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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?