for Susan Tweit
It is September 15. The sun seems to have hit snooze more often than I did. It is particularly lazy today, and has, perhaps, hesitated at the tree line across the street for hours. Not too subtle a reminder, let me tell you, that days are getting shorter, and worse yet, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. It’s more like a whack on this old soft head of mine. Darkness is coming!
I ignore the hint and feel my way in the dark as I feed the pets their breakfast; I am that stubborn. I simply refuse to turn on a light because I am certain, I insist, there must be enough early morning light for coffee and kibbles. Right? BONK! I bang my head on an open cupboard, curse, and then flip on the damn light. The big star wins again. Life’s lessons are far more patient than I deserve. They repeat and repeat and never complain, never say, “Dang, will that woman ever learn?” And, yes, I do, actually.
Some lessons come more easily. The ‘learn’ moment is gentler. The remembering easy. I recently read a piece on the power of power tools by Susan Tweit. Her words are a toothbrush (little tiny power tool) to the plaque covering my brain. She provides the creative and confident scrub my self-esteem needs. Great lessons. Thanks, woman.
She writes on power tools and the importance of being a “Tool Girl,” the importance of “knowing how to use tools, and learn the basics of building and un-building, of creating and repairing what we and others build.” She is managing the project of recreating her new (old) home. I admire her and envy her and want to curl up on the couch in her pretty, getting prettier, house and have her tell me again, “Yes, Anne Marie, you can use your miniature Craftsman drill.” And then she would serve me tea and soothe my withering confidence. Alas, in reality it would be the rotating hammer she put in my hand. “Tea later. We’ve got work to do,” she would say, and I’d hesitatingly oblige.
You see, I have always used “power tools,” or so I joked with the boyfriend who took it upon himself to teach me “real” power tools. He’s the one who bought me said mini drill. To this day it collects more dust than rpms somewhere out in the garage. I never quite got the hang of the slight, but functional, little pistol-shaped screwdriver. What’s wrong with the non-electric one? I asked. Again. And then I walked him to my kitchen.
It is there I showed him my power tools. My Kitchen Aid mixer. Kitchen Aid food processor. Black & Decker hand mixer. Osterizer blender. It is with these electric beauties that I understand the importance of speed, balance, stirring that is consistent no matter how heavy the dough. I make power pies. Super scones. Energy bars and breakfast cookies. They pour from my aromatic kitchen like Susan’s bricks fell away from her useless planter box. She applied jack hammer pressure, I roll dough with a French pin. She covered herself in powdered mortar, I cover my counter tops with flour, my fingertips with powdered sugar, both of which I can clean with my tongue, mind you. A bonus needless to say. She gets an amazing house. I get yummies to serve to the folks, often men, who hammer, haul, install, remove, etc., for me in my house. Either way, Susan and I, we both make a home.
As I embarked on purchasing a house, I saw all the ones that said “needs a little TLC,” and I balked. I have chosen a “tight” home as the inspector said, on a pretty little street, in a place that is new for me. Single woman on her own. The house is not a fixer upper. If the plumbing leaks, the electricity fails, the floorboards pop . . . I am on my own. My Kitchen Aid will not help. Well, I take that back. Knowing me, I’ll make a batch of cranberry scones and offer them to a neighbor or friend to help me out, to bring over their power tools, and whir away.
Buying my own house is a new experience. I have not endeavored upon a move of this sort in 40 years and never walked through the bureaucracy alone. These lessons required patience, and were rewarding after all is said and done. And while part of me yearned for a fixer upper: to take on that challenge, to be at work like Susan Tweit is, sweaty and painful and physical and rewarding, I retreated from the idea. Oh, to defy the gender power tool rules. And become a favorite and known customer at the local hardware store, not because I ask the best questions and tell the funniest jokes — as was the case at Hunts in Flagstaff, my neighborhood hardware which just closed, caving after 10 years to the likes of Home Depot — but because I would be there so often with my tool belt and serious demeanor. “I know what a rotating drill is, yeah I do!” Nah.
When I walked into this house, I saw the “tight.” It does not need fixing or upgrades, it does not lack function or safety or comfort. It is to code, it is to my liking. It is simple and small and begging, I hear it daily, for the smell of fresh cranberry scones. It needs another batch of oatmeal walnut cookies. Pies? What flavor? I have frozen peaches and blueberries and strawberries and rhubarb all from the local farmers market. I am so ready. The house offers a counter top that is long and wide enough to hold my favorite power tools without having to schlep the heavy bastards from the pantry down the hall. Right there at my fingertips. Let’s make this house a home.
I read Susan Tweit’s narrative ode to ‘tool girls,’ and I am grateful, and envious. I suffer a bit of immediate shame. Did I mother poorly if my daughters do not know how to change the oil in their car? Replace a broken light fixture? Stop a running toilet? Or tear down a multi-course brick wall with a rotating hammer? They do not know how to, nor, like me, do they have the inclination to learn. Or do they? I suspect, they have braved far more than their mother, just as I did my mother. She was deathly afraid of driving. And that is another story for another post.
But was I remiss in assuming their father would teach them the likes, and then when that couldn’t happen to not step up to the plate, was I negligent? Nemo dat quod non habet. I suspect my dear enviable friend Susan would be the first to say, no. You can’t give what you don’t have.
My daughters are smart, kind, generous and gracious. So when it comes to needing help, like their mother, they know how to get it, to barter, to bargain, to trade, and to say, thanks. Be it with a 30-second video spot, a vintage dress from the collection, some other artistic endeavor, or just a handshake and a smile, they know how to be humble, and grateful. More importantly, they will acquire the skills necessary for the task at hand.
But do they bake? No. They, like me, have their own power tools. And rely, quite happily, upon my use of all the tools that bring bread into our visits. Do I earn the Tool Girl title that Susan wears, truly a badge of feminism and courage, with pride and gusto? Perhaps yes. My courage, feminism, gusto, have manifested themselves in other ways, I suppose. As Susan says, “Whatever we do in our lives, knowing how to work with our hands and muscles makes us strong and capable, more grounded.”
So my confidence may waver and slow like the September sun when it comes to my use of the Craftsmen line. But we’re all tool girls in one way or the other, making our way as strong and grounded women of the world. And in my case, full, too.
I Don’t Do It for the Hours
I bake bread because
The yeast water sugar moment.
Nothing else matters
but for the bubbles
the biting bitter flash
when nostril and fresh yeast
mixing in that massive
Hobart bowl rocking as the hook
wraps the dough around
and around kneading
that dough around
until it’s a fat dough cuddle.
Rub its cheek;
slap it on the bread board
and need it some more.
I bake bread because
The sweet hot toast moment.
Nothing else matters
when butter and bread marry
dressed in yellow
and melt all the way
down the aisle
to the pleased preacher
waiting at my widening waistline
for the perfect couple.
Waiting to bless them
and keep them
warm and waiting
for the next bite.
I bake bread because
and tasting it
makes me full.
*The image above is my one and only attempt at graphic design in Adobe Illustrator. Power tool of graphic designers. I call it “The Scone Maker” and while my Kitchen Aid is white, my dream Kitchen Aid is bright red. And, yes, the color of power tools matters.
Please visit Susan’s site http://susanjtweit.com/; and Riana’s store at https://www.etsy.com/shop/OchreAndBone