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Short Stories: The Empty Garage

road ends

I am sixty-six years old. For decades I was Mr. Fix-It. I wasn’t born with mechanical skills, nor did my dad teach them to me. I learned on the job, making countless mistakes. I spent much of my life bouncing between poverty and poor, so hiring people to fix our cars or repair/remodel our homes was not an option. I was in my fifties before I hired someone to work on our house for the first time. I stood in the yard and cried as this man painted the eaves of our home, something I could no longer do.

Since 2020, I have been forced, due to my declining health, to stop doing things I love to do. I am a pragmatist. I try to see things as they are, and not how I want them to be. In 2022, I decided to sell my professional camera equipment. I no longer was able to properly hold a camera, so it was time to dispose of thousands of dollars of camera bodies, lenses, and other equipment. (And I have a lot of studio equipment and miscellaneous stuff I still have to sell.) Family and friends alike were shocked that I sold off all my equipment. Refusing to admit that my debility was progressive and incurable, they thought I should hang on to my camera stuff just in case my health miraculously took a turn for the better. I appreciate them not wanting me to “give up” on photography, but I know my body, and it was and is telling me that there will never be a day when I can once again safely do the things I used to do.

Last Saturday, our children came over for “Garage Day.” My tools have been gathering dust in the garage, no longer used by me because I no longer have the strength and dexterity to use them. I knew there was never again going to be a day when I repaired our car or remodeled our home. I decided to give my children all of my tools, save for some hand tools I put in the house to be used for small, insignificant repairs.

I wondered how our children would respond to “Garage Day.” Surely they knew that this was Dad getting his house in order. What did this “mean”? At the appointed time, they gathered in the backyard to divey up my tools. I had already set up tables in yard-sale-like fashion and put my hand tools, saws, and other items on them.

I didn’t go outside right away, choosing to let them navigate who got what. I was pleased by their thoughtful interaction with each other. No fighting or argument over this or that item. Even the red Craftsman toolbox I bought in 1983 quietly went to our youngest son without a fuss. I was proud of my children. I have seen more than a few families fight and divide over “junk.” Our children know that Mom and Dad are not into material things. They are just a means to an end. Nice to have, but not the end of the world if we don’t have them. Family, not things, is what matters.

An hour later, my tools were headed to new homes in Bryan, Stryker, Defiance, and Ridgeville Corners. Time stops for no one. I know that I will die sooner, and not later. I don’t want it left to Polly to have to deal with my stuff after I’m gone. That said, after everyone left for their respective homes, I retreated to our bedroom, sat down on the edge of the bed, and cried. I felt a great sense of loss, yet I knew I had done the right thing. Just because you do the right thing doesn’t mean doing so doesn’t cause heartache and pain. Loss is inevitable, and all I know to do is embrace it.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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  1. Avatar
    Karuna Gal

    Bruce, I admire you for doing something that was painful but necessary. You are really responsible and thoughtful. My mom left us to clean out her house and dispose of all her belongings, even though she had plenty of opportunity, time and offers to help do it while she was still capable. And we still have a lot of that stuff sitting in storage. You gave your family a big gift. 👍

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    Bruce, what a thoughtful step you took. I desperately need to emulate you. I had a photography business for about 15 years but since I tended to stay behind the technology by a couple years (to save money), much of my gear has little value, so when I closed down shop I didn’t even try to get rid of the tools of my trade.
    My problem is my camera collection – I have a lot of “collectible” cameras, many from the 80’s on back to the very early 1900’s – 35mm, medium format, large format – probably a couple hundred cameras (and lenses) – all very usable – but I just don’t use them near as much as I used to. I doubt that my adult children will be very interested in them – they might take one or two to sit on a shelf, but beyond that I will have to part it all out to strangers, which will be very difficult, many of these cameras are like old friends to me.

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    Melissa Montana

    I admire you for making a difficult decision. My mom gave away a few things, but she refused to clean out her house because it was too emotionally hard on her to part with anything. She had a kitchen full of stuff from when she cooked and baked wedding cakes. She had thousands of knickknacks, some in cupboards for decades. Drawers full of unused stationary, closets of clothing not worn in years. She wouldn’t part with any of it. We got to clean it up, and it permanently damaged the relationships of some family members. I am in the process of rehoming some stuff. I don’t want anyone to be stuck with too much.
    I’m sorry you cannot do the things that made you happy. 🫂 At least the tools are in the family, and they can remember you while they use them.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    Bruce, this story shows something we know about you: You are not afraid to face the truth. And your kids have learned that from you, which is why they didn’t fight over your stuff.

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    I certainly feel your pain, the tools are part of your identity. Hopefully there is some joy in giving them to your kids and even having the gang all there for a visit.

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    Karen the rock whisperer

    My dad-in-law, a year or so before his death, invited my husband to take whatever of his enormous collection of tools that were of interest. He might have made the same offer to my husband’s brother earlier, but my brother-in-law has his own collection, and rarely does anything beyond household repairs. Husband gathered some old power tools and hand tools, and they’ve come in very handy. He greatly appreciated the gift.

    My mom-in-law, along with my brother-in-law and his wonderful wife, have held two garage sales in the last two years, trying to sell off the rest of Dad’s tools. They’ve had little success. Bruce, that tells me that you did, not just a generous thing for your children, but one for Polly as well.

    The other thing is about what those tools represent. I can’t believe you acquired all of them after your kids were grown. I suspect, like my dad-in-law, you taught at least some of your children how to become Fix-it people. That itself is a huge gift, and one that deserves noting. My own father didn’t have fix-it skills, but my husband can fix anything, having constantly improved on his father’s teaching, his entire adult life. He couldn’t do that if not for the parental introduction. So, Bruce, you did more good than you probably think you did.

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    Bruce, that had to be so hard for you – and also for your kids. You all handled it so well. You’re doing right by them.

    My mom died in 2014, but fir a couple of years prior she was downsizing. She sold her house and got an apartment. That was a big task because she still had stuff from her late parents and late husband. The apartment was a lot better for her. Then when her doctor informed her there were no more meds he could try for her cancer, she downsized again and moved into assisted living. That made the finality much easier for us.

    My mother-in-law, on the other hand, was basically forced by her 3 sons last year to purge and sell the 5 bedroom house she’d inhabited for 40-something years. She’d become a massive hoarder over the past couple of decades, and when covid came and her cleaning lady wasn’t able to come by anymore, the house became a health hazard with dog pee, mice, clutter galore, and general uncleanness. The 4 of us would divide and conquer- one person would be assigned to her to go thru some things while the other 3 would throw away throw away throw away. Some things were taken to consignment shop (frankly, there wasn’t a lot they wanted) so then a trip to Goodwill and finally as the clock was ticking, the dump. We threw away thousands of dollars worth of stuff she’d bought and hoarded, forgetting she had this, that, or the other. There were tons of clothes with tags, various sizes as her weight changed,sometimes duplicates of the same item in same color that she forgot she had already bought. She fought with me over plastic food storage containers, for example – she had an entire cupboard and 2 big drawers of containers yet had recently bought MORE because she couldn’t get to the cupboard to retrieve the ones she had. She had multiple toaster ovens, instant pots, blenders, etc, new in boxes that she’d never used. The best discovery buried in a closet was a box labeled “Christmas Gifts 1999) with evidence that mice had ripped up the tissue paper packing in the box. I am traumatized from that whole experience. And…..when we were unpacking items in her new apartment, we were still throwing away items because there was no room for them. It was such an example of how people get so buried in STUFF that they can’t live good lives. And the whole time she was crying about how we were “throwing her entire life away”.

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    I am unbelievably moved by this post. It brings back many memories, and reminds me I will have to handle this for the next generation.

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    George J DeVos

    Bruce, tools are like old friends. It’s sad to part with them but leaving them in good hands is next best. Painful even then. My tools were stolen so I lost the chance to choose who got them as you did. I hadn’t touched them in years but losing them was a gut punch. At 86 I’ve learned surviving means things and people leave me behind awaiting my turn. Friends, relatives, things, escape our grasp, often with no goodbyes. Death is such a mysterious part of life it’s no wonder people invented religion attempting to give life some meaning beyond it’s transient nature. All the struggle and strife and all the urgency and importance are revealed in my declining years to have had less meaning than I was taught if any at all. Our tools will remain and be useful for a time after we are gone. Perhaps in a million years someone will see my 12 inch Crescent and wonder about it. If we are correct, life on earth is superficial after all.

  10. Avatar

    I know that was a hard decision and perhaps still lingers. But I suspect your family appreciates what you have done.

    I am visiting my mom, who is in her nineties and dealing with an illness that will eventually take her. My father died last fall. They had been downsizing and even so, she had a lot to deal with when he died.

    She has now downsized and lives with one of my siblings. During this visit she has given me her wedding ring and some jewelry we had given her in the past. They are small but meaningful items. Their value is in their meaning and memories, and the sharing of things that she found important in her life.

    So I suspect you have given your children a significant gift that may have deeper meaning than you realize. I know I will wear my new jewelry with a smile and fond memories.

  11. Avatar

    Hey Bruce, Your loss brings me vivid colours, memory. The White Lake Rock Fire of July/August ’21 took out my tool sheds, melted all metals pretty much, turned my softer metals into pools of molten gleam on the earth. I did not make a brave decision to part out these tools, these collections of this and that, the oils and other lubricants, the gifts of tools from others who were parting out collections as you have chosen to do…. All of it was gone in the roaring fire train of forest fire. I too, sat alone and wept because LOSS and because I have attained sufficient yearage to know that my whole life has been much about ‘serving’, about ‘fixing’ for myself and others. I delight in repairing-over-replacing and I have always felt much joy in being able to assist others who find ‘fixing’ impossible. I daresay I sometimes prevented others their own ‘fixing’ lessons in order to fix something for them so I could feel the tingle of ‘fixing’. I have stolen joy in my time! So hearing of your garage-giveaway made me revisit and sigh. How hard it is to inhabit ‘the going out’ of things, the way the things themselves can be passed along from hand to hand but what is left for us is that we have to start to let go of the world that made those tools dear, the necessity of them, the favorite multi-driver, the perfect, magical #2 Robertson bit that just plain does the job better. All the relationship, the connection to the workaday life. When the tools go, the loss is the world we lived in with those ‘things’, the self we brought to the efforts under the hood, under the mobile, on the roof… Damn! I don’t have any solace for you, old man. I’m older than you and have heart problems but am still able to be active, ride a bike, do some fixing, do short stints with the Red Cross etc. and being a simple sort of biped, I default, in sorrowful times to the underpinnings of clichés, the places that are the foundation for great inventions, for art. When yet another old man comes on the Alexa and sings, What a Wonderful World, all my lost heart breaks over me in ocean waves and its the little human miracle called living, just living. You hang in there, you old prick. I’m with you. Sometimes I have to give in but I am never fucking giving up. Ohhh yeahh…

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Bruce Gerencser