As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had a thing for tools. Sometimes, I will get more wrapped up in the actual tools rather than the particular trade or technology in which they are used. Maybe it’s my mild OCD, or possibly the interest in the precision and engineering that go into making these tools. They’ve just always grabbed my attention. I was recently in my late Grandfather’s work shed feeling pretty desperate as I looked around at the tools that he left behind. A sense of hopelessness set in while greasing some hydraulic jacks and air tools that were beginning to oxidize because I knew there was so much more to be done. But why? The tools were not a physical manifestation of my Grandfather or at least not to me as I’m not the overly spiritual type. That’s when I started to put some thought into what these lifeless, physical objects mean to me.
In order to understand why my Grandfather was special to car nuts like us, I guess a quick bio is in order. At some point in the 30’s my Great-grandfather started a General Mechanics Shop in Cuba and for a long time it was the only shop in their area; it continued to be the primary shop up until its demise. They began working on tractors and eventually moved on to automobiles and trucks as they became commonplace. Things were definitely different back then, especially for a young tradesman in a country that did not afford the necessary tools for your trade. If a customer came in with a ’50’s Chevy that needed a brake job, you couldn’t just pull the parts off the shelf. My Grandfather learned at a very early age to refurbish parts, fabricate replacement parts (brake shoes and pads in this example), and recreate special OEM tools that were not available to him. Business was booming right up until the mid 60’s when the Castro regime took over and told my Grandfather that the business belonged to the people and as such it will be taken over for the greater good. Being strong believers in capitalism and opportunity, my grandparents grabbed their children along with whatever memories they could and left their country in the early ‘70’s to find a new life. (Now, before you go and ask me what the raft was made of, remember this was a different time…they left on a plane) As with many other families leaving the country at the time, mine went to Spain to flourish and begin a new life…unfortunately Spain did not have the best economy at the time and eventually they came over to the States and settled in New Jersey. At the time, Jersey afforded work and an opportunity to establish roots. Years of hard work and sacrifice eventually brought the family to Miami. (This kind of explains my weird background)
As a kid, I think we all can remember back to a time when we thought one of our family members was some sort of superhero. For me it was my Grandfather, and I guess if you had to ‘classify’ his strength it would have been the ability to fix ANYTHING. My earliest memories of him were “MacGyver-like” and there was nothing he could not fix, fabricate, or improve. Combine that with the stories they told me of him surviving a gas station explosion and a car accident in which the car almost blew up and, well you get the idea...a kid’s imagination can run away with these things. I honestly thought he was indestructible…and in many ways his character and legacy are. Eventually I got older and obviously as the mind matures, you let go of these silly thoughts. Yet somehow he was always that superhero every weekend, helping me with my car obsession and constant work I would put into them. Whether it was tracing a short circuit, finding a coolant leak on my first turbocharged car, adjusting the valve lash on my S2000 with a custom tool he fabricated in 5 minutes, his abilities at times seem to know no boundaries. A random flashback…some friends and I were stranded out on the water in a boat that we had just recently “restored”. I had limited knowledge of inboard/outboard engines (especially a late 80’s carbureted MerCruiser) Somehow though, by phone, my Grandfather was able to guide me through the troubleshooting. He was able to visualize this carburetor from memory and guide me through the process. We got the engine started but by then had taken on too much water. Let’s just say getting towed home by a dingy with a 20hp engine is humbling…especially in front of a few members of the opposite sex.
The 1st of this month marked the fourth anniversary of his death. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and within a year he succumbed to it. It is curious the thoughts that go through your mind in situations like this, and I think somehow that young kid was heartbroken deep down inside not only because of the loss, but because his superhero was gone. I guess growing old, weak, and run down happens to all of us eventually, but when you compress it into a year it’s a tough pill to swallow. My Grandmother tells me he was secretly very proud of the interest I took in his trade and understanding him and what made him tick. In reality I was the only member of my family to take a liking to working with my hands in general. These days with my own family and work it is very hard to take the time and enjoy a project that involves me working with my hands. Sometimes I’ll pay to have certain things done because my time with the family and work is more important. Then, adding to that equation, car manufacturers are more and more including maintenance plus a 2-3 year trade in cycle…really what is there to work on? I can’t tell you how much I look forward to purchasing a car to restore though and I can only hope one of my children takes an interest and wants to learn that skill which was handed down to me. Either way I know he’ll be with me in spirit while I work on that project.
I honestly have no idea what I will do with all my tools…I do have plans to rent a U-Haul some time next year and bring over the toolboxes, jacks, 80-gallon air compressor, and anything else I can fit. I get sad every time I think of those tools rotting away and in reality, they may not get anymore use at my house. In the end though, tools will break and some will rot away. I think my Grandfather would want me to not focus on the physical tools but remember the time we spent together and everything he taught me. I think he would want me to keep that family tradition alive in his honor.
Yeah, I think that’s the right thing to do.