Friday, August 7, 2009


The house we're leaving is nearly empty now, save the items that'll be moved on Saturday and a rather impressive pile of goods we'll sell at a garage sale there later this month. Yesterday morning I hauled one of the last sizable-but-manageable pieces to storage.

The well-loved wheelbarrow was born long before I was and originally belonged to my father, who died several months ago. It's common, unremarkable -- a thick, hammered-steel bucket and oak handles, rolling on a pneumatic tire. At some point it was painted red, although I seem to remember that it was green when I was a boy.

I have vivid memories of Dad sweating behind loads of topsoil, pavers, balled shrubs and firewood. I remember mucking stalls, flopping a pitchfork on top of a too-heavy pile of manure and straining to wheel it out to the pasture behind the barn.

As I rolled the old wheelbarrow into our storage unit yesterday, I acknowledged that I'll never, ever part with it -- it symbolizes both hard work and the hardest-working man I've ever known.

Last night I went back to the house to finish preparing the washer and the desk for tomorrow's move. There was a package on the front porch, addressed to me.

Inside the parcel from my mother was a smaller box, which held three items wrapped in tissue paper.

My father's pocketknives.

Befitting the man, they're simple tools: two small stockmans, a Buck and a Schrade Old Timer, along with the knife he carried every day -- a Case pen with jigged-bone scales.

This particular Case was a birthday present from me in the mid-1980s, replacing a similar knife lost on a farm call one rainy night. Twenty-five years later the blades are worn and, to my surprise, in need of sharpening. The spine of the smaller blade shows that it had been used as a scraper.

Holding this humble little slipjoint in my hands brings a smile and a warm, familiar feeling. Like that 60-year-old wheelbarrow, it's a reminder of the man and a treasure worth keeping.