Relics & Father's Day
“Men used to build and create as much for future generations as for their own needs, so their tools have a special message for us and our time. When you hold an early implement, when you close your hand over the worn wooden handle . . . you are near to another being in another life, and you are that much richer.” ~ Eric Sloane
I like old things—wood, leather, tools, furniture, pick-up trucks, old axe heads; to name just a few. I also like to surround myself with these relics of the past. A number of these things adorn my office. These “early implements”, as noted author Eric Sloane points out, connect us with timeless principles and memories of the past. This is especially true when a father or grandfather passes one of these treasured relics to his son or grandson. We all have them, don’t we? A pocket-knife given us by our father or grandfather one Christmas or birthday; an old pocket-watch, worn, but carefully cared for over decades—tucked away safely in a drawer or old cigar box. We often pull these cherished items out when no one’s around and hold them—almost reverently—as we recall the circumstances and the man who passed them on to us. They’re family heirlooms. Sometimes these items may even hold great monetary value but, more often than not, the only value they have is to the one who knows the story behind them.
Such is the case with the wood planer you see here. I was told it was hand-made by my great-grandfather, Charles Lockrdige McGann. He gave it to my father, who eventually gave it to me. Some folks would have thought it just an old worthless piece of junk, something to be discarded. Not my great-grandfather. Not my Dad. Not me. My Dad never used it, but “Mr. Charlie” did. He used it to build his home; a home that still stands. It’s a rather crude tool, the handhewn marks still visible in the wood block body that makes up the main part of the tool. The blade has some rust on it, but it could be sharpened to a razor edge. So the tool is still functional if I wanted to use it. It’s over 100 years old. The planer has that “worn wooden handle” described by Sloane.
As I hold it, I can picture my great-grandfather rising early in the morning to begin the day’s work on the house. I can see him in my mind’s eye with his shirt sleeves rolled up, sweat on his brow, and wood shavings peeling back on his arm as he pushes the plane forward in a steady rhythm, shaving down one of the oak floor joists before laying the pine floors. He built the house in the very early 1900’s when the now paved streets it sits on were just dirt roads. There he lived with his wife and children until his death in 1953 at the age of 82. A few years ago, I came across his obituary in one of my files. It reads, in part:
Waynesboro, March 4 -- Charles Lockridge McGann, 82, a resident of Waynesboro for 52 years, died at 4:10 am today at his home, 577 Locust Ave., after a long illness. Mr. McGann was a familiar figure on Waynesboro streets, taking a daily walk downtown from his home. He retired from active farming and caretaking about four years ago, but continued to work around his home in the yard and garden. He was a lifelong member of the Main Street United Methodist Church and was a member of the church's Baraca Class when it was formed in 1913. He was treasurer of the group for 35 years.
My great grandfather's life story is a microcosm of American life in those days. Mr. Charlie died in the home he built with his own hands, the home he lived in for over 50 years and the home he raised his family in. He was hard working; not retiring until his health forced him to at the age of seventy-eight. He went to the same church his whole adult life. He was a fixture in the community. He was honorable.
Those were less complicated times. We look at them nostalgically, wistfully. I even find myself longing for those days though I never knew, nor can I comprehend, the hardships that men like my great-grandfather endured. Life was harder, much harder. Money did not come easy. Conveniences were few, luxuries even fewer. Yet we often find ourselves envying men like my great-grandfather, don’t we? We consider how they lived their lives—simply, but honorably—and what they built from scratch. And we find ourselves wanting. Men like my great-grandfather built things to last: homes, families, tools—for future generations. For us.
I hold this old tool in my hand. I read my great-grandfather’s obituary and I find myself “near to another being in another life” and I am truly that much richer.
Happy Father’s Day.