CRAAACK! The wooden handle on the old shovel was no match for the big chunk of granite hiding in the field . We had stopped counting how many rocks and boulders had been hauled from the dirt, and this one was right where a grapevine was goingto be planted. Jed had stopped drilling with the augur and was toiling away with a shovel to get the rascal removed.
“Oh noooooo! You wrecked my dad’s shovel!”
No concern for whether or not Jed was ok on my part. My reaction to a broken shovel surprised me. I mean, it’s not like this was the first thing to be broken on the farm. We both inspected the broken tool: the perfectly fine metal shovel head now separated by spikey wooden fingers from its handle.
“Oh good! I don’t care about breaking this one. That’s not my dad’s shovel! That’s a different one.”
“What are you talking about?” Jed wanted to know.
When my parents sold their house in Florida my dad gave me some of his tools, including this cool shovel that he got it when he worked at Bachmann’s, a landscaping company in Minneapolis. He has owned this shovel for probably 40 years. It’s plain, with a very long wooden handle that has been worn smooth and mellowed to the color of dark honey. Three capital letters, K, E, N, were stamped into the handle near the shovel end. They are a bit crooked and just a tiny bit too far apart from each other. But they spell out a recognizable “Ken” which is all that would have mattered because everyone at Bachmann’s knew my dad. If they saw these letters on a shovel they would know who it belonged to. He worked at Bachmann’s for over 30 years, sometimes in the nursery or in the greenhouse, and later on in the store. When my mother and I would stop by to see him (and yeah buy something using his employee discount) we could ask anyone if they knew where Ken was, and even the newest and youngest employee always knew who we meant. “Anyone seen Kenny?” they would holler, and before long my dad would emerge from some back lot, often with this shovel in his hand. My dad has never been a big talker, in fact some people might call him shy. But he is friendly , and he has always been a very very hard worker. It was always a bit of a surprise to see how many people knew, and liked, my dad at work . It was a reminder about this whole other life my dad had, with people who often spent more time with him than we kids did. It was good to know how much they liked him.
When Dad moved to Florida the shovel went with him – with Bachmann’s blessings. It made a lot of sense because when Dad had landscaping projects at home he always used this shovel. I can picture him now digging a hole for the maple tree that he planted in our front yard, or digging out beds for the shrubs by the front door. Once I had homes and yards of my own, visits from Mom and Dad often turned into projects, painting a room, or trimming a hedge. Dad knew the names of hundreds of plants, and how to grow them, and how to prune them. I would follow him around watching and making notes. Those yard projects were some of the most companionable times I’ve spent with my dad.
My parents have moved back to Minnesota from Florida, and they no longer have a yard of their own. Even in retirement, Dad still helped out from time to time with pruning, or weeding, or spraying, but he no longer needs his shovel. He’s going to be 89 soon – it’s about time for a break! So now the shovel is mine and I understand why he liked it. The handle feels smooth in your hands, especially without gloves on. The long handle is in perfect balance with the metal shovel head. The head is solid and heavy. You learn quickly that gravity eases the work when you use the shovel correctly! My relationship with this shovel is pretty new. Even though I’ve owned it for three years now, it wasn’t until we moved to the farm that it started getting used regularly. So when the big CRAACK! sounded, and I thought Dad’s shovel had broken it was like losing a new best friend.
Poor nameless other shovel! No respect, no mourning, and not even a proper funeral. It’s metal shovel head got used for shoveling peat moss during the planting of the vineyard, but now it sits forgotten in the pole barn with no likelihood of being fixed any time soon. Meanwhile, the world has been warned (or at least Jed) that under no circumstances is my Dad’s shovel to be used in any way that might endanger its existence. It no longer hangs in the barn with the other tools, but has been brought into the garage with Dad’s dirt rake, and gravel shovel, to be used only by me. When I use these tools I sometimes look down and see the same motions I remember seeing when these tools were in my Dad’s hands. It’s very spooky, and very comforting at the same time.
I know that this shovel won’t last forever. In fact, the leather holster for my dad’s Felco clippers finally wore out this summer. I promptly bought a new one, which is boring and ugly and doesn’t have the nice patina or softness of my dad’s holster. I might try sewing the broken piece, but I’m not confident it will hold. The handles on the Felco clipper have started to develop big cracks in the plastic – possibly because they’ve been getting used almost every day out here. But I can’t bring myself to dip them in liquid replacement because the new dip is yellow, and everyone knows that a classic Felco clipper – only the best clipper ever in the whole world – has a red handle. So dipping the handle is like ruining its pedigree. People know when you whip out a Felco that you know what you are doing, and now that I really do know what I am doing (thank’s Dad) I think it will just feel wrong to use a genuine Felco clipper with a stupid yellow handle. Let me think about this some more.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thanks for the wonderful shovel, the Felco, and the time you spent with me showing me what to do with them.