I grew up with a lot of weird tools. We had centerpunches that nobody else had. We had a piece of railroad track for an anvil. We had some strange and wonderful punches and cutters and saws and metalworking hammers that have no business working on cars.
Over the past three weeks I've learned that every.single.tool is for making jewelry.
My father made his and my mother's rings by melting down a bunch of pre-war dimes and then casting them in a coffee can. He made wax molds, put them in investment in a coffee can, melted the silver and slung it around and around his head on a chain. This story has been much repeated by my mother, or it was when they were still married. What was not pointed out - what was not discussed - was whether he ever made any other jewelry. It was obvious to me that the answer was "not."
The past three weeks, every Tuesday and Thursday, has been like goddamn Karate Kid.
I know these tools. I lived with these tools. And they were invisible. And they were unused. They were much loved - you had to treat them with respect but why was never clear. My father has never made jewelry in my lifetime. But he kept buying jeweler's tools up to last year. He has three grandkids.
On the one hand I'm absolutely gutted about this. What does it say? On the other hand I'm incredibly angry about this. What kind of pussy doesn't fucking follow his dreams for fifty goddamn years? It occurred to me last week that I'm where I am, and my father is not, because my wife is vastly more supportive than his was. My wife, however, pointed out that my father has been divorced for more than ten years and still persists in covering every available yard in dead cars.
It occurred to me just now that my mother was always incredibly supportive of his jewelry-making. The ring story was one she told multiple times a year. Whereas the dead cars were a source of constant friction. During high school she'd get drunk and take all the keys and move everything that started into someone else's driveway, or up a dirt road, or wtf ever (and we sat there passively because this is what codependency looks like). We'd spend hours finding the fucking things - ever spent an early Saturday morning looking for a '76 Buick Skylark up someone else's driveway? And now he's coming to the conclusion that he waited too long to retire because he doesn't have the energy to fix and restore nine dead and worthless cars.
I would not have thought learning to silver-solder would be so soul-searching. Of course, I know how to silver-solder. When you learn how to weld 30-gage steel with baling wire and an oxyacetylene torch silver solder is the easiest fucking thing.
I bought a Kennedy tool box. They're expensive. They're for my machine tools. I probably bought a Kennedy tool box because my father has a Kennedy tool box for his machine tools. I did not know it was a Kennedy tool box until we started talking about tool boxes, and I did not know how much I knew about machining until I was surrounded by aspiring machinists. Or rather, I had forgotten. Twenty years ago, because my instructors at UW sucked, they let me teach the rest of my 300-level manufacturing class how to operate lathes and mills, and teach them how to weld. This is because thirty years ago my father taught me how to operate lathes and mills and taught me how to weld. At home we had an American LaBlonde lathe with a placard on it that said "Restored by the Army Corps of Engineers 1918" on it. At UW we had a bunch of identical American LaBlond lathes that had been rode hard, put away wet by 60 years of engineering students. You were lucky to get 25 thousandths out of them. In the corner, though, was a bigger, burlier LaBlond that nobody was allowed to touch. It was spoken about in hallowed tones. It was said you could get micron-level precision with it, although not even the instructors turned it on for demonstrations.
It was waiting for me when I arrived at my new school. It still has the UW property sticker on it. It requires instructor permission to use, and is still spoken about in hallowed tones. They named it "Baby."
I knew going back to school would be melancholy. I knew it would be nostalgic - the first time I smelled a machine shop in 20 years was a somatic bodyblow.
I did not know I'd feel like goddamn Aragorn of Gondor.