by Randall Rogers, Reprinted with Permission
A few years ago, in 2009, I moved in with the man who raised me. It was the house I grew up in and our experience of a father/son relationship had often been strained and challenging. For me, moving in with him in the throes of my impending divorce and his deepening Cancer and Alzheimers, was both a blessing and a profound challenge.
Richard was a carpenter of brilliant and impeccable craftsmanship. He was able bodied and vigorous well into his 80’s, but, he was lousy at culling through old things and scraps of this and that. He was born in 1923 and having lived through the Great Depression, I can understand his reticence to waste anything that might have value later. Moreover, I was on hand for many of those rare occasions when the thing he had just thrown away, turned out to be precisely what he needed only a few days later. How does that happen, anyway?
When I had lived with him more than a year, and his health and memories began to fail with greater determination, he would speak of emptying the garage and not leaving such a horrific task for my sister and I. So emboldened, I would periodically venture out into the garage, the heart of his creativity and the hiding place of many a story.
One week, while he was visiting my sister, I was feeling ambitious and ventured into he attic spaces. It was then I began to puzzle over his collection of shovels. In all, including several detached shovel heads and splintered handles, I found Richard had collected more than 27 shovels and stored them away neatly and quietly in the garage.
Now, ours is a family of secrets. Fact is, it turns out Richard isn’t my biological father. I had discovered this myself in the course of our enforced and entangled time together. Its not knowable if he himself ever actually knew but, it was on my mind the day I counted all the shovels and I have been wondering since then whether a man with 27 shovels is preparing to un-earth something or to bury it?
Now, with some time, his passing and the perspective that life and curiosity will naturally provide, I have come to see this exquisite collection in another light. Turns out there are a lot of kinds of shovels a man needs in his life. Some are made for heavy lifting, some clearly are more attuned to pushing things aside. Some are designed to dig deep, many for a more controlled trim. I like a good strong shovel for digging in the earth, but also found some for shoveling coal and gravel. And, then there are those made for throwing manure, I have done more than my share of that.
I spent a good bit of my young life wondering about the man who was my father, turns out the man who raised me did a damn good job of seeing to it I had what I needed.