Being in the shop can be very quiet. Well, quiet in the sense of being alone. Not, noise level quiet. Because, actually the dust collector and table saw can be quite loud. But in those "quiet" moments of running boards through the table saw or sanding down a table top, I find myself in thought. Especially if I'm not listening to the Stuff You Should Know guys. Sometimes my head will get into memory mode and I'll begin thinking about my life. Clips of my life. Episodes of my life.
And many of those clips, maybe because I'm doing woodwork at that time, involve my Papa. I like to think about my Papa. He was a really good man. He loved his family. He was a hard worker. He was funny. He was creative. He was generous. He was just a fun man to around. And I am lucky to have known him and spent some time with him while he walked this earth.
I like to think about times I had with him. I think about the times we visited them in New Mexico and stayed with them at a Summer Camp where he and my grandma the groundskeepers. I think about the times he would take out his fake teeth and scare me to death. I think about the times that we'd be standing next to each other, he would pass gas, look at me and say "What did you say?" with a grin on his face. There are many things that I like to bring to mind regarding my Papa, but one of the best memories I have of him, is being with him at his cabin in Colorado. I would make trips to the Spanish Peaks, up from the Panhandle of Texas to spend time with him and "help" him build his, and others' cabins. I remember one summer, after working for several weeks, we were meeting my mom and dad in Trinidad to go home before school started back up. We all ate at a local restaurant in Trinidad and as we headed out to our cars, my papa came up beside me, put his arm around me, we stopped, he handed me a 20 dollar bill and said "Lij, thanks for all your hard work this summer. You did real good." Biggest. Smile. Ever. It was a great moment for this 11 year old boy.
My grandparents lived there for several years and built the cabin throughout the time they were there. I remember when it was just a grassy slope and we were sleeping in the Trailer Home next to where the cabin was going to be built. I got to watch concrete blocks go up for the foundation and then huge milled logs stacked one on top of the other as the walls went up. They eventually moved into the basement of the cabin when it was closed in and spent some time down there while the rest of the cabin above was being finished out. I still remember that first time Papa walked over to the staircase and pried up the piece of plywood covering the basement up, because the cabin was finished and ready to be moved in to. A great feeling of completion and satisfaction came over my Papa when that piece of plywood was lifted. He had built a beautiful cabin that he and my grandma would enjoy for a few more years. And then we were all saddened when my grandparents had to let it go and move back to the Panhandle. We had made great memories in that cabin.
Fast forward to this past summer.
I was lucky to get a chance to go back and visit the area. A summer vacation road trip was taking me right through the area, and I just had to take the detour and see it. It had been 16 or 17 years since I had been back to the Spanish Peaks. I was excited, to say the least. From the time I got off the Interstate north of Trinidad to head west, my memories just started playing back, from the tiny town of Aguilar to the smells of the mountain air as I drove west. I began playing those memories back in my head as I was reliving them. One special memory I have of that road to the cabin was a huge Willow tree about half way there. Papa called it the "Pee Tree". Anytime he and I would go into town to get supplies or for whatever reason, on the way back he would pull over at the Pee Tree and make me go to the restroom. He didn't want me to pee my pants and then get in trouble from grandma. Thanks Papa for having my back. So, this past summer, my son and I relieved ourselves for old times sake...and so he wouldn't get in trouble too.
It was fun to explore and see the places I use to play, hide and ride bikes and build forts. Being able to share that with my son and share stories about my Papa was so great. I wish he could've known him.
One of greatest memories I have of the cabin, and eventually a gift, was my Papa's truck, Rhino. It was a '64 Ford, with wheels from my Dad's truck in high school, a big wench to haul logs and a replacement tailgate that my Papa made from a 2x10 and engraved "THEND" on it, combing "the" and "end". I guess he was trying to be creative like that. (: That truck hauled logs up and down that mountain over and over, for several years. I'm not exactly sure where the name Rhino came from, but it seemed pretty fitting, given its work load. Several years laters, when I was a senior in high school, Papa gave that truck to me for graduation. It was the best gift I received and it was a very special moment he and I had when he handed me the title and looked me in the eyes. I'll never forget the grin he had as I realized what he was handing me.
I've thought a lot about wanting to do something to remember my Papa. I want to remember the impact he made on me, especially regarding him as an Artisan and Builder, and how he inspired me to do what I'm doing today. I didn't really want to make or build something. That could get lost or go missing or may not always be with me. So, I decided to do something that would always be with me. I will forever be reminded of my Papa, even in a hot sweaty workshop in the middle of the summer in Austin.
Here's to you Papa.
Thank you Paul Smith for making this happen. You kind nailed this!