The last words I ever spoke to her were, “I wish I’d never been born.”
Even in my adolescent arrogance, I saw my words slice her open and cut through her pristine exterior. At the time, I was glad for it. All I’d ever wanted from her was a reaction.
Throughout my childhood, she’d been cold, distant, impossible to connect with. She was never Mom or Mommy, always Mother. Even my dad called her Mother.
She ruled our home. All decisions were hers and final. There was no negotiation or discussion. Do what you’re told or face the consequences.
The consequences were as steely as the woman who gave birth to me. I was never physically hurt but the scars on my heart and mind are more like scar tissue. A hardened damaged part of me that will never fade.
But those words, flung in her direction, as I made a grand exit, complete with slammed door, felt good. I was right. Vindicated. She’d never wanted me.
I stayed away for the weekend. Afraid to go home. Afraid to run away for good. Everyone knew where I was. Pete had been my best friend since first grade. If you couldn’t find me, look for him. I expected my father, maybe even my aunt, to come looking for me. No one expected police officers.
My first reaction was anger. How dare they send the cops? Then fear. Maybe they weren’t here for me. Maybe something happened to Pete’s brother. I quickly wished the thought away. I’d rather them take me to jail than bring sorrow to my friend’s life. I couldn’t foresee they brought sadness and guilt I might never recover from.
I don’t remember much after they said, “She didn’t make it.” I hid away deep inside myself, in a place where no one could touch me and nothing could hurt.
I came to days after the funeral when I found my father passed out in vomit and whiskey. The bottle loose in his hand. Picking it up, I considered swigging down the rest but someone needed to be sober for the meeting with Mother’s lawyer, Mr. Reilly. Because of course she had one. Of course she’d neatly planned, like a general readying for battle, for her own demise.
We sat in her study. Maybe in other family’s the study was a man’s haven, but not in mine. The dark room was Mother’s domain. I’d only been allowed to enter for lectures and the doling out of consequences. It wasn’t a place that filled me with fond memories.
“Tom, your mother left something specifically for you. She left it in my keeping about a year ago with a quick addition just before she died.”
A year before had been my first act of defiance against her, yelling, cursing, and leaving behind a slammed door. Just before she died had been my last. My face burned with shame and remorse.
He handed me a box and an envelope. Of course, they were both labeled. “Read first. Open second.” Even in death, she was directing my every movement. For once I cherished the control, happy to do as she wanted this one last time.
Her bold, florid handwriting took my breath away. This was her. As my eyes moved down the page, I heard her voice in my mind.
My darling Tom,
I know you find this hard to believe but I love you, utterly and completely. Since the moment Doctor Geffen told me I was expecting a child, I cherished the very thought of you. You do not like or appreciate my parenting these days. You feel I am cold and harsh. And you’re right. Life is not kind to anyone, certainly not me. My mother died when I was young, leaving behind only the keepsake you’ll find in the box. I fear I will do the same to you. I must tell you what I wanted my own mother to tell me but she died too soon.
You don’t agree with my methods. You don’t agree with my rules. You think me cold, distant, and uncaring. You are not wrong. The only thing I know about raising children is that you are my legacy, you are the proof that I existed. I must raise you to be the best man you can be. Not just for me or your father, but for your future.
I did not know affection as a child. My mother believed to spare the rod was to spoil the child. When my grandmother took over my care later, she thought my mother had failed in her mission and set out to beat the submission into me. I say this not to make excuses for the nights you spent in cold darkness or hours without meals, only that I knew no different. Showing love and affection as a child was forbidden. The times you put your arms around me and held on were some of the most beautiful moments of my life. My only regret is that even now I do not know how to reciprocate.
I can only hope that I have many more years to learn how to show love and affection. I fear I will not.
In the box is the pen I have used to write my journals throughout the years, the only safe haven I have ever known to express my feelings. The inscription is “Hope, Faith, Love” – things I have always longed to share with you. My hope for you is that you will be a better person than I have been. My faith is in your inherent goodness and kindness. My love for you, inadequately expressed, knows no bounds.
I love you, son.
I looked up, blinded by tears and rage. How dare she keep this to herself? And yet, I think even then, I understood. If showing affection was an offense worth a beating, how could you ever feel safe?
I opened the box and looked down at a pen that I’d never known existed. A note lay on top that said simply, “I forgive you for your anger, and I love you.”
I can tell you, 20 years later, my mother’s wish came true. I’ve broken the cycle of abuse and lack of love in our family. My kids will tell you I never leave them alone. My father says I spoil them rotten. Show me the person who was ever spoiled by hearing “I love you” on a daily basis and being hugged and kissed over and over again. The person doesn’t exist.
I write in a daily journal, as my mother did, to deal with my emotions, express myself, and leave behind a record of who I am as a man, a father, and a husband. I cling to the sentiments expressed by my mother, allowing her delayed love to wash over me and soften the scar tissue of my memories and soothe the guilt that’s never dissipated. When I die, I will leave this pen to my oldest but I will also leave behind a legacy of love and joy, nurturing and compassion, and more than a few words scratched out on paper. That is my promise, my faith, my hope, and my love.
You’d think the most important tool in my shop is my lathe. After all, it’s the mechanism I use to turn wood, create, and have items to put on my Etsy shop.
And to a certain extent, you’d be correct. The lathe is extremely important.
Another essential tool in my arsenal is my center finder.
At first glance, it’s forgettable and looks like something you’d find in a middle school math class. Without it, I can’t turn spindles, put pens together correctly, or do almost anything in the shop.
Robert Larson Center Finder
My center finder is the Robert Larson Center Finder. You can find one at almost any tool store or woodworking shop. This one comes from Amazon which, as I’m finding, can be a decent source for finding the best price on some items.
It’s made of plastic and looks like almost nothing, but for me, it’s absolutely vital to have.
The Robert Larson Center finder works on nearly every shape and cut of wood. It can find the center on square, round, octagon, or hexagons, depending on what you’re working with and what kind of project you have.
Why It’s Important to Find the Center
You don’t have to be a woodworker to understand the importance of having wood and something to shape and cut that wood. But you might wonder why such a small tool is so important. The center finder is what makes a finished project look good.
When you’re working with spindles, you have to be able to find the center so that the wood doesn’t wobble on your lathe. A wobbly lathe means you won’t have balanced or centered pieces. They’ll be warped and strange looking – and not in a good, artistic way.
It helps with pens, bottle topper, shaving brush, and small bowl blanks by finding the center of the piece. When I make pens, I have to drill out the center of the pen blank – it’s where the ink goes. If you’re off-center when drilling something like a pen blank, the whole thing could be ruined.
No, it’s not a glamorous tool. It’s not the biggest or shiniest thing in my shop. But without my center finder, none of my woodworking projects would be correct or look good.
When I took my first woodworking class, I didn’t know it would lead to a home shop, an Etsy store, or a plan for a small business. All I knew is that I was curious and wanted to try it. Once I took the first class at my local Woodcraft store, I was hooked.
Plans were immediately set in motion to build a woodworking shop as soon as I could.
First, we had to move. No, we didn’t move so I could build a shop (it was a crappy apartment we couldn’t wait to get out of), but there definitely wasn’t any extra room. We considered leasing warehouse space to build a shop, but I couldn’t justify the extra expense for what might turn out to be a hobby.
When we looked at houses to buy, my only requirement was a garage. Thankfully, we found a great house in a beautiful neighborhood and (most importantly) it had a garage. We’ve never parked our car in it because from the moment we moved in, I began setting it up as a woodworking shop.
For anyone who might be interested in getting into any type of woodworking, your first shop doesn’t need a lot of space or a ton of money. I share my shop with my motorcycle, the kids’ bikes, and the washer and dryer. Here’s how I did it without breaking the bank.
Figure Out What You Want to Make
You don’t have to decide from the very beginning everything you’ll ever make. Believe me, the more you do and learn, the more ideas will come your way. But it is good to have an idea of what you want to do as this determines what kind of tools and accessories you need.
I knew I would make pens because I enjoyed the first class so much. I had a feeling I’d try my hand at other things eventually. You might want to make figurines, bowls, spindles, or any number of items. And if you’re not sure, YouTube is an excellent place to learn and get some ideas. I like Mike Waldt and RJB Woodturner.
Keep Size and Space in Mind
Size is important in putting together your shop. The size of the items you make determines the size of the tools you’ll need. The amount of space you have to work is a determining factor, too.
You would be amazed, though, at what you can make with smaller tools. Mini-lathes can turn bowls up to 10 inches in diameter and spindles up to 18 inches long. Bench top band saws can cut wood up to 4 inches thick with a throat depth from 5 ½ to 9 inches.
My first lathe came from Harbor Freight. Is it top of the line? No, but it was a good place to start. I had a gift card and a coupon (something they put out frequently) so the price was even better.
Table Top Tools are a Big Help
If you can build yourself a flat surface in your shop, you’ve got space for tools. The garage already had one work space built in when we bought it (the previous owner was a carpenter). It fits three tools and gives me space to assemble pens and do other small stuff. When I needed more space, I bought a couple of sawhorses and a piece of plywood. Ta-da, another work space was created.
Throughout my work space, I’ve got several table top tools that do what I need and allow me to make all kinds of things: pens, small bowls, wine stoppers, key chains, shaving brushes, goblets, and candle holders.
Table top band saw
Table top drill press
Combo belt and disc sander
None of these were the best on the market options. They’re middle of the road items that I waited for a sale, a coupon, or a gift certificate to buy. As time goes on, and I evolve as a woodworker, I’ll replace what I have with tools that are more powerful and can do more. I’m always looking at and pricing tools.
Choose Tools That Can Do Multiple Jobs
When space and money are at a premium, you need tools that can multi-task. A single tool for a single job isn’t practical. My wood lathe does several jobs and my other table top tools are used in home improvement projects all the time.
The more you can get out of one tool with a few accessories, the less you’ll spend overall and the more space you’ll save.
When you don’t have a lot of space, the last thing you need is a bunch of clutter. I was fortunate enough that my garage already had existing shelving when I started. If not, I would have added it because it’s so important. Magnets and boards with hooks installed on the wall are big space saver too. Many of my tools are within arms reach right on the wall.
What really makes this work is that I put things away when I’m done turning. Sure, it can feel like a hassle when I’ve been in the garage for eight hours, forgot to eat lunch, and just want to take a shower, but it’s worth the effort. I never have to worry that I won’t be able to find a tool when I need it later.
If money is still a concern (something I understand well), let your family know what you’re trying to do. My in-laws have been extremely supportive and every birthday and Christmas, I receive gift cards meant to help me expand my shop and buy better tools. Of course, it probably helps that I keep my family in pens, wine stoppers, and bottle openers, too.
My point is that if you want to build your own woodworking shop, you can. Do your research, get organized, and be patient. Waiting for sales and only buying exactly what you need will keep you from going into debt or stressing about how you’ll afford a tool. Start with basic tools and work your way up to bigger and better.
It’s a new year and, thankfully 2016 is behind us. I don’t even want to think about how many amazing musicians and other artists we lost last year – from David Bowie to George Michael. With a new year comes a fresh start, and I’m ready to clear out some of my old inventory to make room for new things.
So we’re having a sale!
Between January 1 and January 14, saved 25% on anything on my Etsy shop with the coupon code: HAPPYNEWYEAR