The Hammer


Chapter 3

Sometime in my junior year of high school, my grandfather let me have one of his hammers.  I don’t remember how I acquired it; whether he loaned it to me and I just kept it, or if he specifically gave it to me to keep.  Over the years I was growing up, this was the hammer I watched him use to build all those wonderful things in his garage workshop.

The hammer was a wooden handled claw model, probably about 16 ounces.  It was liberally splattered with multi-colored splotches of old paint.  The head was black from age and use.  On one side of the hammer head my grandfather had filed a large letter “W,” the first initial of his last name.  The hammer had been used for so many years the face was rounded down to where it almost looked like the back of a ball-peen.  It was a venerable and very cool old hammer, and it was my grandfather’s.

During the two years I was finishing high school, my family was doing a lot of repairs to the house and property and I was pressed into constant service as the home handyman.  I also helped my grandfather as much as I could in converting the old barn into his cottage.  In short, I gave that hammer a lot of use.

Then, near the end of my senior year in high school, I volunteered to be part of the stage crew and a bit actor for our senior play.  The play was Woody Allen’s “Don’t Drink the Water,” and I landed an acting role with an on-stage presence of about five minutes and three lines.  My larger role was helping to build the stage sets.

The sets consisted of about a dozen 1×2 wooden frames covered with painted canvas and several plywood structures.  Of the six or so people on the stage crew, I was the only one who knew anything about building stuff.  We had to provide our own tools, so on the first night of construction I brought my grandfather’s hammer to school.  We use one of the larger classrooms close to the back door of our school auditorium as our shop.

Over the next several evenings I helped build the frames, took them apart when we discovered that they were too wide for the canvas, and put them back together again.  Then I helped build the plywood props.  I remember one particular prop that needed a nail in a particularly hard-to-get-at inside corner.  The other members of the stage crew looked blankly at the prop claiming that there was no way to get a nail in there.  I grabbed my hammer and drove the nail in with three quick blows.  The other crew members just looked at me and said “wow.”

I kept the hammer in the classroom we were working in during the construction.  We worked on props right up until opening night of the play, probably typical for such events.  Then, over the weekend run with everything going on, I forgot about my hammer and left it in the classroom.

It was a few weeks later when I needed the hammer at home one evening, and in horror remembered where I’d left it.  The next school day I went straight to the classroom where we’d built the props.  Mr. MB was the homeroom teacher in charge of that classroom and was standing at the door monitoring his students coming in.  I went up to him and stammeringly explained that I had left a hammer in the classroom a couple of weeks earlier.  I asked if he knew whether it was still there.

Mr. MB looked down at me, and in the most condescending way possible said “there’s just an old worn-out hammer in the desk drawer.  I don’t think you want that.”  Embarrassed, I stammered something and walked away.  I made no further attempts to reclaim my hammer, and I never told my grandfather I’d lost it.

School ended a few weeks later, and I left home to join the Navy.  I’ve never gone back to Pine Bush other than when I visited with my family.

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