Thursday, November 12, 2009

Timeless skills

As I was putting up the tools this afternoon, I thought about where I had learned to do this sort
of work. I remembered that my grandfather had let all of us kids play with his tools and make things, gradually teaching me the basic carpentry skills that I had used for the last two days. Demolition, dad taught me that. How to toe-nail wood into a post, something else I learned from watching him. How to use a hammer, or shovel, Grandpa taught me that, probably by letting me build or make something that I had wanted.

The weather has been clear, sunny and for November warm for the last couple of days. I decided to take advantage of it to repair the last bit of damage remaining from Hurricane Ike last year. Two of the 4x4 posts that support the fence had snapped in the windstorm. I replaced one of them last year to keep the fence standing and keep Rosie, the neighbor's dog where she belonged. And the other post was in the part of the fence that supported the climbing hydrangea, which I didn't want to disturb while it was still leafed out. It took all day to get the materials and replace the one post last year, so I knew what I was getting into this time. Or so I thought.

I gathered all the tools, hauling hammer, nails and level from the basement and shovels and spud bar from the garage. My first surprise was that the old post had been set in concrete, a LOT of concrete. I ended up spending all day digging around the concrete trying to find the bottom. I had a hole 33 inches deep and 4 feet across. I actually called my dad to help me get this chunk of concrete out of the ground, as it weighed several hundred pounds. The second surprise was having to cut down about a third of the hydrangea to be able to get to the post to even start work. I had wanted to leave it in place and work around it the way I had when I installed the fence sections in 2002.

The initial goal had been to have the post replaced and fence repaired by late afternoon but the concrete shot that down. The new goal was to have the fence repaired enough to keep the dog in the yard overnight and finish it this morning. I got the post in and backfilled just before dark yesterday and went back this morning to reattach the rails and replace the two verticals that had been removed. I also had to refill the ramp I had dug in the flower bed to allow Dad and myself to pull the concrete out with a chain.

There are a lot of things that you can teach yourself from reading a book, but it takes hands on experience or observation to know that sometimes the best way to put a board into place to be nailed is to have someone lean on it to hold it in position. My grandpa has been dead for almost thirty years now, but I still find myself using those basic skills that he taught me long ago. I miss him.

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