I was reading Ethan’s blog this morning, and it pricked something in my heart that has been there for a few years now, but more recently surfaced for me. I understand the emotions and concerns that Ethan has for his good friend, and I am glad he is there to help “Bob” with it. I had been wondering what I had to say that had some meaning this week, since I see that Ethan has driven right on past me since I alerted him to the competition of posts a couple of weeks ago. Then, as I was thinking through Ethan’s situation with Bob, it hit me what I should write about. I’ll feel better for it, even if I am the only one to read it to the end.
I can get very over-dramatic at times, and my wife often calls me the “Drama-King.” At least you know that as you read. My wife is the type that tells you, “just tape an aspirin to it and keep going, quit whining.” She is the daughter of a nurse.
Before I can get to “Pop’s Tools” I first need to set the stage, so you will understand where I am coming from this morning.
A Real Pain in the Gut:
Last week, I had a terrible, rolling on the floor, holding my gut in pain, type Tuesday evening. I tried first to tell myself it was something I had eaten, but I knew better. Then, it quit and I fell asleep for a couple of hours. Then, it hit me again, and so I drove myself to the emergency room at the hospital.
My wife was homebound with two kids with the flu, so I had to drive myself. I didn’t check into the hospital, as the pain subsided again as I was entering the hospital, so I sat in the waiting room for a couple of hours before deciding I could safely go back home. The nurses were concerned and so we called the doctor on the phone (small town hospital). He said that it sounded like gall bladder issues, and told me to schedule a sonogram in the morning.
Long Story, Shortened:
The sonogram shows some abnormalities with my gall bladder, either a polyp, a stone, or a sludge bump. I watched the screen of the sonogram, so I had to finally agree that something didn’t look right. I came home and went back to work. A few hours later the doctor’s office called saying that I had a “polyp” and needed to meet with a surgeon. I wasn’t prepared for this, and so I told them I would call them back, but didn’t even get the name or phone number of who to call back. I sat down at the computer and did a quick google search for “gall bladder polyp”. What I discovered is that there is a rare, small chance that a polyp could be cancerous, and is nearly always fatal. There was a lot of other information about how simple the surgery is, how quick people recover, how many millions of people live every day with a polyp, and the ease of living without a gall bladder after surgery.
I’ve Got to be Dying!
But, what do you think the “Drama-King” focused on? You’re right, I thought I was dying. I shut down the computer and went back out to the shop and tried to occupy myself for a while working on the church altar. I couldn’t focus well at all, and started to turn my thoughts to what I would do with my collection of tools. Who would I give them to, sell them to, and how to unload all of it before my wife was left to deal with it alone? I stood there and slowly turned my eyes around the small shop and took it all in. How did I get so much stuff?
Sure, the “Drama-King” focuses on the negative right away, but was it really negative? You see, we all have a “terminal diagnosis.” We don’t like to think about it, we try to avoid the thought, but deep down, we all know that our “time” is coming.
One Poet Put it This Way:
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)
Another mysterious writer put it this way:
“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,
So, since Ethan and his friend Bob are facing a tough transition, I was reminded of my own terminal thoughts last week. I have also several times in the past been involved with friends and acquaintances that are facing tough decisions about what to do with a loved one’s tools.
Deeper Bonds With The Tools:
There is something emotional, deep, and stronger in the heart of these tools that reaches beyond their ability to just help us work wood. Each of these tools we all own and use, leave deep bonds for our heirs. Our loved ones left with the decision of how to dispose of the stuff, all care deeply that it was our hands that held those pieces of metal and wood. If you read a biography of an artist, there will always be lots of photographs of the “hands” working the tools. It is the meaning of the “hands” that causes the deep bonds with the tools. Our loved ones remember the things we made with the tools, the joy it brought us and them. To them, the tools are a piece of us.
So, how does an heir part with that? Well, some families don’t. Other families want to get the cash and head out of town fast, back to their own lives. One thing I have found is that there are some consistent patterns for most of us though.
One time about 5-6 years ago, my old farmer, and much loved Grandfather, Boppy, called to say that he wanted me to come to the farm and take any of the tools I wanted. I only needed to leave some basic hand tools to fix the mower, and an old ball-peen for each of my cousins to have. He explained how he had lived long enough to reach the place in his life where he realized that he couldn’t use the tools anymore, but he still had a say over what happened to them. And, he wanted me to have them, just come and get them. So, I took a vacation day from the “Man”, and made the trip.
One of the items Boppy gifted me is a little pea-green Black & Decker jig saw from the 1960’s that I used on Saturday again. The type of thing you could buy at a garage sale for $2.00, but will offer only a $1.00 for. I love that little tool, not because it works well, or smells good when it is turned on, nor does it cut straight, but I love it because it belonged to “Boppy,” and it is hard to use it without tearing up and feeling my love for him. He still lives well into his 90’s, surviving more than a decade with untreated Prostate Cancer. When I went through Boppy’s tools alone that day in the barn, I held each wrench and screwdrivers with broken handles, and each punch with a chipped point, and I remembered the days when I worked with him repairing that old farm equipment with those tools. Sure, I know, they are just tools, but it is the memory of them being used by Boppy that is the treasure. Now, you know why my wife calls me the “Drama King.”
Almost a Dulcimer Maker:
Another pivotal moment in my life occurred a couple of years after meeting a very nice man who had a small Mountain Dulcimer making shop. He delightfully gave me a tour, and told me about the good old days, and how many he had sold over the years. He had suffered a tough accident with the table saw, and only had about half of his pinky and half of his thumb on his left hand. He still tried to work, but it slowed him. It was a great tour, and I was excited about the thought of doing something like that.
Then, a couple of years later, I heard the news that he had suffered a stroke, and was paralyzed on the right side of his body, not being able to see, or move his right side arm, or leg. Hmmm, I thought about poor Mr. Bruner and his inspirational attitude of never giving up.
A few months went by, and I couldn’t get out of my mind whether I was to be the one to keep his Dulcimer dreams alive and carry on the business. I could take over the work, modify the product, change the marketing, improve the details of the work, add some artistic dimensions and inlay, and double or triple the prices. This all sounded like a good way to spend a life.
So, one day I gathered the courage, without telling my wife, and I called him and offered to buy his business out. My wife in the other room suddenly overhead my question, and started yelling nice things at me about needing to talk with her first. But, I was concentrating on what the man was saying, and I can’t remember clearly what she was saying, only the tone of it. Mr. Bruner thought about it for awhile, and decided that he was going to recover, and that he would need the shop in a few months and would be back to work.
So, seeing his answer as a closed door to my prayers, I moved on and spent my money buying the little farm house we are living in now, and I took a job in the Big City for the “Man” again. Not more than a month later, I received a call from the Dulcimer Man’s brother, stating that the family had done the legal work to rule him incompetent to run his own affairs, and the family wanted to know if I still wanted the business.
I had just given a large load of cash and a check to the title company for our house, so I didn’t have the money to do it. So, I said, “yes, I want to, but no, I can’t.” Someone else bought the shop, so it lives on.
What I was left with after that experience, was the feeling that a person has to realistically look at their situation, or your family will be forced to do it for you. Another “gem” I learned, is to always ask the spouse first, before offering to buy a business and spending all of the money on it.
The Great Tool Ministry:
I feel that a great “ministry” that we can do for each other involves helping others with those end-of-woodworking-days transition we are all destined to have. I have bought a bunch of stuff at woodworker’s auctions over the years, and they are great memories, great tools, and for me, some great stories to tell some day.
For most of us, it will be the heirs of our stuff that will be forced to figure out what to do with our tools. In most cases, this responsibility can have the power to paralyze surviving spouses and children into worrying about what to do. For some, like Ethan’s friend Bob, he has to watch it happen, but he will gain comfort from knowing that he has trusted friends to help him. This is, of course, not something any of us want to do. However, many of us should really face the decision head-on, being informed, and with courage, make our wishes known.
Earlier in my Blogging, I told the story of the “Little Craftsman Desk” that was in the home of a family dealing with the overwhelming work of disposing of their parent’s possessions, so I won’t repeat that story here.
Always Take a Flashlight:
However, another event that shaped my life occurred about two years ago, when I met a woman who’s father had recently died. She said he had been a woodworker, and she wanted to know if I would go through his stack of wood and see if there was something I wanted. She told me that all of the wood was in the attic above the garage, and that it would be hard to get to, dirty, and hot. I remember only thinking when I heard that, “Note to Self: ‘take a flashlight and ladder’.”
I think I waited a day, but not more than two days before I made the trip to see the attic. What I found was a lot of scrap wood from old kitchen cabinets, nothing of any use to me, but I offered to get it out of the attic for them if that would be helpful. They said to leave it all up there, so that is what we did. The widow decided that the next person to own the house could deal with it. How many things are like that in this world?
After brushing myself off from the attic spelunking, I was asked if I would look at the tools in the basement shop. At first, the widow was nervous about having me come into her house, so she didn’t offer the chance to see the shop. But, after the attic adventure, she offered the trip to the basement.
Once down the stairs, I immediately started drooling over the machinist lathe, and a large collection of machinist vises and clamps and measuring tools. It was quickly obvious that this woodworker was more of a metal machinist, than a woodworker, although he enjoyed working in wood some. He had worked at the local aircraft plant, and like so many other men of his age in Wichita, was a great machinist, being trained at the airplane plants. I have a wood lathe, and a Legacy Ornamental Mill, but a machinist lathe and a three axis-milling machine are both tools I would love to have, as well as a CompuCarver (yes, I admit it now). I found the lathe on this trip, and found the milling machine in another trip to a family’s home who was disposing of tools. I now have neither of them, for good reason, as you will see below.
What’s It Worth?
As I talked with the Widow and Daughter, I started getting drawn more into the questions about what “Pop’s” tools were worth. The widow needed the money. I wanted the tools. I didn’t want anyone else to find out about the tools, as it would surely run up the price. The daughter and widow were completely naïve to what they had stored in the basement. What to do? “Think, Think, Think –quick.” I was getting a Proverbial Pain in the Gut, and it was not enjoyable.
As I stood there in the cramped basement shop, I came to an “epiphany moment” in my struggle between the Light and Dark sides of life. I made the decision to run for the “light” and forget about what the “dark” promised. I quickly came up with a few principles that I think were healthy for the situation and I will share as they may also help someone else facing this type of situation:
1) I recommended to the two ladies that they first take a look at their family, extended family, and close friends and see who would most benefit from getting pieces of Pop’s tool collection. I explained that getting uncle Pop’s lathe could encourage a nephew, or niece, to take up a hobby they had never considered, nor had shown any ability to do before. Also, the family members would have something tangible to remember Pop by, and to pass on to their heirs with the story attached. The downside, is that family members are probably not going to pay for anything, so to raise some funds for the widow, I recommended that she save the big tool items for a Sale, and give a special pipe wrench, or carving set, or something like to the family members as a token of Pop’s memory.
2) To keep my own desires out of the question, I made the decision that I would not buy any of the items myself. Because, once I started trying to sort out the prices, my own desire to get the stuff was so tainting my appraisals, that I was feeling terrible. (I often wonder how the “appraisers” on those TV shows that have day-job businesses selling the type of items they are appraising deal with these ethical issues). Maybe they don’t.
I decided to decline all of the tools, even the ones that were given to me for helping with the appraisal work. Then, I could with a pure heart and motivation, give them honest appraisals with the real value. This worked great for me and my sensitive Gut, as now I wasn’t being torn in two by feelings of guilt, tempted to undervalue the items for my own benefit.
For instance I would hold a 20” Machinist quality “C” clamp in my hand and nearly drool on it. I only have Harbor Freight “C” clamps, and this clamp that had been carefully hung with it’s dozens of brothers and sisters on a pipe suspended from the basement ceiling joints decidedly looked much better than my own. So, I was met with a tough decision between the “light” and “dark”.
For instance I could say, “…Oh, I say these old clamps are worth about $5/each, they are pretty old and will need to be cleaned up (just wiped off).” All, the while I could see myself sprinting up and down the stairs loading them up. I think the widow would have trusted me at that price that day. But, what would she think after someone else heard about my sprinting up the stairs and burn-out marks in the driveway, and informed her of the real value. I have decided that I am more concerned about the Lasting Legacy than the cheap tool here and there that turn up in my life.
So, I decided to tell the Widow that they were probably worth between $25-$50/each at least, and that I couldn’t afford them, none of them. She wrote the figures in her little note pad. We moved onto another pile of tools. And so it went for a couple of hours. Item after item I coveted, but I stuck to my earlier principle and freely, with a pure heart, gave her what I thought the tools were worth, used, in the real world.
3) I recommended three options for selling the items: A) eBay B) estate auction C) estate sale
The widow had considered a garage sale, and I recommended that she not do that because she would get the least amount for the tools, and there would be no network of people to protect her interests. In any of the three methods I suggested, the widow’s interests all line up with the people helping her to sell the items, as they all want to see the most money from each item.
At a garage sale, nobody will protect the widow. I used to have garage sales. I became so sick of people seeing a $0.10 sticker on something and then offering to pay a $0.05 for it, that I decided about 15 years ago to never have a garage sale again. If I have something that other people could use, I feel better about just giving it to them, than spending weeks getting ready for a sale to only have people mull over my stuff and offer me a Nickel for it. The widow in this story didn’t know anything about eBay, so I told the daughter where she could visit several different store fronts in town that would take items and sell them for her on eBay. She liked that idea, being able to just carry it in, and then wait for the Check, less the commission, of course.
Full Heart with An Empty Trunk:
I went home that night after digging through the widow’s basement and attic, and I was exhausted and drained. All the way to their house earlier, I had big excited images of all of the great stuff I would be the first to see and get a chance to get at a great price. Going home, I felt much better, as I had a “full heart” and an “empty trunk.”
The Greedy Nephew:
What ended up happening is that a favorite nephew of Pop was picked out to receive one of the big tools, the machinist lathe that I had wanted. When I was called with this happy news and the thanks for helping them, I was delighted to learn that this favorite nephew would get the chance to make things on the lathe. The nephew was of course delighted, and came to get it quickly.
After the nephew came and took the lathe, about everything else was missing also. The widow called me one night a couple of weeks later in tears telling me the story about how the nephew took almost everything, way more than what he was told he could have.
The nephew went for the Dark Side, and had been telling her as he carried each box up the stairs that everything he was taking was associated with the lathe.
So, she would ask me:
“Mark would you consider all of the “C” clamps to be part of the Lathe?”
“Mark, would you consider that set of machinist calipers part of the lathe?
“Mark, would you consider that drill press part of the Lathe?”
“Mark, would you consider…....?”
And, on and on she went with the sad questions.
He had taken almost everything of any value from the basement shop, and only left the old 1960’s Sears tools for her to sell. You know, those old power tools that show up in every garage sale that people offer you $1.00 for when you have a $2.00 sticker on it?
The widow wanted to know what she should do. I was stuck in a hard spot, being asked for advice again to fix what happened after the last time I gave advice to her.
“Think, think, think –quick.” So, I just decided to do something I have seen in “counseling”, and decided to just ask questions and let her make her own decisions. I would say, “How does that make you feel?” Or, “what do you want to do about it?” and on and on I questioned.
After each answer she gave me, I could sense the strength and resolve growing up in her. She finally said that after she got off the phone with me, she was going to call the greedy nephew and demand that he bring everything back, and she had a list of what that would be (because of my help that one night at her house).
I don’t know what happened, she offered a high quality wrench to me for helping her out, but I never took her up on the offer. Sometimes afterward, I have wondered if I might have offended her by not taking the wrench. In that situation again, I might have taken the wrench, gone home, and written her a nice thank you card. I think it would have meant more to her than my saying, “no thankyou.”
Each Situation is Unique:
Learning these Principles that I use today when faced with sticky family heirloom tool situations, hasn’t come without pain and bad mistakes though. I have learned that every situation is unique, that people’s hearts and emotions can be hurt depending on my advice.
About a dozen years ago I was studying the materials offered by Howard Dayton and the late-Larry Burkett on finances. One of the principles that they offered was to always pay the true market value for something, even if you could get it cheaper at the time. They felt that it was better to pay what something is worth, than to take advantage of someone. I didn’t like the advice then, but I have come to see the wisdom now.
For instance, if I have information about an item I want to buy, that somebody selling the item doesn’t know, I am obligated to give them the same information and make a deal based on both of us being informed of the facts.
The wisdom displayed is that now both of us can see each other on the sidewalk afterward and still be friends. Isn’t that more important than a little profit on someone else’s naivety? I realize the world doesn’t work this way, but maybe it should. Would we have a need for attorneys? Yes, probably so, but maybe not so many of them.
If the world worked this way, it would change everything. Think about it. No more stories of how a person on the Antique Roadshow paid $2 for a hand made basket at a church fund raising bazaar, only to sell it later to a museum for thousands of dollars. Every time I hear one of those stories on the TV show, I yell at the people in the TV, “…are you going back to split that windfall with the person you bought it from!!!?” Of course, they aren’t, but maybe they should.
I know that I am “off base” and a “Drama-King” and a self-proclaimed “Day Dreamer” and “hard to work with”, but maybe this world could be made easier if more of us looked out after each other’s interests more. At least us woodworkers could do so. Who else understands the pain and emotion involved with giving up a lifetime collection of beloved tools?
Good fortune to you Ethan, you will be blessed man by helping out your friend.
James 4:1-3 (NIV)
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive; because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Thanks, and have a good day,
(Protected by copywrite, all rights reserved, M.A. DeCou 2-26-2007)
-- Mark DeCou - American Contemporary Craft Artisan - www.decoustudio.com