In the old man’s tool shed everything was neat and stowed away. Down one wall the gardening tools, each hanging on a pair of nails driven high into the timber framing of the shed. The wooden handles were well used, they narrowed where the old man’s hands had worn away the timber grain by grain over years. One day in winter I listened to the rain on the roof and watched him oil the handles – his hands seemed fashioned from the same timber grain.
As a child I was afraid of the axe – I knew its reputation from violent fairy tales and stories of headless chickens lurching bloodily around back yards. Hanging on the wall it seemed intent on flying from its place and causing terrible damage. But in the old man’s hands it lay at ease. He told me the axe ‘warmed you twice’ which I didn’t understand. He had to explain that it warmed you first when chopping wood and then again when you burned the wood in the fire. I was never really amused, but I can still picture his contented smile.
He was proud of the way he looked after his tools. He told me several times he’d had the same axe for over 20 years – ‘mind you, it’s had three new heads and 5 new handles’. I eventually got tired of this old joke, but years later I realised how much it told me about him: how he’d grown up in poverty before the time when everything was disposable.
In his last years he reluctantly shed his tools. When the house was sold many went for a dollar or two to unknown neighbours. Later others were scattered, lost or borrowed or stolen. At the end there were just a few hand-tools, a couple of screwdrivers, a pair of pliers, a plastic jar of nails and screws. I still have a few, tossed in a toolbox with others I’ve bought or found. They’re all equally neglected.