It was a place of solitude, creativity, escape, and yet togetherness. Quiet togetherness. Thoughts spoken, a question asked, then silence. The kind of silence that isn’t uncomfortable.
There was usually a pencil lodged behind his ear, quick access for writing down measurements or sketching. Sometimes he forgot the pencil was there until later either my mother or I reminded him.
Some days my ears would ring with the rip of the band saw going across wood. Sawdust would dance in the air until it landed on his glasses, his hair, or maybe even my hair. The smell of fresh cut wood permeated the air. He would walk back to his workbench and put down the piece of wood he had just cut. I would stared at it, wondering how it would fit in with the other pieces he had cut before. He could see the big picture. I could only see out of the eyes of a child.
I don’t recall our workshop conversations. Maybe he would if asked in an earlier time. What I remember is more of a feeling. Contentment, peace, safety. I would pull open the drawers of the workbench to find the familiar can of odds and ends nails, open the cabinets above the workbench to see a series of various size screwdrivers lining the inside door. I had seen it all a million times and yet each time I opened a door a new discovery was made. The workbench had a built-in vise I would crazily spin in one direction or the other. Most of the time, he never told me to stop.
He created in that space. Circus trains with elaborate wooden animals, a rocking chair, bedroom furniture, a table lamp that still sits beside my mother’s chair. Shortly after the diagnosis, he was able to create more small wooden animals and birdhouses with his granddaughters. And as the disease progressed, the space became his refuge. I suppose it was a place that helped him remember who he was and what he loved. The cabinet doors above the workbench were covered with memories. Photos of old army days, gatherings with friends and family, fishing trips, old school pictures of me, memorabilia from Germany, a note I wrote to him in first grade begging him to not go on a fishing trip. It was written on a pink piece of paper I found. I didn’t have the nerve to ask him not to go, so I left the note out for him to find. Later, it re-appeared as part of the cabinet door collage.
The walls of the workshop mirrored his cabinet door decorator sensibilities. A stuffed trout from a fishing trip with large looming eyes always watching. A stuffed squirrel from Germany mounted on a thick branch. This breed of squirrel had pointy sharp teeth that I imagined biting my finger each time I reached up to pet it. Photos, quotes, beer coasters from the homeland, and old tools lined the walls; but what I remember most was the large cardboard cut out photo of a little German man dressed in Lederhosen. This man, whom I’ve never met, is strangely a part of my childhood.
Recently, the workshop has become quiet. Another sign the disease has taken more of him away. Earlier, the cabinet door collage was changed and rearranged as he struggled to keep himself busy. It was a time when measurements and tools started to confuse him. Now, I haven’t heard the rip of wood being touched by the blade in years. Dust has gathered on the handles of the tools. The doors to his utopian space are now closed more than open. He doesn’t remember making the circus trains anymore. He doesn’t remember crafting the child size rocking chair that held two generations of children. Now, I’m left to remember for him.