was going through a rough time but we never talked about that; it was just a safe place to work with ones hands and learn about beautiful old things, a place to grow and not think about all the rest. i'm not sure i knew it at the time, but that alone can heal some of the deepest wounds and i will always be grateful to ed for giving me that.

ed's funeral will be this week and i can't get back to michigan. i couldn't feel more horrible about this and that is partly why i felt the need to write this. i wanted to, in some small way, put words to what he meant to me. i will always cherish the times we spent working together and all that he taught me every time i grab a tool out of that box, every time i go searching through the big hoosier to find a dish or mixing bowl, every time i make or repair something with my own two hands.

"it's funny: i always imagined when i was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of of patience. but then i grew up and found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools—friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty—and said, do the best you can with these, they will have to do. and mostly, against all odds, they're enough."

-anne lamott
 traveling mercies


Meeling said...

Sorry to hear about your loss...but what a beautiful tribute. People like that touch our lives so deeply, sometimes even more later on as we get older and we think back.

It's a sad time, but how wonderful to have all the happy memories of time spent with him. It comes across in your story how much you cherish him and your memories.

Thank you for sharing it with us.

Christina said...

Aww, that is beautiful. I am really sorry to hear that he passed. :(

It sounds like a really interesting and fun time that you two shared working on restoring things. :)

Bethany Dirksen said...

Wow, that is an incredible relationship. I love seeing connections between generations like this. There is no better way to learn than being around someone with life wisdom.

Traveling Mercies is probably one of my all time favorite books, by the way. Love the quote :)

Angela said...

What a touching story and so beautifully written. I am so sorry for your loss of "Big Ed" but so glad you got to see him one last time over the Summer. What a special and touching gift he gave you -not only in the old tools but your ability to use them. My thoughts are with you and with Ed's family today.

Lily Boot said...

that is a truly beautiful post - what a fascinating man and the relationship you had with him was so lovely. Extraordinary actually. I too love older furniture and have spent many many hours laboring over a table top or turned legs, scraping and sanding - but I've never had a mentor like your Ed. You must have learnt sooooo much, whilst also having that wonderful opportunity for peace and camraderie and acceptance. You will have this all of your life and must possess skills that you will be able to share with those around you. What a privilege. I understand your sadness that you cannot attend his funeral - living a long way away from my family and friends, I know this will come to me one day too - but you have paid a beautiful tribute to him and everyone who knows him and reads this will be assured of your love and commitment to Ed and the celebration of his life.

thestoryofkat said...

i just wanted to say thank you to each of you, your heartfelt comments mean so much and i'm very grateful to have this space to talk about it.

bethany...SO awesome you love traveling mercies, it is one of my favorite books as well. just. so. good!

Joelle said...

Aww Kate he sounds like quite a mentor and friend. I'm so sorry for your loss, but lucky for you his memory and skills live on in you.