A Rich Inheritance
I passed on my mother’s Wedgwood
and took the tools
After his death, I got the tools. It’s all I wanted, and I wanted them because I needed them. Micrometers and taps and dies and saw files and feeler gauges coated in oil and tucked into Sweet Caporal tobacco tins. And homemade wrenches beaten and welded into odd shapes and meant for hard-to-reach nuts for who-knows-what. In a notebook, hand-drawn diagrams noted dimensions for parts to be made: spacers, sprockets, and punches to drive rumbling bearings from their races. The toolbox could be a museum. Happily, it isn’t.
My father, with a punch ground to a sharp tip, initialed the most expensive tools so they wouldn’t migrate to someone else’s toolbox at work. Occasionally, it’s his first and last initials—MG—but mostly it’s just G. These are the first tools I used as a kid. I’ve never known them without the G. And because I’m a G, too, I don’t normally notice the inscriptions. When you’re in the midst of taking a shock off a bike, and worried it may flop onto its flanks, there isn’t time for rumination.
It’s hard not to make the dead even more dead. Shrines on a shelf (fading photographs, a framed certificate or two) reduce a life to lifeless. But my father’s tools are with me at road races and get knocked into the grass after dark at dusty flat tracks. They even tagged along beneath the seat of my VW bus on my honeymoon to Cape Cod.
Early last spring, with Copeland’s Appalachian Spring crackling in from an upstate New York NPR station, I was in the garage after midnight. I was putting the front end back on the 888, and just as I was about to tighten the steering stem nut, my thumb, which was coated in grease from the headstock bearings, slid up the body of the Snap-On ratchet. As my thumb travelled over the G, it was like reading braille. I was startled into awareness of what had become familiar. I imagined my father resting the tool in a v-block and punching in his initial 40 years ago. And then I imagined him, after seeing me hesitate mid-way through a task, saying, “What’s gotten into you?” That snapped me out of it. Up went the fork tubes and on went the wheel and back onto the front wheel stand went the Ducati. Stability—for all in the garage that night—had been regained.
"After his death, I got the tools. Micrometers and taps and dies and saw files and feeler gauges coated in oil and tucked into Sweet Caporal tobacco tins"