This afternoon I came home from taking our calico putty-tat to the vet to find my husband assembling a pantry we’d bought for our new kitchen. He needed a spare pair of hands, and I just happened to have a couple that weren’t doing anything right then. I held the bottom corner steady and square while he put in screws. Then it was time to attach the back. “If I recall correctly, you’re a lot better at this than I am” he commented. Indeed, that’s what we had found when we had done such projects in the past, so we flipped the thing over. I looked at the hammer he had ready, then went into the garage and got my favorite hammer.
It’s a smallish tack hammer, 48 years old. I know exactly how old it is, because I’d gone to the hardware store with my daddy when he bought a hammer. I said I wanted one too, so he picked out the smallest real hammer in the store. It fit my 7 year old hand perfectly, and when we got home he showed me how to use it and not pound my own fingers. Not that he was all that adept himself; any time he went for a screwdriver or a hammer, Mom went to get the Band-aids. But I got to help with whatever he was doing. I don’t remember what the project was, but I remember how thrilled I was to be able to work with him. I was a Big Girl. I had my very own hammer!
The pantry project continued. Beloved husband started attaching hinges to the doors, saying that there were instructions for adjusting the hinges, and that it would be another thing I’d probably be better at. That led to remembering my grandfather, and how horrified he was when he found out that I was the one fixing the bathroom sink and my husband the one laying shelf paper, when we’d just moved into our first house (as opposed to apartment) type residence. When I finished and called him back, he told me I was to listen and not answer back, and then proceeded to lecture me on how it wasn’t appropriate for a woman to work on the plumbing. I had a husband; it was his job. Never mind that I knew how to do it and my husband had no clue. Never mind that it was a tight space, and that I fit better. I was female, and therefore should not be doing that. So I listened, reminding myself at frequent intervals that he had grown up in the 19-teens and early 20s, and didn’t let it bother me.
Five or ten years later, Gramps was grumbling because he was no longer physically capable of fixing his own bathroom sink, and didn’t want to spend a fortune on a plumber. He napped often by then, dozing off while he watched tv. That particular evening, I quietly went out to the garage, got the necessary tools and washers, and went to fix the dripping faucet. By the time he woke up, the tools were put away and I was sitting quietly on the couch reading. He went to the bathroom and came out with a puzzled expression. “The faucet isn’t dripping anymore” he said. “I don’t know how it happened.” I told him I had fixed it while he was asleep. “Oh” he said. “Okay.” He didn’t thank me right then (he did later), but neither did he chide me for doing something a girl “shouldn’t do”. Maybe half an hour later, as I was fixing dinner in the kitchen, his best friend called. I heard snatches of the conversation, enough to know that Gramps was telling him about the faucet. And then I heard “I tell you, Bill, that girl is something. Alisa can do anything!”
I laughed a little over the potatoes and onions in the skillet. And thought about all of that, and of how my father’s willingness to buy his little girl a hammer and my quiet, determined defiance of my grandfather’s notions of men’s work and women’s work had shaped what I learned and can do, as I finished adjusting the hinges on the pantry. They were both doing what they thought was best for me, and I love and miss them both.