A long while ago now, when I was just a toddler and thought the world a more serious place than I do now – I was perhaps four or five years old – some of the most memorable times in my life involved getting ready to ‘do work’ with my Dad. The invitation to assist on some essential household maintenance or new project in the garden was something I took very seriously indeed. I had to spend time preparing, of course, and applied great concentration in pulling on my work clothes, rolling-up shirt sleeves, tying shoelaces on my boots and generally getting into the frame of mind required when one is about to undertake an important task.
I recall more about the effort I applied to getting ready than I do about any of the jobs we actually completed together; my Dad had shown me great respect in seeking my help and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t let him down. Looking back through the years though I’m certain that none of the bent nails were of much use – using a hammer with two hands isn’t easy, after all – and I suspect he secretly disposed of the little pieces of wood I was given to saw. Nonetheless, it was always job well done; I was pleased to know that he couldn’t have finished the work without my help and, in return, he assured me that he’d continue to ‘teach me the tricks of the trade’ as I grew older. He did, too. He was a remarkably good craftsman and what I learnt from him continues to serve me well – a legacy more far-reaching than he would have imagined, looking down at the serious little boy beside him.
In the past few months I’ve agonised as I’ve watched him leave piece by piece, as first his mind and then his body failed him. After his funeral last week the tools that he handled with such ease and dexterity, some of which remain too heavy to use comfortably, passed to me. And so did his now dilapidated shed, his deserted greenhouse and the postage-stamp of a garden where we worked together in quiet companionship all those years ago.
He’d told me then that one day it would all be mine and now that it is, the only thing that matters is that he won’t ask me to help him ‘do work’ again.