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June 11, 2012

MIKE LUNSFORD: Thanking two dads whose gifts have never stopped coming…

It is nearly a week until Father’s Day, but I have had my dad, and my father-in-law — a second dad to me — on my mind today. I wrote about both men just a few weeks ago, but I have set my mind to write about them again anyway. I don’t want this story to be sad; they both loved to laugh and wouldn’t want that. No, I just wanted to tell them hello, and to thank them again for what they still do for me.

Many of us tend to believe that we quit giving things away when we die, that we had better get what we have to say said and our favorite belongings labeled and meted out before we make that one last trip to the graveyard. But I don’t see it that way. My dad, Dan, has been gone for a decade and a half; my father-in-law, Gib, for a little more than three years. Yet, they continue to lend me a hand every so often, and I appreciate their help.

A few weeks back, on a very hot and very dry afternoon, I stopped in at my mother-in-law’s place. I had decided that I had better get an old Seth Thomas mantel clock out of my father-in-law’s cluttered little workshop, where I had taken it for Gib to fix just a few months before he died. He was not feeling well at the time, but he said he wanted to do it because he loved to tinker with clocks. Anyone can tell you that Gib could repair just about anything. It may have been with homemade parts, a bit of wire, a clump of solder, a mismatched screw, whatever he could come up with, but he’d get it to go.

I had bought the clock at auction — I have another that sits on my old office desk — not because they are very valuable, but because I love to hear them tick and chime.

But this particular clock, although in nice shape, had a broken pendulum, and there was no real way of telling if it still worked. So, knowing Gib was somewhat of a self-taught clocksmith, I took a gamble, paid a little more than I wanted to, and delivered it to him. I sat the clock on top of an old dresser in his shop, and he said he’d get to it when he got bored. Within days, he was in the hospital, and over the next few months, the clock sat in silence, gathered dust, and waited.

When I went to retrieve the piece, I was already mulling over the potential cost of getting it working again. Clock repair isn’t usually cheap. I even considered, briefly, searching the library and online for repair manuals, but I also knew from looking into the back of my working clock that we wouldn’t get along. I recalled the time when I was about 10 years old and I tried to “repair” my brother’s watch — I used a screwdriver and a tack hammer — but it didn’t turn out well. And the watch wasn’t even broken until I started working on it.  

My truck in the drive, a door open, I walked into Gib’s shop, picked up the clock and began to walk out with it under my arm. And it began to tick.  

I sat it on the kitchen table, opened the back — a fist-sized tin cover that led the way to its inner workings — and saw the pendulum swinging in place. Within a minute or two, the clock chimed on the half hour, too, and within an hour, I had it cleaned and wound. It has been ticking away on a cabin bookcase ever since…

A month or two after my dad suddenly passed years ago, my brother and brother-in-law and I reluctantly met to separate and share his tools. We made a nice toolbox for my mom to keep at home, for she always used a hodgepodge of mismatched screwdrivers and rusty pliers, and we thought she needed more than that. Three of the things I took home that day were a ladder, an old electric hand grinder, and an abused wheelbarrow that my dad had used for concrete work.

I found myself working at home late last week. I had what I call a “summertime grin” on my face, since I am away from school and can finally work on projects around my house and yard that I can’t seem to get done when I have classroom work to tackle.

On that particular day, one in which the late spring heat had graciously taken vacation time and all I could hear were the mockingbirds and robins arguing between backyard trees, I decided that I was going to clean my gutters, work on a decrepit bird bath that had spent several years in solitary confinement in our barn, and build a stone flower bed near my cabin in which purple coneflower and brown-eyed Susans would be set to grow. It was after I had finished my first two jobs, and I had used the ladder to scale my roof and the grinder to remove a coat of rust from the birdbath, that I tackled the flower bed. It took much of the afternoon, but I hauled the stone and fill dirt from the piles I keep behind the barn, and I did it using the battered wheelbarrow that I had inherited.

Only when I was done, my hands still dripping from the scrubbing I had given them at our backyard hydrant, did I realize that I had used Dad’s tools in all three jobs, and I silently told him, “Thanks, Pop.”

This may be a bit early for Father’s Day today, but I’ll bet that most people reading it had, or have, a dad who has never stopped giving, whether they are living or not. I was lucky to have had two.  

Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at hickory913@aol.com, or c/o the Tribune-Star at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Visit his website at www.mikelunsford.com for more information. He will be speaking and signing his books Friday at the Canon Inn, and will take part in the Terre Haute Symphony League book chat of “Unbroken” at the Country Club of Terre Haute on June 21.

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