Every small disaster starts with a good idea. I learned that lesson on Father’s Day when I was twelve.
My dad kept a work area in his basement with all sorts of tools that hung from various hooks clipped to a peg board over a bench. He was fanatical about the organization and orderliness of that peg board and absolutely obsessive about the cleanliness of his “shop,” as he liked to call it. He could build an entire dining room set down there without leaving a pinch of sawdust on the floor or a dab of paint on his bench.
Using his own tools, his own bench and his own shop to build his Father’s Day gift was a daring move on my part. Over a period of weeks, between the time I got home from school and the time my father came from work, I cut and sanded each individual piece, then cleaned up the scraps and swept every nook and cranny with the shop vacuum. Then, I emptied the vacuum and wiped it down with a cloth. The best crime scene detective on television could not tell I what I had been doing.
I cut out the letters, two D’s and an A, from a piece of one-by-six inch pine. Then I cut another one-by-six into a foot long rectangle and beveled the edges. The end product was supposed to be a plaque that said, “DAD.” With everything cut and sanded, I only needed to glue the letters to the board, then apply a coating of wood stain for the finish.
Dad kept the wood glue on a high shelf next to the workbench were my younger siblings could not get into it. It was so high up even I needed a step stool to reach it. The stool I used was one my dad had made when he was my age. It had three legs and a round top, stood about a foot and a half tall and wobbled a little. I positioned the stool to reach the shelf, put one foot on it and put another foot on a lower shelf. I stretched my arm up toward the glue which in a can, like a paint can only a smaller.
My dad’s truck had a diesel engine that made a distinctive rumble when he pulled it into the driveway. Even now, I do not know why he came home early that day, but the sound of the truck caught me off guard. The stool wobbled. I lost my balance as my hand reached the can at just the right angle to tip it off the shelf while I tumbled backward. I landed on my feet. The can hit the edge of the workbench on its side. On impact, the lid popped off.
For a thick, sticky liquid, that glue managed to go everywhere. Glue splattered the tools on the beg board. Globs and blobs spread across the workbench. Long, thick dollops drooped from the edge of the bench down toward a growing puddle oozing from the open can on the floor.
For the first few moments, I stared in disbelief at the mess. I heard the door from the garage open and shut. I could hear my father’s heavy footsteps on the kitchen floor above me. Some part of me knew that I had to do something. There was a rag in a bucket in the corner near the bench. I took one step toward it, and my sneaker plopped in the mucky glue.
Overhead, I heard the basement door open, and my heart started to dance in my chest when his work boot thudded on the top step. Futilely, I grabbed the rag from the bucket. It was dry and felt crusty in my hands.
Another booted foot struck another wooden step. I started toward the sink to wet the rag, but my sneaker was still stuck in the glue and my stocking foot slipped completely out of it. I hopped and stumbled toward the sink.
Then I thought, “What was the point?” I stopped and stood still listening to his footsteps. I scrunched my eyes shut. My breath came in shallow sips of air. Then the footsteps stopped. I dared not look. I knew my father could see me now and the mess too. I heard a strange sound, like a dry cough catching in my father’s throat. His first words were unexpectedly calm and reassuring.
“Well, this isn’t exactly the Father’s Day surprise I had hoped for,” he said. “Glad I’m not the one who had to clean this up.”
As disasters go, this was not the worse I ever caused. As reactions from my father went, this was the best I could have hoped for. My dad often surprised my like that. At the worst of times, he could be remarkably reasonable and occasionally even wise. It took me many years to realize I learned so much more from how he acted at those times then from any lecture he ever gave.