My father wasn’t a demonstrative man, nor was he given over to emotion or displays of affection. Some of the times I felt closest to him were when he was in his woodshed. This was a modest weather-boarded, felt-roofed lean-to in our back yard. Often, if he found that things got too ‘hot’ for comfort in the house he would escape there. He would close the door of his refuge and immerse himself in the latest project. It was one of the places where he was at his happiest.
As a small boy, I regarded it as a man’s place. It was somewhere away from the women of the house and where you didn’t have to worry about a bit of dirt. I would love to watch him, perhaps creating an item of furniture in oak, skilfully handling his old wooden jack plane. Curls of shavings would cascade over the bench and floor. Occasionally he would pause to instruct me how to check for line and square. His large hands would guide and steady mine as I cast my ‘expert’ eye along the length of timber. These were special times for me. Father and son – a ‘chip off the old block’ – together.
It was like an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ of treasures to me. The tools of his trade adorned the walls – saws of all kinds, spokeshaves, bradawls, pincers… a rack of chisels sharpened and oiled ready for use. The patina of the old handles of ash or beech gave out a comforting glow in the light from the small window.
In the corner, a cast iron glue pot simmered away. These were the days before pva or resin adhesives. This was scotch glue, made from animal bones. It came in dark honey-coloured slabs or pearl-like beads. These were melted down with boiling water. The resultant hot sticky goo was satisfyingly applied to the joints with a brush. The pungent odour mingled with the sweet smell of sawdust and wood shavings. An unforgettable experience to rival that of freshly mown grass or the new leather of satchels on my first day of school.
He wasn’t just a good carpenter, but a Jack-Of-All-Trades. A hob iron and box of leather strips stood ready for repairing the family’s shoes, a valve radio needing attention or a broken toy requiring loving care. Some things however got him beat as one box contained old discarded clocks beyond repair. Lengths of timber hung from the roof, oak, mahogany, ramin and pine, salvaged from old furniture or buildings, waiting for an appropriate use. The real treasure trove was the bottom drawer of the bench. It was crammed with fascinating but mainly useless items and bits and bobs, kept ‘just in case!’
These are very good healing memories for me – something to savour. You can’t choose your memories of course. I had to allow them to come, good or bad. Is there really such a thing as a bad memory? Nevertheless, I sorted them through with Jesus, the Master Carpenter. The transformation involved taking responsibility for my feelings and forgiving where necessary.
I loved my father and though he died years ago, I often think of him. He did his very best for me, sacrificially at times, you can’t ask more than that from a man. We don’t have a shed now, but I can still go into my ‘woodshed’ anytime and be with my heavenly Father. He’s always there for me with open arms, ready to comfort, guide and steady. They are special times, Father and son together.