by Daniel Joel Zarin
A table saw, a workbench with a vise, and a darkroom timer.
These are the images that my mind conjures up when I think of the word "Dad." Of all the objects of my childhood, these are the ones that represent my dearest childhood memories of spending time with my father. The table saw is the source of the loudest noise on Earth known to a four-year-old. My father's Shopsmith was taller than I was. Most of the time, it lay dormant. It was an immovable object. A wall. But once in a while, Dad would brush it off, lock in a blade, hand out eye protection to my brother and me, and bring the beast to life.
He alone had the power to make it sing. Sawdust would fly, the air would be sweet with the smell of burnt wood, and that monster of a saw would sing. My second-grade teacher, Mrs. Grandine, had a baby midway through the year. I don't remember if it was a boy or a girl - I'm certain it was one or the other - but I do remember making a present for the baby. My dad sensed an opportunity for a Project. Those scraps of 3/4-inch maple, gathering dust in a pile in the basement, would not become fodder for the fireplace; no, they would give their life to a much nobler cause.
My dad was not one to sit idly by and watch an infant go without bath toys. So he drew up plans for a boat. It would be a sturdy, tub-worthy vessel. Basically, it was a chunky, flat-bottom tugboat, but it sure would float. We drew the pattern on the wood, and carefully cut out each piece with a handsaw. Then, we assembled the boat with pegs and glue, and clamped it down with the vise on the workbench. A few coats of spar varnish later (yes, like on the bottom of a real boat - my dad didn't mess around with half-waterproofing) we had created the best darn gift that androgynous kid ever got.
I loved developing photographs with my dad. Throughout my youth, the tiny darkroom that doubled as a "cool dry place" for storing canned food and liquor was Dad's room. When I was eight, my job was to set the big, glow in the dark, analog (as if there was another kind) darkroom timer. "Thirty seconds!" "Sixty seconds!" my dad would call out. I would crank the knob, click the switch, and watch the hand sweep around until... "Buzzzz!"
I took pride in my job. I was good at it. As I grew older, I added to my list of darkroom abilities: rocking the developer tray; swishing with the tongs; pouring the chemicals. But no matter how many tasks I felt I could take on, nothing would ever come between me and that timer. So as I sit here 3,000 miles from my father, I close my eyes and picture his face. And a table saw, a workbench with a vise, and a darkroom timer.
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