For Mother’s Day, my gift to myself was to spend hours of peace and quiet in the garage, revamping an old dresser into my new kitchen island.
I replaced the battered back with a piece of oak, strong enough to take the battering it would recieve as the new front of the island.
I added trim around the back and to the back legs to make it look less dresser-y and more kitchen-y. I replaced braces and tightened drawer fronts. I carefully cleaned the hardware. Then, the whole thing got a new coat of paint and several coats of clear, high-gloss sealer.
As I worked, smelling the dust of old wood and someone’s scented talcum powder, feeling the smoother new surfaces under my fingers, I couldn’t help but think of my dad.
My earliest memories are of joining him on a working oil rig (close your eyes now, OSHA), eating candy bars for breakfast and, periodically, being tortured by my older brother, who told me monsters lived in the dark recesses of the rig’s massive machinery.
After the oil field went bust, I played in the houses he was painting. As he and my mom worked through the night, I remember curling up on a pile of drywall and sleeping. He eventually built his business up where he didn’t really have to work nights, but I was still there, taking on jobs as I got older, sanding, hanging wallpaper, fetching and carrying, and, when I was old enough, climbing scaffolding and painting myself.
Long after the point where he had to, he still did the hard work, barking at his workers, whether they were his children or not, to do it right the first time. And by right, of course, he meant exactly the way he showed you how to do it. There was the right way, the wrong way and the Lloyd way.
The last time I saw his hands, they still had paint on them. Navajo White, caked in the fine wrinkles of his knuckles and around the cuticles of his nails, speckled across the face of his gold watch, a long-ago gift from grateful rig employees.
He was wearing a suit I’d seen but twice, once when we took it out of the closet to be dry cleaned and now, at his funeral. I’d had to go buy him a new tie; the old one, to the best of anyone’s recollection, had been missing since the early 1980s, back in the days of those candy-bar breakfasts.
He’d come home from work a few days earlier sick to his stomach and died while waiting for the weather to come on the 6 o’clock news. It was a massive heart attack, the doctors said. He didn’t feel a thing.
The funeral director asked me if he should clean the paint off his hands. I told him no, to leave it, a testament to the work he did the right way every day, including his last.
It was the Lloyd way.