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Thu March 25, 2004
A wise man once said "You can tell a lot about a person by looking in their tool-box."
By Paul Wilkes
Wilmington NC – [Click the Listen button to hear Paul's commentary.]
This is a story of an old saw. My father's saw. Which is so dulled with age, it doesn't do much good these days.
So I took it down to a real hardware store - the one on Castle and 13th to see if it could be sharpened. A lost art, the sharpening of saws, the owner said, people just buy new ones....but ... and he hesitated as he took the saw in his hand - and looked down to rusted metal and wood beginning to rot on the handle. "Best one made at the time," he said, with a certain kind of affection.
My father bought that saw so many years ago, in the midst of the Depression, while raising seven children. In a house where a bowl of corn meal mush with browned butter was a normal meal, where bath water was used for more than one child, where my mother not only cleaned our house, but that of another family, who could afford to hire out such a task.
But, my father always told me, Butch - as he called me -- never go cheap on tools. You might not have every tool you need, but when you do, buy the best. They'll last longer and serve you well. His toolbox - hand made of wood, not purchased metal like most of the other carpenters - may not have been full, but what was there, was quality.
In an age of disposability, of quick answers and cut-rate sales, his lesson echoes across the decades. Don't go cheap on the important tools in our lives.
Tools? Well, most of us are not craftspeople, but the lesson still holds. Maybe it's a special pen to write letters that matter. Or a spade to turn over the now-warming soil. Or that copper saucepan you saw hanging in the store window. Every time you use it, you know your spirit will soar.
It's not that all of us don't have to watch where we spend our money, but I think the pure satisfaction of having a quality tool in our hands is its own reward. And realizing that tool is not going to end up in the trash in a few months and another will take its place. No, we're going to hold onto it, care for it - as it performs so elegantly and well for us. And perhaps, to pass it on.
So, I'm going to find someone to sharpen that saw and that saw is going to keep on living. In my hands - so pathetically soft, so clean - as it once was held in hands strong and true, and with honest grime ground into those lines and calluses. And I'll feel him right there beside me.
By the way, on that same trip to Castle Street, I went over to Coastal Enterprises, the sheltered workshop on 13th and Kidder I told you about a few weeks ago. Well, at least one of you took up my invitation and stopped by. You met Agnes and her wonderful group of workers. You saw smiling, upturned faces of those whose days would otherwise be spent fac--ing the dullness of a television set. I hear you're in real estate. And, that you were most kind. The check you left behind - a very substantial check that it was - will help this great place to continue to be the Peaceable Kingdom that it is. Where people are not measured by their output, but treasured because they are part of our human family. Somebody's brother or sister, daughter or son. With a place to go to each day, work and companionship to look forward to. Thanks.
Paul Wilkes teaches in the English department at UNCW, and is the creator of New Beginnings, a church renewal program.