My dad turned 89 on May 18.
As is tradition, I headed to Muncie, Ind., a few days before his birthday. Whenever I visit, I'm reminded why I'm stubborn, resourceful and "cheap," as our youngest child often jests. I like to think I'm frugal and practical.
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Spending time with my folks always provides a refresher course in core values, reinforced during lively conversations over card games around the kitchen table.
My dad grew up during the Great Depression in Akron, Ohio. After he served in the Navy Seabees during World War II, he went to Purdue on the G.I. Bill. He met my mother there and married her on Valentine's Day in 1947. He received his degree in industrial engineering.
From West Lafayette they moved to Muncie, where he landed a job at the Muncie Trade School to head its home building program.
After several years, my dad resigned his teaching job to become a field supervisor and estimator for a construction company. In 1953, he established his own general construction company, a business he owned and operated for more than 50 years until my brother, Jim, bought it.
During our recent visit, I was drawn into my dad's basement workshop by the distinctive smell of a hot soldering gun in use. I found him at his workbench repairing the brass coupling on a garden hose run over by my mother's car.
As we talked, I learned that workbench has moved three times with our family.
"It's a story of evolution and frugality," my dad said. And he continued to tell me what I'd never known about his workbench, the center of many home maintenance projects and creative endeavors I'd witnessed growing up.
In 1951, one of his first jobs after he quit teaching was to supervise wreckage of a cold storage unit. He said he didn't have the heart to burn the maple flooring and wall studs, so he salvaged the wood.
Meanwhile, my dad enrolled for an adult night class in woodworking at the Trade School -- the same place he'd taught -- in order to have access to power tools such as planers, jointers and saws.
I counted 17 two-by-fours in the top of the bench, glued together and held together with four steel rods for more than 60 years.
He reminisced about his night school instructor, Thamar Main. When I asked what he'd learned from him, he chuckled. "I had better training and experience, but he was a good teacher for beginners -- and very good to me."
My dad acquired a 7-inch woodworkers vice that had been broken at the Trade School. After he fixed it, he attached it to his workbench. For the first time, last week I noticed four holes had been drilled for square-headed bench dogs, accessories used in conjunction with the vice for clamping.
About 10 years later, he recalls fastening a 4-inch red machinist vice to the opposite end. When I searched online for a look-alike, I discovered the vintage vice had been built by Craftsman.
Soon after, he added a floor shelf.
Over the years, I watched my two brothers with my dad's guidance build Soap Box Derby and Pinewood Derby cars on that workbench.
A few years ago, my dad used scrap poplar to build a chest of six drawers that fits atop the storage shelf. The six solid brass drawer pulls came off the original windows, now replaced, on the home he built in 1953.
To store other items, he recently added a trundle drawer that spans the length of the workbench.
As a teen, I vividly remember my dad telling me the story about the red artificial poppy that veterans distribute the week before Memorial Day to raise funds for the unmet needs of disabled men and women who served in the military. I'm grateful.
For some time, I've tried to interest my dad in the Honor Flight, a one-day trip to Washington, D.C., for veterans to tour the World War II Memorial. He insists he's not interested. He's content to stay in Muncie with my mother, work in his garden, exercise in his home fitness center, play games on his computer and fix things on his workbench.