Memories: The Workbench

 

Had a couple of dreams last night. They were the first dreams of or about my father that I’ve had since he died in June. One of them was about his workbench. In the dream, the workbench was different than it was in real life, and of course, there were strange bits of non-history in the dream. That’s just how dreams flow.

When my parents were young and struggling, before I was even born, my father built a couch. It was much cheaper than buying one, and it served their needs for several years. It was a fairly simple affair. It had an L-shaped base made from something that looked like a couple of old solid-wood doors joined together with legs that were perhaps eight inches to a foot high placed around it. That made a flat base. Then there were two large, flat cushions with a sort of plastic cover on the base and two longer wedge-profile cushions that made up the back of the couch. That was it. I wish I could describe the cushion covers better. On the exposed sides, they were a sort of mottled red. On the other sides, it was similarly mottled gray trying to be white or silver. It was the early 1960s and, for a young couple with little boys, it was serviceable.

I’m not certain how old I was when the great changes happened. We lived in a raised ranch house. I think that it was officially a three-bedroom home. The family room was downstairs in the raised basement. And next to the family room was another room that my father used for a den. Upstairs, my parents had the master bedroom, my eldest brother had the smallest bedroom, and my middle brother and I shared a slightly larger corner bedroom. Also on that upper floor was the formal living room. My parents, probably my mother in truth, decided that it was time that my middle brother and I had separate rooms. My eldest brother was moved downstairs to what had been Dad’s den. Since there were no closets in his new “bedroom,” they bought portable metal wardrobes. My middle brother got the small bedroom, and I received the large bedroom. I believe that was my middle brother’s choice, although I don’t remember why. As part of the deal, my father got the upstairs formal living room as his new den.

The better, formal living room furniture went into the family room downstairs. The main components of the family room furniture, Dad’s big leather chair and the couch he had built came upstairs. And then the true transformation began. Dad built walls to enclose his new den and separate it from the hallway that went down to the bedrooms. As the centerpiece of this construction, he replaced the old eight-inch legs of the couch base with three-foot (or so) legs that were made more for a kitchen table. This transformed the base of the couch into a workbench. He had the long end against a windowless wall, and then built a wall on the short side of the L.

That wall had shelves inside and out. On the inside, Dad had books. On the outside, the shelves were filled with a collection of old Avon decanters, formerly filled with colognes and aftershaves. Those of a certain age might remember. There were decanters shaped like old cars and planes and busts of Presidents and I don’t remember what else. They were just the sort of thing a woman might get her husband for a gift, and my mother did.

Leaving a gap as a doorway, Dad built another similar wall on the other side to finish the enclosure. Against that wall, he put his desk, which he had brought up from his former den. And that made up his den: his desk, his big chair, a stool for working at the workbench, and his mighty workbench.

When we were still little, we would sometimes crawl up there on the workbench to watch as he was working on things. There was also quite a lot of room under the bench, and I would sometimes hide there from my elder brothers.

Years later, when Dad was getting the house ready to sell, he converted the den back into a formal living room. He removed the old walls. I don’t know what he did with the old workbench that had once been the base of a couch, and perhaps, even before that had been a couple of solid wood doors.

Do you have any similar memories of some object from your childhood?

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  1. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    It’s interesting that you bring up workbenches, because I had just decided that I need a workbench in the garage. I have a table saw, router table, miter saw, drill press, etc. but no workbench. I had figured I didn’t want one, because past experience told me it would be just a place to get cluttered. But now it appears I can’t get along without one.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a couch to take apart to make one.  We do have a couch that needs to be dismantled and disappear, but it wouldn’t make a workbench.

    It’s interesting how these living spaces can be so important to us.  It used to be very important to me to remember the spaces in the house where we lived when I was 3-4 years old. Before they died, I had my parents verify my memories – the unusual stairs to the 2nd floor, etc., and it seems I had it mostly right. Now that they’re gone, I still find it important, but it’s different because there is nobody else to care about those things.  Some of my younger siblings were there, but they were too young to remember any of it.  Do you compare memories with your siblings?

    I inherited my father’s typing table; it’s currently the table that holds my color printer.  In response to one of the posts about Boris Johnson reciting the Illiad in Greek, I mentioned going into my father’s office and seeing Dad’s Greek New Testament opened to the coming Sunday’s scripture readings. He would encourage my interest in a matter-of-fact way. The bible was usually lying on or near that typing table.  I also learned to type at that table, and attained a high enough speed to impress my colleagues. The coming of computer keyboards has ruined my speed and accuracy, though. 

    I also have the toy box he had made out of a small shipping crate and covered with wallpaper. When I no longer needed a toy box he took it back and made it into a workshop cabinet with crude little drawers for small parts.  I had always thought of it as mine, though, and that he shouldn’t have taken it.  But if he hadn’t taken it back and re-purposed it, I wouldn’t have it now.  It sits out in our barn. I want to have some decent cabinets above my workbench, but I probably will find a place to hang that one, too.  

     

    • #1
  2. PHCheese Member
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    When I was seven we moved into a new house. It had an extra large garage. My dad saw some plans for a storage unit with a work bench in Popular Mechanics magazine. He and I built the forever known from then on the “project”.  It took months for us to complete. I wish I knew more about the actual wood for the work top of the work bench. I do know that it was inch and half white ash that was  tongue and groove. I don’t know where it came from or how it became T&G. I do know it was the hardest wood known to man. It was so hard you could not drive a nail into it. It defied drill bits. They snapped like Tooth picks. After my dad died and my mom sold the house I didn’t have room for it and she gave it away from a classified ad in the paper. Someone got a real deal.

    • #2
  3. MeanDurphy Member
    MeanDurphy
    @DeanMurphy

    There was an old wooden box at my Grandma’s house, built by my Grandpa (the same one that made several inlaid coffee tables).

    It was dark reddish wood, sturdy, about 2 cubic feet, and it contained the wooden equivalent of LEGO blocks.

     

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    There was an old wooden box at my Grandma’s house, built by my Grandpa (the same one that made several inlaid coffee tables).

    It was dark reddish wood, sturdy, about 2 cubic feet, and it contained the wooden equivalent of LEGO blocks.

    That sounds interesting. Did the blocks interlock?

    • #4
  5. MeanDurphy Member
    MeanDurphy
    @DeanMurphy

    Arahant (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    There was an old wooden box at my Grandma’s house, built by my Grandpa (the same one that made several inlaid coffee tables).

    It was dark reddish wood, sturdy, about 2 cubic feet, and it contained the wooden equivalent of LEGO blocks.

    That sounds interesting. Did the blocks interlock?

    Yes, they were about half as thick as a standard LEGO block, with 2 rows of 4 pegs.  The pegs were slightly conical to keep them from pushing all the way through the block.

    They were also textured on the edges to look like a flight of bricks.

    Found them:

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Found them:

    •  

    Very nifty.

    • #6
  7. MeanDurphy Member
    MeanDurphy
    @DeanMurphy

    Arahant (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Found them:

    •  

    Very nifty.

    Apparently they were produced by a company named Halsam.

    • #7
  8. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Found them:

    •  

    Very nifty.

    Apparently they were produced by a company named Halsam.

    I can’t believe you still have these. That same company made these American Log building sets. I used to have one. It was great… and it was at least 60 years ago!

    • #8
  9. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    cdor (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Found them:

    •  

    Very nifty.

    Apparently they were produced by a company named Halsam.

    I can’t believe you still have these. That same company made these American Log building sets. I used to have one. It was great… and it was at least 60 years ago!

    These things are much more interesting than my story about a couch that became a workbench. Either of you want to write something up on them?

    • #9
  10. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    Arahant (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Found them:

    •  

    Very nifty.

    Apparently they were produced by a company named Halsam.

    I can’t believe you still have these. That same company made these American Log building sets. I used to have one. It was great… and it was at least 60 years ago!

    These things are much more interesting than my story about a couch that became a workbench. Either of you want to write something up on them?

    I wish I could remember more, @arahant, but that is all I got right now. Maybe I’ll have a dream tonight and come back tomorrow.

    • #10
  11. MeanDurphy Member
    MeanDurphy
    @DeanMurphy

    cdor (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Found them:

    •  

    Very nifty.

    Apparently they were produced by a company named Halsam.

    I can’t believe you still have these. That same company made these American Log building sets. I used to have one. It was great… and it was at least 60 years ago!

    No, I found the picture, the bricks are long gone.

    • #11
  12. MeanDurphy Member
    MeanDurphy
    @DeanMurphy

    Arahant (View Comment):

    cdor (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    MeanDurphy (View Comment):

    Found them:

    •  

    Very nifty.

    Apparently they were produced by a company named Halsam.

    I can’t believe you still have these. That same company made these American Log building sets. I used to have one. It was great… and it was at least 60 years ago!

    These things are much more interesting than my story about a couch that became a workbench. Either of you want to write something up on them?

    They sat in a hinge topped box between a desk and the heating register in my Grandma’s living room.  I would play with them for hours.  Occasionally they would break, or the nubs would get pushed in, or lost.  If they were only pushed in, they could be pushed out again sometimes.  I didn’t like the yellow ones and wished they were all red.  I don’t know what happened to them when Grandma died, I think my uncle Bob got them.

    • #12
  13. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Arahant (View Comment):
    These things are much more interesting than my story about a couch that became a workbench. Either of you want to write something up on them?

    I had a couch that had been part of a 6-piece, $700 living room set when I moved into my first unfurnished apartment. The stuff was made from 2x4s and 2x6s. It was very simply constructed. Years later I was finally planning on getting another couch. I told my dad while my folks were visiting me that I wanted to disassemble it and throw it away. While I was at work, he took it apart, cut it up, and built a computer desk out of the pieces. I still have the desk.

    • #13
  14. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    December’s theme is “Memories.” Thanks to everyone who chipped in; the month is filled. If you have not been following these closely, do stop by the handy guide to monthly themes and browse a bit.

    January’s theme will be up late Saturday or by midday Sunday.

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    December’s theme is “Memories.” Thanks to everyone who chipped in; the month is filled. If you have not been following these closely, do stop by the handy guide to monthly themes and browse a bit.

    January’s theme will be up late Saturday or by midday Sunday.

    Is January up yet?

    • #15
  16. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    December’s theme is “Memories.” Thanks to everyone who chipped in; the month is filled. If you have not been following these closely, do stop by the handy guide to monthly themes and browse a bit.

    January’s theme will be up late Saturday or by midday Sunday.

    Is January up yet?

    Why, yes, it is: “The Winter of Our Discontent.”

    • #16
  17. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    December’s theme is “Memories.” Thanks to everyone who chipped in; the month is filled. If you have not been following these closely, do stop by the handy guide to monthly themes and browse a bit.

    January’s theme will be up late Saturday or by midday Sunday.

    Is January up yet?

    Why, yes, it is: “The Winter of Our Discontent.”

    Made glorious summer by this sun of … umm … York? Sergeant?

    One of them.

    • #17

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