We had a garage-slash-woodwork shop on our Island Road property located northwest of the kitchen door and across the yard. If you faced due east, the garage was the north half of the building, and the "shop" the south half. Beyond this building stood our chicken house and "run", and bath house.
There were two doors to the "shop". One was located near the external southwest corner of the building with a window just right of it. The other was located inside the garage near the northwest corner, and that door had three wooden steps leading up to it from the garage side. I can clearly picture the big heavy sliding garage door on its squeaky overhead track, and picture the window in the south wall of the shop, but cannot recall either shop door. Since Daddy's shop was very significant in my young life, you would think I would be able to recall the doors that separated its security from the rest of our Island Road property.
I remember how Daddy mixed all his odds and ends of paint together once, and painted the exterior of the shop. I don't know what he used -- only that there were many little cans of this and that and all together produced a muddy metallic grey -- and the next morning, we went out and discovered several bats had flown into and killed themselves against the south wall. Daddy cried as he carefully scraped off and buried "God's special little creatures" and then made a weekday trip into town for brand new white paint to cover over the muddy metallic grey and keep that tragedy from happening again.
Inside the shop, Daddy's workbench occupied most of the south wall. His bench vise was attached near the middle. There was a wood stove midway along the east interior wall. It was short and black with a fat middle and animal-like feet. A wooden box on casters stood on either side of the stove. One was for wood, the knotty bits and cut-off ends and useless scraps from which I endlessly constructed everything from entire magical kingdoms to practical doll house furniture. The other one was a hospital box for sick, hurt or newborn critters too large, too recovered, or too nasty-tempered for kitchen care. Our shop hospital box housed everything from motherless kittens to the snapping turtle whose shell Daddy wired together after finding him semi-squashed on the road below the old silica pit, to a foul-tempered billy goat with multiple wounds. Dad rescued him from a manure pile where some boys were entertaining themselves by pitching axes at him. Billy was probably the worst smelling resident of our shop hospital box -- even worse smelling than the bottle-fed baby skunk. And probably the most evil-tempered ungrateful beast too.
Bunches of dried plants hung from the rafters along the north interior wall. I don't recall what kind, but I can still picture them swinging back and forth during a summer earthquake. Dad kept a narrow "cot" under the dried plants in case he needed an overnight retreat from Gramma, or in case an unexpected visitor needed a bed. Once in awhile we had a whack of summer visitors, and extra cots were set up in the shop for all the men. I hated that because I wasn't welcome in the shop then. I had to stay in the house with all the "women folk". Dad kept an old eiderdown quilt on his cot in the shop. It had a faded burgundy paisley print cover and when I buried my nose in it, it smelled just like burying my nose in Daddy's shirt. The shop always smelled of different woods -- wood shavings, freshly-sawn wood, wood fires -- and of my Dad. Layers of additional smells were added by various projects, activities, and guests.
There were secrets in the shop -- secret projects and secret smells. For example, Dad made his "special Quebec pneumonia cure" -- potato moonshine -- out in the shop. There was a trap door under his workbench -- discreetly covered up with boxes and an old steamer trunk -- that led to a small crawl space storage area where he kept his pressure cooker and copper tubing when not in use, extra quart jars of liquid shine, and a red flannel bag of old coins and cutlery that he used to make jewelry. I never saw either again after we moved away from Island Road. For another example, Daddy arranged to receive an illegal deer from Uncle Ab's place "up the hill" a few days before hunting season opened in the fall, and he cut and wrapped it out in the shop. When he made shine and cut up venison, he hung an old red wool Hudson Bay blanket over the shop window. That action seemed logical at the time, but now I can just imagine the neighbours: "there's the red blanket in Slim's shop window ... wonder what he's doing in there? Hmmm." The shop smelled of yeasty steam for weeks after brewing shine, and smelled of deer blood for days after butchering. I might have bought the blanket coverage, but I always wondered why everyone down Island Road couldn't smell those strong and obvious "secret" smells!
Daddy had lots of mysterious objects in his shop, such as countless glass jars of nails and nuts and gadgets. The shop had electricity, but the only electrical tool he had was his table saw. All his other woodworking tools were the old-fashioned manual things you find in museums today. I had three favourites: his "bit and brace", his folding ruler and T-square. They kept me fascinated for hours on end. He also had a set of woodcarving tools with wicked sharp blades, but kept them well out of my child hands.
I loved to watch and listen to Daddy at work in his shop. He always had several projects in various stages of completion. I can still picture his big gentle hands stroking a piece of wood and getting acquainted with the inner character that only his artistic carpenter's eyes could see. He hummed and whistled as he worked, and occasionally burst out with a disjointed line or two. Old gospel tunes. When the Roll is Called Up Yonder. Hank Williams. Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow. Sometimes Billy Holiday. All of Me. Often folks songs. Big Rock Candy Mountain. Pop Goes the Weasel -- in French. Also a French song about sabots -- wooden shoes -- that always made him pause and smile. He had very eclectic musical tastes. Hmm, that sounds like me!
Often as not, I heard Dad converse with God. He didn't PRAY like Gramma or the Pentecostals. He just talked about his day, his woodwork, his worries, or whatever in ordinary words and an ordinary voice, and I never doubted for a moment that it was an earnest two-sided conversation. If Daddy had an audience in his shop, he liked to recite epic poetry. I have no idea how he managed to memorize and recall it all!
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.
I was his best audience. He told me so.
"Women folk" -- and especially Gramma -- were NOT allowed in Dad's shop. That was an unwritten law written in stone. The Reverend H. was welcome there. Daddy always brushed off his stool -- a small wooden bench and the only seat in the place except for his cot -- with a dry paint rag before inviting the Reverend H. to "have a seat, man, you're tall enough already". Uncle Dudley and Arthur McC. were welcome there, although the stool didn't get the same grand paint rag treatment for them. Reverend H. was Daddy's best friend next to Grampy E. When Grampy E. -- with his wonderful belly-length baby-soft snow-white beard -- came to visit, he handed Daddy tools and nails and what not without a word passing between them. I think they could read each other's minds. When Uncle Norm visited, Daddy and he shared the stool and a couple of silent, thoughtful cigarettes. Uncle Norm had been "in the war" and was legally blind from shrapnel. I also remember a rebellious and angry teenaged Mike W. -- with a rash of fresh stitches in his face from another car wreck -- sitting on that stool and enduring one of Daddy's very rare "it's time you acted like a man, young fella" lectures.
I have so many wonderful memories of Daddy's shop, but I can't remember a thing about either shop door.
This one's for you, Dad: