I spent the month of January building inside the production studio. I enclosed my office space, providing more privacy from the foot traffic traveling from mudroom to the stairs, as well as built an audio recording. I had been thinking about building out the interior for about 18 months, since adding the three bedrooms and bath upstairs for the three oldest children. With those rascals moving upstairs, I felt in some ways my productivity dropped; where I once was alone in the studio for the duration of my work day, now I shared it with others. And being the easily distractible person I am, constant motion behind me randomly throughout the day was a problem. At first I considered getting rid of the kids, but then I wondered who would do the dishes.
All that interior construction work got me thinking. There’s something I really enjoy about working with my hands: framing walls, wiring, hanging drywall, mudding and sanding (my least favorite parts), painting, flooring, then hanging doors and adding the fixtures. I enjoy building. I enjoy creating something out of raw materials, bringing the potential of that raw material into the reality of what I know it can become. That satisfies something deep within me.
Whenever I work with my hands I think back to my Shoney’s days. It was 1988, and I was a waiter. One of my customers was a woman I had seen there often enough, so when she sat at my table that afternoon I decided to ask about her job. She was a nice-looking lady but she had a tough demeanor about her, like a cowgirl. And sure enough, she worked down the road on a horse farm. She managed the stables, feeding, riding, and tending to the horses while maintained the premises. Since I have always fancied horses, and loved the idea of riding one, I asked if she needed some help — free labor, of course. That’s when she asked to see my hands, taking them in hers as if to read my palms. What she said next took me back — “These aren’t working hands. They’re soft.” Soft? Not working hands? Was this woman blind? I’m a man (I was 20 years old, after all). I laughed it off, dropped the check, and went to tend to other tables.
I couldn’t get that interaction off my mind. Was she right? Do I have girlie hands? I couldn’t stand the thought of having anything other than man’s hands, so what was I going to do? What could I do with my hands in order to impress the next cowgirl I came across? It troubled me.
To say I never thought about it again after that would be a lie. In fact, I think often about that day — as in every time I pick up a hammer, fire up the chainsaw, grab a shovel, change a tire, hang a sheet of drywall, turn a wrench, roll up the back door of my grip truck, or a laundry list of other activities. I thought about it when I was across seas during the Gulf War, when I worked with a traffic barricade company, when I built my kid’s first playground set, and when I first broke ground to plant a garden. I think about it every time I do anything with my hands. These hands might have been soft back in the day, but not anymore.
I think I’m ready to meet the next cowgirl.
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