They took my tools.
I think that was the hardest part. Over the years I had carefully and lovingly gathered, sorted, hung, and used those tools. Each one had a purpose, sometimes not what it was intended for. I did a lot of intricate woodworking, wood inlays for the tops of fancy tables and trims. I had several magnifying glasses, including one that was on a flexible arm with a light. The shelves in the back of the room were stuffed with sheets of veneer, woods of all different types, chosen for their grain and colors. These were the paint in my art. The other wall was stacked with finishing supplies. Varnishes, stains, shellac, sandpaper, buffing cloths. All of it sorted over a staining bench that had a heat lamp out of a lizard enclosure I got at a rummage sale. The heat lamp helped everything to dry without being too intense and causing bubbles. My shop is in the basement. A dehumidifier keeps it dry, but it does tend to be on the cool side and it added time for everything to dry.
Lined against the wall were my hand tools. Small chisels, small hammers, bladed knives of every stripe with different shapes. There one of those little multi-drawer plastic containers my grandson gave me years ago. I kept fresh blades for the Exacto knives in it as well as the accumulated shop tool detritus. A miniature flathead screwdriver I had filed down to a chisel edge in the early days. A collection of little round wooden disks I made by cutting up hardwood dowels on my miniature band saw for an idea I had but never executed. Several drawers full of bits of hard wire bent into shapes that I had used for hanging non-wood parts I was painting. There were old worn tool bits for my Dremel, kept just in case the ample supply of good bits I had suddenly ran out. Thumb sized sections of veneer, kept for fine work. It was the accumulation of years and years of habit, time and labor.
The walls were mostly shelving, but there was an old radio I used to listen to music and the occasional baseball game. I had a clock my best friend Moshe gave me years ago for my birthday. It was plastic and ran on a single double-A battery. Its face was adorned with an artist’s representation of a curvy woman posing in a bikini. It always reminded me of the nose art on WWII bombers. Under the main work bench there was a shop vacuum, and boxes where I kept seldom used tools, like my Skil saw. My old corded electric drill was down there too. The broom was clipped on the wall next to the light switch that operated the five florescent lights. A little dormitory refrigerator kept mostly water and a few beers. Its front was adorned with import stickers from the veneers, nearly 15 countries worth. Lastly there was my stool. Tubular steel it had a back and seat was padded with a black vinyl cover. The padding was showing through cracks in the vinyl and the bottom spars were worn from my shoes. The left front leg was stained from years of me pulling it forward into a more comfortable position with hands dirtied by stain and shellac.
In this place, I learned my craft. In this place, I did hundreds of inlays and other projects. This place, more than any other was mine, a sanctuary. When the pressures of my family, my job, or just life in general got too much, this was the place where peace could eventually be found. Here is where I was when my wife went into labor with our first child, and our second. Here is where I taught my sons tools and to work with their hands. Here is where I was when my first grandson was born. Here is where my sons and I sat and listened to baseball while their children and wives turned the upper floors of the house into a laughing, running, and playing riot. Here, after retirement, is where I retreated to during the first year while my wife and I got used to being together at home all the time. Here is where I was when my wife came down stairs with tears in her eyes to tell me Moshe had died. Here is where my sons found me after the ambulance took my wife away after she died. Here is where I had spent most of the last several years, keeping my hands busy, even after they began to shake and my eyes began to fail.
Now young men in haircuts I don’t recognize, tattoos peeking out from under their shirts where packing everything up. I watched them carelessly box tools that were worn to my hand, things as close to me as a lover. Soon they finished and a solitary figure walked into the now barren room. My eldest son. He looked around and put his hand on my workbench, palm down and fingers spread and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he turned and walked out, shutting off the light as he went. As the glow from the long bulbs faded, so did I. Because here, in this place, is where I died.
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