Father has a large family that he does not get along with, but in my mother’s small family, he got along with her Uncle Howard because he respected Howard’s passions.
Father values two things above all things.
Gardening. Wood Working.
He has spent the last thirty years combining these two values. In his backyard he has thirty five wooden boxes containing various vegetables. He has ten, 4’x2’x2’ salt treated red wood boxes. He has ten, 4’x3’x3’s. Another fifteen, 4.5’x 3’x3’s. Within these boxes he uses potting soil and miracle grow to grow the kinds of things he likes to grow. What he likes to do is this. In the 4’x2’s, he grows ten types of tomatoes, yellow crookneck squash, seven types of lettuce, and just green zucchini. In the 4’x3’s he grows two more types of tomatoes and jalapeños. He also uses two A slope trellises for pickle cucumbers and slicing cucumbers. In the 4.5’x3’s he grows potatoes or squash. Really, about eleven of these are potatoes. He likes potatoes. Mother likes beans, so he has two sets of boxes that are three feet off the ground and these contain Kentucky pole beans, snow peas, and stringless beans. These are his Christmas gifts for her. Neither father or mother like hot foods, yet he has fifteen painter buckets that contain the eight hottest peppers one can buy. These are the Carolina Reaper, Ghost, Trinidads, Cyrano pepper, Kung Pao, Big Thai, Habaneros, and Cayenne peppers. He drills holes in the bottom of these for drainage. He drills them because Howard told him to drill them for the roots.
The only remaining root to mother’s side is mother. Me and mother are all that is left. This side does not live long. The last to go was Howard’s wife, Dot. Twenty years before that, Howard. Ten years before that, their son, Lawson, in a car accident outside their house. This side does not live long.
Father’s roots root in roofing. In his days as a roofer. He likes to remind me that he can still remember when his boss bought the first nail gun. He likes to make me help him when he’s working, and when he’s working, he doesn’t make me work because this would prevent him from showing off his rolling. He tells me it’s best with an 8p or a 16p. He tells me he’s best with a 12” hammer with a big head. He tells me in his day he was the fastest. Up there. Six nails. Twelve taps. One to set. One to tap. He tells me it’s about the rhythm. He tells me it’s a lost art. That no one does it anymore because of nail guns, which are why he quit.
Father quit because he met my mother and met Howard, who’s woodworking roots originated in roofing. Howard was a master woodworker and a master gardener. Before this he was a roofer. He was not famous for roofing, but he was famous in Virginia for his cabinets, tables, chairs, television hideaways, picture frames, railings, trim work. If it involved wood he was known for it. He preferred cherry and red wood. My father tells me this because it’s what Howard told him he preferred. Father does all of his own woodworking based off of what Howard taught him. This is why all of father’s woodworking equipment is made from cold rolled steel. Virgin steel. Howard told him this was best. Father tells me Howard knew best.
When mother wanted an addition put on the house. Father said that he would do it. This meant he would call Howard and have Howard show him how to do it. Howard was in his 80’s by this point and had dementia, although we were not aware at the time. He couldn’t do what he used to do, but he came out for my father. My father did not go on and on about his rolling. Father did not say much. He let Howard say what he had to say and he went from there.
During this time odd things happened at night. Odds sounds. Late at night there would be sounds of loud footsteps walking about. Hammers hammering. It was loud.
I remember mother being upset the first time it happened. She got up to cook and she told me to go back to sleep. I went back to my room, and stayed up and listened to the noise above.
When I was older and father was having me help. When father was going on about his rolling technique and how Howard was such a genius for tacking copper around wood legs so the wood wouldn’t rot. When father was on one of these tangents, I asked him.
I asked him about the noise.
Father told me that when they were putting on the addition Howard used to drive to our house late at night and take his ladder out of his truck and go up and go to work. He would remove shingles and hammer in new ones. Father tells me when he climbed up the ladder and asked Howard what he was doing, that Howard called him Lawson and told him not to worry that it was his first day, because Howard was there. Howard would show him how to do it.
That Lawson would be just fine.
Father told me he went back inside and changed, and went out to his barn, and got his tool belt and his tools, and returned with his own ladder, and went up, and went to work with Howard.
Father told me they would work all night, and mother would bring them food, and Howard would thank her for lunch, and when Howard told him they were finished for the day, they would get down, and Howard would drive off, and father would spend the next hours cleaning up the mess. The shingles. The nails. All of it.
I asked father if it scared him. To be lost how Howard was lost.
He told me no. He told me Howard was not lost. He was home. Where he was meant to be.
When I sleep and it is raining, I sometimes dream that the rain pinging off the roof is my father and Howard hammering away. I dream they are both lost in their pasts, in their love, in their roofing days, my father rolling nails in his rolling hand and hammering in rhythm with Howard, who will roll them just the same and look over to father and say, it’s all in the rhythm, it’s all in the rhythm.
Note to Self
My other uncles do not have children and they say this is because they fear they are too much like their father. I do not have children, nor could I afford any if I did, but in dreams sometimes I see who they could be, and when I wake up, I think, thank god that was just a dream. Thank god. My fear is not that I am too much like my father, it is that I am not enough like him.
Father’s father was a bizarre man. A man addicted to French velodrome cycling in the 40s. He spent his money on bikes and such, and spent little time with anything or anyone else. When he wasn’t cycling he worked as a principal at a high school. When he worked at the high school, which he hated having to do because he only lived for the velodrome, he had two favorite pastimes. One of these was releasing massive, yet silent—and the silence is the crucial element according to him—farts in rooms with excess of four coworkers. His passion, the reaction. His other favorite pastime was similarly fowl, involving the use of his bowl ailment, an ailment that later killed him. His enjoyment came from shitting horrible shits in work bathrooms when other stalls were occupied. His enjoyment came from sitting there. Wallowing in gasps. In sudden shift of feet under neighboring stalls. In sudden sounds of toilet paper spooling. In frantic washing of hands. In all of it. When he became bored he lit a match and flushed. Where would the fun be if he wasn’t there to have it. I tell you these things about my father’s father, my grandfather, not because I enjoy telling them, but because they are crucial to understanding my father’s fathering.
My father bases all of his fathering off his father’s brand of fathering. My father is the kind of man who cares only about two types of people.
Father is an operator. The kind of man who does not operate off of intelligence. Off of gumption. He operates off of love. Solely love. When my mother told him that her dream house was a house on the beach. In Carova. Where there is only beach and no road. No pavement. No civilization. He did not say no. He went to the bank. Got a million dollar loan. Bought the last lot on third row. He spent another on a modular house. An experimental process at the time for beach houses involving large trucks driving up eleven miles of beach with a section of prefabbed house on a long bed. Father did this not because he is experimental, but because by using the modular process he could design the house himself. He could design the largest pool in Carova. He could design a ships watch. He could design an elevator. He could design a house to love.
He designed a beach house for his wife and his children.
He did not design it for himself.
Father is deeply paranoid of beaches.
He tells my mother to drive the 350 on the beach. He cannot handle the stress of potentially getting stuck. To handle the stress of this potential. Of getting stuck. He does several things. He plans trips to the house around tide charts. Purely around low tide. He carries with him six shovels, three flathead and three spade. There are only three of us. He carries eight pieces of wood to place under the tires for extra traction if we are stuck. The extra four are of course precautionary in the event a board breaks. He has a winch on the front of the 350 fitted with synthetic winch rope because this is safer than cable. Due to his excessive paranoia of getting stuck, father’s least favorite thing about the beach is driving it. At mile marker eight he forces my mother to go up the dune. He would have us turn up before this, but before mile marker eight the back roads are worse than the beach. At mile marker eight is the dune entrance to the Carova trash dump, which is why it’s the most accessible. On the back roads his paranoia doesn’t stop. His biggest fear in the backroads is water holes. When we come upon one of these holes, he will tell my mother to stop the car. “Stop the car. Stop it, damn it,” he will say. She will sigh, throw her hands up. He will get out. Go to the bed, which is a shelled bed because this is safer. He will get out one of the six shovels and walk to the hole. He will put the shovel in and assess its deepness. It’s stability. He will then wave his hand and say, “Well are you coming?” Mother will shake her head and say, “Jesus Christ, Brian.” He will signal her progression with a single wave of the hand. His other on the shovel, staffing it through. When the back tires clear the hole, he will put the shovel in the bed and get back in. “Could’ve shorted the starter with that one,” he will say. “Thankfully I checked it.” Mother will go on until we get to the next hole, where we will stop and he will get out, and while he is assessing, I will lean forward and ask her, “How do you deal with this?” She will say, “We are who we are.”
There are sometimes more than thirty water holes in the backroads.
Father believes it essential they be assessed.
There is something to be said for him being him.
I realize this now.
When I was in high school my mother and father went shopping for dresses. I went with them. When we were there my father found a dress that he thought my mother would like. He brought it to her. A large. She said this wouldn’t fit. They went to the rack. All larges. “I can’t fit in this,” she said. My father, finding this unacceptable, saw an employee across the store and yelled to her, “Excuse me. Miss. Mam. Do you have this in anything larger than large?”
My mother got extremely red, and my father looked at her and said, “I suppose I should have just gone and asked.” She shrugged. Laughed. “I suppose.” They both laughed. I went back out to the car and waited for them to finish. I couldn’t understand why she put up with this. Why anyone would.
When mother and father get ready for work now, mother sometimes says, “Brian can you get me one of those larger than large dresses.” They both laugh about this. Mother tells me it’s his honesty. Honesty is what matters to her. Is what she loves. It is that he is honestly himself. It is that he is honest with her.
If I am being honest I don’t know if I can be this kind of father, the kind that bases his parenting off his father’s, because I am not sure how I can be any more honest.