Jeffrey Gossamer, ten, was standing in the backyard shooting his slingshot at the clouds when his father walked by, whistling as he normally did, heading for the shed in the back. This day, however, was different.
“Jeff, go grab the wrench I left by the car in the garage and meet me in the shed. I want to show you something.”
The shed! Jeff stopped pelting the sky with pebbles and stared at his father.
“Jeff! Did you hear me? I said go grab that wrench and meet me in the shed. Do you have potatoes growing in your ears?”
Jeff dropped the slingshot and yelled over his shoulder, “No, Sir!” while he raced towards the garage.
The shed was a dilapidated old seed house that Jeff’s great-grandfather had built decades ago. The roof tilted on one side, giving the impression that the little building might one day just give up and collapse on itself, but it had withstood Minnesota tornadoes, snow taller than its tin roof, and blazing heat that warped the wood and blistered the paint right off. When Jeff’s parents inherited the house, his father immediately took his hammer to the walls and started nailing in boards cross-ways with hooks of all kinds in them. Upon these he hung tools of every imaginable kind. He patched the holes, put a new piece of corrugated tin on top (that sounded amazing in the rain, like a thousand African tribal warrior drummers coming in the distance) and tidied it up. This was his father’s sanctuary.
Jeff didn’t know much about his father. He didn’t really know much about any of the Gossamer men. They were quiet, no-nonsense types who didn’t give much credence to conversation beyond the imperatives, and who preferred spending time alone on their various hobbies. Great-Grandfather Peter Gossamer eked a living from the land as a farmer, and spent his time whittling wood. He carved toys, tools, and furniture, much of which was still in the big farmhouse. Grandfather Robert Gossamer was into miniature trains. Not having extra money to buy the fancy store ones in the Sears Roebuck catalog, he would spend hours making intricate replicas out of whatever material he could find. His father, Joe Gossamer, was a tinkerer. He pulled apart electronics to see how they worked, and then (tried to) put them back together again. There were springs, washers, screws and unnamed parts galore scattered around the little room. Jeff suspected that his father had much more interest in taking them apart than putting them back together, but he was handy with electricity and fixed the lamps and TVs and radios when they broke.
Jeff’s father, carrying on this rather morose tradition of keeping to himself, would come home from work at the office where he was the manager of a small insurance agency (the farm had turned unprofitable a long time ago and was commercially abandoned except for his mother’s small garden where she constantly fought off the hungry rabbits, crows, and deer that ventured in), say hello to Mother, grab a beer, and head towards the shed.
For a long time, Jeff wanted a dad who would come home, kiss his mother hello, lift the pot to see what was cooking, then sit down in his La-z-boy watching first the evening news and then sitcoms until dinner time. Afterwards he might read a magazine and then fall asleep in his chair. This was the image that played in Donna Reed’s house, so Jeff wanted his father to be more like that.
Instead, his father would barely grunt hello at his son, and then disappear into the shed, where the light waned feebly across the backyard - so close and yet a forbidden passage.
So when Jeff’s father told him to come to the shed, Jeff’s excitement knew no bounds. He imagined his small head bowed respectfully while his father laid a loving hand on his shoulder and taught him the pieces and gadgetry that he was always tinkering with. He had peeked in the shed during the day, but it was dark and all he saw was pieces of stuff strewn around. Once he had an urge to go inside, but something stopped him as he turned the door. He felt he was violating something private, and closed the door again reluctantly.
Now was his chance! Jeff was going to see what enthralled his father so much that he would ignore his own family, his own son. Jeff imagined da Vinci-like drawings and notes all over, the sure signs of a genius about gadgets and science. And Jeff was eager to learn from his father, to pass down the knowledge that years of isolation in this little room had surely amassed.
Running back across the lawn, the night air just starting to turn chilly and the lightning bugs were illuminating the way, he hesitated at the door again. What would he find inside? He gave the little building a critical once-over, trying to steel himself against disappointment that his father just wanted the wrench and would tell him to get out as soon as he had it. Hoping that by being overly critical it would tip the odds in his favor, so he scowled at the sagging roof and dilapidated sideboards but they gave no response back to his scorn.
Knocking on the door gently, he felt that crossing this threshold was a big step in becoming a man. He pictured his father being invited in by HIS father and so on, where the ways of men were explained.
“Is that you Jeff? Don’t stand out there like an idiot; come on in.” His father’s voice sounded curiously far away. Jeff hesitated no more and pushed open the creaking door.
“Careful it don’t slam behind you now.”
Jeff stuck his foot in the space just in time to avoid the door smacking the frame and causing the little room to shudder on its precarious foundation. He held out the wrench, not yet daring to really examine the room - his father’s private haven.
“Jeff wanted a dad who would come home, kiss his mother hello, lift the pot to see what was cooking, and sit down in his La-z-boy to watch first the evening news and then sitcoms until dinner time.”
A cigarette dangled from his father’s lips and the smoke curled gently around his face, giving an eerie mist to the small room. There was a fan rigged and held by a choke chain that hung down towards a small crack where the roof and the walls didn’t quite meet, acting an exhaust. It smelled like sweat, smoke, oil - it smelled like men.
“Thanks.” His father reached for the wrench and Jeff watched in fascination as he used it to tighten up a clamp around the old vacuum cleaner his mother used daily. “There she goes. As good as new!”
Jeff was enthralled. His father never said thanks to anyone for anything. Not to his mother for cooking his meals or washing his clothes, not for the neighbors who helped use their plow to get them out in the deep winter mornings, not the store clerk who wished him a nice day. “Here, son, take this in to your mother. She’ll be needing this.”
Jeff took the vacuum but hesitated at the door. He wanted to be invited back in, but his ten year old ego wouldn’t let him ask.
“What are you waiting on boy? Go give that to your mother. When you’re done, come back and I’ll show you this transistor radio I’ve been working on. It’s a real old one, from your grandfather. I remember this thing sitting on the window sill to get better reception and we’d all huddle around it listening for tornado reports, or war updates.” He waved his hand to urge Jeff to get moving.
Jeff picked up the heavy vacuum and although it weighed more than he did, he felt like he was flying across the cool grass. Bursting into the house he put the vacuum in the hall, called to his mother, and raced back to be with his father.
When he knocked on the door again, there was no answer. He figured his father didn’t hear him, so he knocked louder. Still no answer. He could see the thin trail of cigarette smoke disappearing into the night sky, but again his pride stood strong and wouldn’t allow him to knock a third time.
Dejected, he turned back into the rapidly chilling night and threw a look over his shoulder, ready to run back should his father open the door and call him in, but the door was closed, only the thin line of light illuminating his way back to the house. Kicking his slingshot, he went inside and crawled into his bed.
Jeff was invited a few times into the shed over the years, where his dad would offer tidbits on fixing small appliances along with snippets of his own life. Jeff treasured these moments with his aloof father, and after Jeff grew up and had his own children and vowed that he would be a father who was there for his children, Jeff finally learned to forgive his father, telling himself that he probably never even realized how often he had stood on the other side of the closed door, wanting desperately to be inside.
Jeff’s father died when he was away at college. His mother passed away a few years later, and the old house was eventually sold as Jeff stayed in the city. Several years later he drove past the old farmhouse to see if it was still standing, and it was, solid as a rock, but the shed in the back had long been torn down.
Thank you Jeff, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Kristen Kuhns and Story of My Life®