The Tool Belt

  • By Maida Korte

“Ho, for the Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee!
He was as wicked as wicked could be.
But oh, he was perfectly gorgeous to see!
The Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee.” (Mildred Plew Miegs)

          Andy likes to do nice things for me.  His ideas as to what those nice things are come from his boy brain.   This explains why my husband can stand motionless for 27 minutes looking at three pieces of identical wood in a home improvement store.  I cannot understand this and want to get going, move on, get a leg up, muster courage, march down aisles and that is why my husband never takes me to home improvement stores any longer.   This man also enjoys watching programs about jet engines, ice formations, how tall building are cooled, cleaning out the inside of cement trucks, what the ocean floor looks like with no water, frozen tundra, how to tie ropes in every possible format, the pointed necessity for an organized system to store 34 screwdrivers all absolutely identical no matter what he says, and why an air gun is best for keeping coyotes away (we live nowhere near any coyotes).  So when Andy does something to surprise me it often takes the form of me finding a new electronic device at the dinner table that will tell me the weather report of wind and humidity and temperature in northern Utah and he smiles a tiny bit apprehensively hoping I am thrilled, which I am because he thinks that this might be, just might be, what I have been longing for. 

          The occasional surprise gift started within six months after our wedding when Andy came home one day with a pair of tiny travel binoculars all wrapped neatly (he is an excellent wrapper – he thinks of it as a project of sorts – ‘well done is just begun.’)  He sheepishly explained after I looked stunned and perhaps a flash of confusion shot across the hull of my eyes, that these were for looking at mountains.  We live in the flattest part of America– but one can hope.  I have received to date (20 years in) a special container that holds lamp oil, a spool of leather thread for boot repair, wax that melts in the sun for camping (we never camp and why wax?), a soldering device for small jewelry (I do not craft),  a kit of buttons, several different traveling keyboards, a knife holder for my belt (what?), key chains with mace, key chains with laser lights, sonic cleaning devices, garage organizers that include assorted golf-club-cleaning systems, a toothbrush clip for the car, a caboodle filled with batteries, an electronic device that stores unused data from old phones, a wall stapler, and multiple sets of scissors that all do separate tasks like cutting leather or perhaps snipping shoe laces.  Upon reflection I understand that these Ariel-esque thingamabobs are representative of an expression of emotion that my husband feels uncomfortable saying out loud.   To verbally express himself emotionally is vague, disturbing, embarrassing, possibly wrong, and open to interpretation.  The inability to navigate the circuitous and squishy pathway of sentiment creates the need to find a more rugged path where he can stomp along in boots.  As I reflect on the heart of this inexpressible man I have discovered that his quiet confidence, admired by me and the girls, the land where we feel safe and cared for, originated in his tool belt. 

          My use of the term ‘tool belt’ is literal, not to be confused with quirks of personality or descriptions of macho mannerisms or even psychological quivers of Freudian arrows.  No, not at all.  Andy’s tool belt is filled with essential items for carpentry and I can barely lift it for the weight of the ingredients.  There are the usual suspects of hammer and fasteners and measuring tape and pencil but those are the simple beginnings of a long career.  Chided into purchasing only the best hand tools from a grizzled man who didn’t look up as he spoke to the young buck whose hammer broke and flew across the room.  “Yup.  I’ve seen that happen plenty.  Bet you won’t waste your money on cheap shit again.”  And so we learn.  Twenty four worn leather pockets later, strapped around a strong back and slung on the outer thighs of a man growing up, is a coming of age story for every man who has earned his living working with his hands.  A fumbled beginning becomes a symphony as an unguided  hand  reaches into a triple bag belt for a speed square  (Swanson) or a knife (Lutz) or a tape (Stanley) or a hammer (Plumb – 20) or a pencil (graphite) and the formulation of the confident reach grab place use return takes years to perfect.  Each pocket filled with an item waiting patiently to be called into action without so much as a glance becomes a pattern that winds its way into the way a man walks, the swing of the  arms, the tilt of the chin, the road to feeling comfortable in his own skin.  It is these same patterns that can be seen in a young athlete swinging a bat over and over again, a sous chef placing the perfect pinch of the perfect ingredient into the perfect stew, the drummer twirling the sticks in the air and landing the riff with eyes closed, the clumsy becomes graceful and it is the ease that accompanies the skill that we admire.  We know it took years to establish that level of comfort and we want it.  We want to sing that song, land that dismount, solve that problem, run that race, sail that boat, write that book – and so we find our own land of expertise.  We discover a place where our confidence can grow unfettered, where we put in our dedicated time and ultimately learn far more than a skill.  We learn how to live a life.  My husband does not wear his tool belt to work any longer, since experience bears responsibility with other construction roles to fill, so his belt hangs in a sacred spot in the garage.  I catch the occasional whiff of leather and I am reminded again of the manner of this man I love. 

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