My father had a passion for machines. Airplanes, cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, steam engines, electric cars, bulldozers, tractors, mowers, snowmobiles. He drove them, rode them, built them, fixed them, and invented them. His career as an aeronautic engineer was frustrating, because it involved more work with people than the airplanes. He was happiest building a boat in the garage, inventing an electric car, or fitting a VW Beetle engine onto a motorcycle (with two wheels – this must be said because there is often a stubborn assumption that such a heavy engine must have been installed onto a three-wheeled frame. People, always male, have actually argued with me about this.)
When he died, he left behind a garage full of tools, and several machines. My mother and I sold the little stuff at garage sales and the big stuff piece by piece. Table saws, the lathe, the welding equipment. We traded the electric car to a local mower repair guy for service on the riding mower for two years. My nephew took the Scout. We drove the Mazda Miata until the thrill wore off. Wow! Who knew driving a convertible sports car would so drastically increase the amount of flirtation with total strangers?!
I grew up with my father’s tools, knowing them intimately, and far into my twenties, I could have picked his hammer out of a crowd. Now, in my garage, I have four of those pounding tools and they all look fairly identical to me. I build things and fix things. I have my own drill, sander, jig saw, and circular saw. I have my father’s level, T-square, slide rule. There are crowbars, sledge hammers, and tape measures that no longer know where they came from. They are all my tools now.
Except for the mower, which has a machine soul of its own; it refuses to belong to anyone. Once it tried to kill me; that’s another story. We have a truce now. I ride it in the meadow, playing with the waist deep grass, channeling my father and my farmer grandfather. I clean it, sharpen the blade, and replace the worn belts. The starter connections need constant attention. It’s a generic red machine, at least twenty years old. Daddy painted optimistic words on the back. “ZOOM ZOOM.”
In my machine revelry, I sometimes land in a gender swamp. Precious few of my women friends know what I’m talking about, although they are often grateful for anything I can teach them; this is another opportunity to channel my father. Men assume I don’t know two wheels from three. We all believe we’ve come far in our gender evolution, and yet, my handyman friend keeps referring to the contents of my garage as “your father’s tools.” I called a young friend about my jumper cables, left in her car; she’d assumed those jumper cables were her father’s. Men own the tools.
Putting my gender ego junk aside, I’m settling into this zen truth: the tools belong to the machines.