It was my father’s proudest moment — the morning I called to say I needed to take the tool belt and hammer to work.
Forget my two university graduations. Forget that NCAAs when I made All-American. Forget the afternoon I got the phone call offering me the job at the gallery. Forget the day when I tell him I’m engaged. No, my father is proudest when I’m fixing things.
When I was 5, my favorite toys were wooden blocks (read: cut-up wood scraps from my father’s basement tool shop), a small black hammer, and nails. There was not a Barbie to be found. Instead, I built things. Tables. Chairs. Houses. They were rudimentary, but they kept me occupied and were sturdy enough to survive Armageddon.
Eventually, I went on to junior high school and wood shop where I put my hammering skills to use making spice racks and stylized end tables and rocket-powered race cars. I was teacher’s pet — when the local newspaper came to highlight our school’s “technology” program, I was the chosen spokesperson. The front page of the paper was filled with a photograph of me in a Calvin Klein sweatshirt holding up a 3D room model I designed and constructed from foamboard.
Then I discovered Bergdorf Goodman. I retired my hammer in exchange for Marc Jacobs blouses and Stuart Weitzman shoes.
Every once in a while, I find myself having an almost outer-body experience in which I’m staring down evaluating the person before me. I don’t recognize myself, and before I can ask, who is that, a flood of years past accumulate in front of my eyes — a rapid-fire timeline of moments that lead me to that current instance and answer the question dangling in the air. Recently, it’s been happening often. I guess that’s the byproduct of finding myself in a new life phase.
This week’s exhibition installation — one where my childhood aptitude for driving nails into plywood proved particularly useful — inspired one of those outer-body experiences, an unexpected fit of nostalgia. Sometimes, I look at myself and say, gee, look how far I’ve come! Today, as I stood on the step ladder, employing the same hammer that was my favorite play thing as a kid, I was relieved that some things haven’t changed.
I guess I was also grateful my father thought it prudent to teach a 5-year old girl basic carpentry skills.