‘Hand-me-downs,’ unfortunately, are usually associated with the “cheap and shoddy.”
At one time the items, commonly clothing, were valued by somebody but one day they become hand-me-downs: discarded, unwanted, outgrown.
Yet when it comes to fathers their ‘hand-me-downs’ are for the children their best-help-up.
The day after his father died, popular speaker and writer Charles Swindol reflected on his father’s ‘hand-me-downs’:
“Last night I realized I had him to thank for my deep love for America. And for knowing how to tenderly care for my wife. And for laughing at impossibilities. And for some of the habits I have picked up, like approaching people with a positive spirit rather than a negative one, staying with a task until it is finished, taking good care of my personal belongings, keeping my shoes shined, speaking up rather than mumbling, respecting authority, and standing alone (if necessary) in support of my personal convictions rather than giving in to more popular opinions. For these things I am deeply indebted to the man who raised me.”[i]
Even as I write this I am surrounded by hand-me-downs from my own father.
“Captain’s Quarters” reads the wooden plaque in the office below the portrait of my dad whose white beard more resembles the tangled meanderings of a lost spider which never could quite get correct a web’s intricate pattern.
Not one but two Willits canoes are suspended from the ceiling, one in the sales room the other in the meeting room, the later complete with a 48-square-foot butterfly sail and both boats boasting 7,000 copper tacks: “floating masterpieces.”
If you’ve ever dined in a Ram Restaurant, chances are above your table and the one next to that and the one next to that is a 62-foot eight-oared rowing boat constructed by George Yeoman Pocock who “didn’t just build racing shells. He sculpted them.”[ii]
To remember the glory days of championships and craftsmanship, those sleek, slender craft were burnished and furnished, restored and delivered, by my father.
First time visitors to the boathouse here frequently say it’s like entering a different world. Then they ask if anything is for sale? Relics of a bygone era are displayed everywhere – from an ancient woodworking wooden plane to a fully restored 1928 Model A, to Chris-Crafts whose ownership, “in some circles, was considered de rigueur.”
The likes of Dean Martin, Katherine Hepburn, Henry Ford, William Randolph Hearst, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley owned Chris-Crafts.
So did my dad.
And no, nothing is for sale. Fishing tackle yes but anything dad touched, no.
My father’s fingerprints are all over this place and, for that matter, all over my life.
His love for wood and attention to detail – not to mention vision – in taking scrap lumber from the shop floor and fashioning and sanding it into the exact shape and size of the original blade to replace those missing from Pocock oars; the long-haul, patient persistent pursuit of a goal; the pride of accomplishment in taking something someone had perhaps discarded and making it shine again – these have far less to do with stuff as they have to do with substance.
Such hand-me-downs are a father’s primary task.
[i] Man to Man, pp.366,367
[ii] “The Boys in the Boat” – By Daniel James Brown. “Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics,” p.136.