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Saturday, Dec. 20, 2014

The Man Cave

Friday, September 16, 2011

Trendy home improvement magazines promote fixing up an area of the home specifically for the man of the house. The room should give him a space that highlights his hobbies and favorite activities and is all his own. Those areas have been dubbed Man Caves.

My dad was way ahead of his time. He just didn't call his space by that title. The basement in my parents' retirement home was his alone. He had shelves on two walls to house his vast collections of Western Horseman and Saturday Evening Post magazines. The books on those shelves concerned farming, soil conservation, animal husbandry, history and lots of how-to books: how to repair a saddle; how to work with leather; how to weld, etc. Dozens of them had to do with training, understanding, working with, and even medicating and doctoring horses. His out-of-the-house hobby was working with horses, training, shoeing and teaching others about them.

Among the smaller but most consistent projects in his basement space was repairing and lacing baseball gloves for my sons and their friends. His biggest projects were with riding saddles. A job his family remembers as remarkable involved a trophy saddle. This beautiful saddle was won by a young girl in a rodeo competition. It was stored in her father's horse barn. A short time later she lost her life in an automobile accident. The saddle hung in the barn untouched and unused for years. Her father brought it to dad for restoration. We thought it was beyond that. Rodents had made a mess of it. Dad saw a challenge and after many hours of cutting, stitching and gluing, he proudly displayed a saddle that was once more beautiful and usable.

He would try to do almost anything. Mother expressed a wish for end tables for her living room. He didn't go to the furniture store and help her pick something out. He set to work building a pair in his basement workshop. They weren't exactly what mother would have chosen, but she was gracious and those tables were given permanent positions alongside their favorite chairs.

Dad's special spot was anything but the neat and beautifully decorated Man Cave of today. His roll top desk was always covered with stacks of letters, magazines waiting to be read and bits and pieces of whatever his current project happened to be. My boys took a photograph of him busily at work there and they called it "Where's Waldo". That day, as the unofficial historian for their town of 200 residents, he was clipping newspaper articles he thought should be recorded. The picture showed he had other projects underway. There were tools and piles of oddly shaped leather pieces strewn all over the place as were jars of saddle soap and bottles and tubes of various glues and oils. Sawdust, scraps of leather and oily rags were scattered on his workbench and the floor. He became almost invisible amid all of that plus the open file drawers, stacks of books and the newspapers.

Dad loved it just that way but mother wasn't happy with the way it looked. It eventually became more than she could handle and she gave up on trying to help him organize and clean his space. As for him, the day she gave notice that she was no longer going to spend time cleaning up after him down there, he breathed a sigh of relief. He knew where he could find everything he needed UNLESS she had been down there cleaning.

Dad also had a corner in his basement meant for fun. The pool table there was a draw for the grandchildren on one condition. His grandpa couldn't be watching them. Dad had a large painting of his grandfather hanging on a wall close to the pool table. The kids thought the old man looked mean and threatening. They were afraid of him so when their grandpa wanted them to come shoot a game of pool with him, he threw a piece of old canvas over the portrait.

Dad's space in the basement was so important to him he had a chair lift installed when it became difficult for him to walk up and down the stairs. Mother said when he couldn't go down to mess around in his shop he became as grumpy as an old bear. It would have been much nicer if she had thought of that space as his Man Cave rather than as her Bear's Den.

By Mary S. Roder
Musing With Mary