A Perfectly Cluttered Tool Bench

Writer Bethany Lee muses on her father’s carefully organized chaos in the garage as her young son begins to explore his grandfather’s tools.

June 16, 2023 | | Headwaters Nest

As I slip into the garage to find the garden snippers, I breathe in the cool, dark, slightly damp atmosphere. My eyes take a moment to adjust from the bright sunlight outdoors. It’s a scorcher outside and I’m happy for the reprieve. I inch my hands over the old hood of the car and make my way to the tool bench.

I hunt for the snips, and eventually find them among the jumble of tools. Reflexively, I start pecking around on the bench to organize the various implements, odd receipts and leftover project parts. As I sift through the disarray, smelling the dank and delicious scent, I am instantly reminded of my dad’s tool bench.

No matter where we lived, there was a space for my dad’s tools. House tools and auto tools – often mixed in with one another. As our accommodations grew, so did the collection. It hit its peak when we lived on the Maples road in East Garafraxa. The tool bench was long and L-shaped, and part of a driveshed, not just a garage. Simple but ample and built from wood by the Moote family before us, it had been in use for decades before our takeover. The driveshed was nothing to look at from the outside, but on the inside it was a glorious, slightly mad space.

Tools covered the surfaces. Old and new tumbled together. My dad’s red Snap-On toolbox, with its many drawers, was the source of fascination for me as a preteen and teen. I tried to make sense of it all – socket wrenches, pressure gauges, screwdrivers with different handles and names, bolts, washers and screws. Drywall knives, putty blades and drywall tape piled like a game of pick-up sticks teetering on a stack of half-empty paint cans. Tangy smelling compounds for fixing rust on vehicles beside wire mesh to build out bumpers and wheel wells, and piles of rags scattered across the top of the long bench. It was a mess and a muddle.

“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” as the adage goes. I sometimes took it upon myself to tidy things up, placing the wrenches in order, the screwdrivers by size, taking liberty to rearrange the drawers of the red metal nest, one by one. My need for organization overtook my dad’s need for speed and multitasking. He was a mechanic by trade, and then a house and farm renovator, a tractor owner, multiple lawnmower collector, and a do-it-yourself man who could fix anything.

No doubt, I annoyed the heck out of him by “organizing” the confusion. When he went to look for the scraper or a scrap of trim, it was nowhere to be found. How about a tiny cotter pin to replace the broken one on the trailer hitch (needed ASAP)? It was neatly put in one of the clear jam jars nicely displayed by size on the edge of the window, but nowhere to be found by his hazel eyes.

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  • Now the same sights and sounds greet my eyes and I find myself comforted by the accumulated clutter. There is a history to a lot of these tools handed down from my dad, who now, almost completely blind, can’t see well enough to use his skills. They will someday be my son Adrian’s. There are some gorgeous T-squares of various sizes that belonged to my late brother, Jeff, along with his circular saw and other tools. My husband, Derrick, Adrian and I talk about him when we use them. “What would Jeff do?” we ask as we work through project conundrums. We love our Magnum paint sprayer that we call Tom Selleck every time we pull it out – “Hello, Handsome.” Some lovely wood-handled tools were even my Papa Munro’s – who was a hobby woodworker. So much history in the chaos.

    And there, a bit shinier than the others, is a new tool chest. It’s Adrian’s. It’s a gorgeous gunmetal Mastercraft, not so huge that it’s unmanageable, with myriad drawers, like the old Snap-on, that have yet to be filled. My dad gave it to Adrian last Christmas, in his first year of college, and they have slowly started filling it with the basics. It’s a joint venture where my dad can start filling the chest, then guide Adrian under the car hood with instructions as Adrian does the hands-on. Derrick and I filled a gift box with Fast Orange hand cleaner, garage rags and an automotive code reader. Since then Adrian’s bought a creeper so he can roll under the old Mustang he and my dad are working on.

    Rummaging around, I open Adrian’s tool chest, grab the Fast Orange and take a whiff – I can’t help but love that gritty smell of cleaned-up work hands and a job well done. I think about maybe organizing the drawers, and make a start … then stop. I close the top slowly and leave everything where it is, in just the right place.

    More Family Activities This Summer

    Horsing around

    Angelstone Tournaments show grounds and Caledon Equestrian Park are the places to be for the horsey set, or those in your stable with horsey dreams. Admission is free to these world class facilities, and both grounds are spectacular. Take a blanket, plenty of hydration, and sunscreen. Food for purchase on site. Trot over to the calendars online and check out, for example, the Sportsman’s Cup and the Great Pony Challenge at the Caledon Equestrian Park June 27 to July 2, where you will see Children’s Pony and Junior Hunter Classes to inspire your young riders.
    angelstone.ca; caledon.showgroundslive.com

    Free Family Fishing

    It’s Free Family Fishing week in Ontario from July 1 to 9. Recreational fishing in Ontario fosters awareness about our waterways, fish habitats and the importance of keeping them healthy, and fish as a food source. If you’re participating, a few pro tips: Ensure you follow conservation licence catch limits; obey size limits and sanctuaries; follow the fishing regulations; and carry a permit or ID card issued by the provincial or federal government. It’s the right way to fish! An important highlight for up-and-coming anglers: The TackleShare program lends tackle for free at many locations. Check out the Free Family Fishing site for more info.

    DIY time is back at PAMA

    Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives is back with summertime self-guided art projects to inspire creativity. Do-it-yourself studio time activities change monthly. In July the focus is on multimedia work by Simranpreet Anand in her current exhibition, “a crack in the mirror.” Create your own art inspired by her work. Check the website for August’s theme. Great for children ages 5 to 12 (guardians must accompany children). This drop-in is included in general admission. Members are free.

    Caledon Day – free concert included!

    Caledon Day is a classic community event. It’s free, and a great time for the whole family. Come together on June 17 at the Caledon East Community Complex for family-friendly activities all day long. The fun includes a free concert by the Juno Award-winning Sheepdogs; the Tim Hortons Community Zone (featuring life-sized games, an Art Bus, and vendor market); a Plug’n Drive zone to check out electric vehicles; and a fireworks finale at 9:45 p.m. All this and your kids will be tuckered out and ready to be tucked in after a perfect summer night.

    About the Author More by Bethany Lee

    Bethany Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Mono.

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