Finding Romance in My Workshop
By Richard Connolly
“I started in the shop when I was four,” my ten-year-old grandson announced to his younger brother, Carson.
That day four years ago, Harrison, fearless and impulsive, wore safety glasses and a denim carpenter’s apron that my wife, Mary, had purchased. A small hammer dangled from its loop.
With his little hands in mine, we slowly drew the blade of my radial arm saw across pieces of scrap. After several passes, he blurted, “Papa, this is really exciting!”
It certainly was, until Harrison told his parents. They were apoplectic.
Thus was born the rule, “Whatever happens in the shop, stays in the shop.” He delights in repeating it to Carson, age eight, and adds another: “Remember: shop safety!”
With their cousins, Devin and Kaden, I made stilts we tested at Nantasket Beach. Strangers smiled and were intrigued, especially another little boy.
While I helped him climb the stilts, then six-year-old Kadenslipped the father a business card that reads: Papa’s Workshop, Stilts for Kids. Devin, who was eight, did the same, and all accepted it with respect and amusement.
The idea sprang from Mary, whom the boys call Nonie.
She appreciates my need for special time alone with them and rarely visits the workshop when we are there. Mary videos the boys vacuuming sawdust with the energy and persistence of the squirrels that once plundered the bird feeder in my yard.
Nonie brings us freshly baked brownies or cookies – gluten, peanut, egg, or dairy free. The treats are not all that is warm in the workshop; my heart is, too.
Mary cringes at the screaming saws, router, and planer. “Although I hear the sound of power and danger, I know you are in control. I have confidence you can handle the situation safely,” she said. “Watching you protecting our grandchildren and teaching them makes me feel loving towards you.”
“Really! What happens when I work around the house or make something without them?”
“It’s nice to know you can do things rather than hire someone, that you have ability. You show me you care about what we have worked to build together. I feel loving.”
Then I remembered reading Why Mars and Venus Collide. Its author, John Gray, examines household chores and projects and their potential to increase testosterone in men and oxytocin in women. While higher testosterone may decrease the man’s stress, more oxytocin causes the woman to feel loving towards him.
If only I had known earlier! How many men know now?
Chris Aimola of Squantum does, although he never read the book and has no shop. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and their two children in an older home. “I have done pretty much everything: tiling, carpentry, plumbing, electrical,” he said. “I love to do it because I get a sense of satisfaction. I got it from my grandfather.”
“He is so talented and creative, a perfectionist,” Lisa said. “The end result is always something we can enjoy as a family. I have a sense of happiness.”
“You get benefits,” Chris revealed, a sparkle in his eye.
“Carhartt shorts and construction boots is a good look,” Lisa added with a smile.
Whereas Chris had a role model, Mary and I had none. Our mothers raised us, and we never knew our fathers. I met her maternal grandfather, an Italian mason who called me a bum. She said it meant he liked me.
My grandfathers had died before I was born or shortly thereafter. My mother’s father was a cooper, a highly skilled craftsman, whose wooden mallet rests on my fireplace mantle.
Everything I know about building homes, remodeling them, or woodworking I learned by observation, reading, or experimentation. Like Chris, I am a perfectionist, and woodworking is the perfect outlet for that affliction.
“I admire the fact that you had none of those skills but learned them on your own and are now passing them along to our grandsons,” Mary said. “This is one more way that you have woven our family together.”
We did not bypass our children, Mark and Lisa. As teens, they helped me build the basement recreation rooms where trains, games, scrap wood blocks, TV, Ping-Pong, pool, and air-hockey now await their sons.
I have also worked on their homes to add to the quality of their lives while saving them thousands of dollars.“ I like to see you helping our children. It makes me feel good,” Mary said.
The boys finished wooden hand puppets and performed “A Problem in the Ancient Forest” on Christmas Day 2013 and in 2014 the musical “A Mystery in the Ancient Forest,” both based on “Tales of the Ancient Forest,” a fable I wrote for them several years ago.
Bear, Fox, Wise Old Owl, Beaver, and Wolf face myriad difficulties they can overcome only by teamwork, planning, and strong character. Mary delivered the lines for the boys to repeat, I produced the playbills and narrated, and the parents and great-grandmother and aunt nearly swooned.
The shop is the boy’s favorite place in my home, and they are working on Ping-Pong guns or anything their imaginations can produce from the scrap pile. There we build our family and bond through teamwork, planning, strong character, and boundless love.