Last week the BSW and I went wandering. Our wandering always starts with a general goal or destination, no wandering intended, that gets sidetracked by shiny things…and we wander. We are particularly good at this random pursuit of shiny things that catch our attention…a brewery, a yard sale, an old cemetery, a road with old stone walls, etc, because our individual crazies match up well in this regard.
That day our goal was what we thought was a salvage yard. We like odd metal objects with which we might do something clever. It turned out to be a store where other people did clever things with odd metal objects, but it was also in an old mill building full of antiques and artist’s shops.
I bought a World War II army foot locker for a few bucks. I like old steamer trunks and such because I like their journeys. I wonder where they’ve traveled and why. I’ve seen these old army trunks before, and I’ve always admired them because when I was in the army we just had a duffel bag. A foot locker has so much more heft and history than a bag. I bought this one because it wore its history on the lid. Lieutenant Frederic Newman, Infantry, was traveling on the U.S.S. Constitution to New York.
A google search showed me that Frederic lived a long and full life and only recently passed away. Maybe it is the writer in me, but I long to fill in the blanks in such stories. He stayed in Europe after the war to rebuild. What was that like? He returned to America with a family. How did he adjust? He was a banker with several children. He was active in the Boy Scouts. He retired to Florida. There are so many mileposts with so many unknown stories between them.
I have reached out to a few of his great grandchildren that I could find on social media asking if they’d like to have the foot locker. To me, it is an amazing, perhaps romanticized, heirloom. To them it might be the annoying box they tripped over all their lives. I have no idea.
This past weekend, Lori and I built a catio. That is an entirely different story, and all her crazy, but it required use of my miter saw. My miter saw was originally my grandfather’s. It is at least sixty years old. It is all metal, weighs about fifty pounds, and it has been cutting lumber for my entire life. It was in my father’s workshop when I was growing up, and I have been using it for thirty years.
In this age of planned obsolescence and product horizon, when hot water heaters are built to last seven years and televisions are designed to stop working after a certain number of viewing hours, this saw still does its job, barely. The motor runs but so slowly that I do more wood burning than cutting. It and I generate a lot of smoke and noise, but we still get the job done. That saw is the only thing I have that was my father’s father’s. He died before I was born. I was told the important milestones of his life, but I don’t know the stories in between. However, I have his saw.
A miter saw is used to cut precise angles and make quick cuts of dimensional lumber. I don’t know what my grandfather built with it. I know I’ve built a treehouse for my son, a tiny casket for my daughter’s pet rat, furniture for my first house when I couldn’t afford to buy any, an Adirondack chair for my BSW, and many other things with it. I was told my grandfather was a very pragmatic man. I like to think we used this saw to build similar things.
Frederic Newman and I were both in the infantry. It is likely he also passed through Ft. Benning since it has been home of the infantry since 1918. My barracks at Ft. Benning were WWII remnants. It isn’t likely that we shared a barracks, but it is probable that we double timed the same roads and did push ups on the same fields.
My grandfather and I have more obvious connections, but I like the ones that relate to the saw. We both lined up a cut holding that handle. We both made things to help or please our loved ones. We both inhaled the smell of sawdust and thought we had made just the right cut. That saw has been involved in the construction of things for four generations of my family.
I am fascinated by our colliding histories. I yearn to know and tell the stories.