I love the smell of fresh lumber.
When I walk into Home Depot or Lowe’s, memories of my dad come flooding back.
That two-pocket apron at his waist, full of tinkling nails.
The way he’d concentrate, holding his mouth a certain way when he hammered a board.
The pride he took in working hard and doing something the right way.
Building us two houses.
Helping others build theirs.
Hauling lumber up my dorm elevator with my roommate’s dad to build us a loft.
Which meant we won the contest for best room.
My dad could fix anything.
He was a railroader by trade.
“Scotty,” everyone called him, and he was much loved.
Our furnace room held denim overalls and railroad caps.
His black grip full of conductor stuff.
A beat-up green stool where he’d sit to put on his work boots.
And a wooden shoe-shine box filled with polish and brushes to care for his dress shoes.
Dad worked on the railroad for 36 years—mostly on the “extra-board,” which meant he could be called out at any time of day or night.
We lived in Ohio, where the winter nights are cold-cold and sometimes filled with snow.
When the dispatcher called for a late-night job, he never complained.
He just gathered his lunch and thermos.
Gave a round of kisses if we were up.
Headed to the furnace room.
And then out to his truck.
It was parked in a narrow space beside the garage.
Always backed in, so it was easy to pull out and up the drive.
I have vivid images of my dad’s thin silhouette, hunched against the cold while he waited for his truck to warm up, the air so frigid that it turned the exhaust white as it billowed around him.
When Dad started oxygen for his pulmonary fibrosis, it slowed him down a little.
But not much.
Once, I looked out the window to see his tubing dangling from the roof.
On one sunny day, he cut it in two with the hedge clippers.
When he built me a picnic table, he put a mask over his cannula so he wouldn’t inhale the dust when he cut wood.
Unless he was working, he was at every basketball and softball game I ever played, growing up.
When I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon, he and Mom were at the finish line, a scooter beneath him and oxygen in tow.
My dad taught me how to drive on a tractor.
And made sure I knew how to use a clutch.
I had to learn to back a trailer.
And change my own oil and tires, too.
Over the phone, he once talked me through applying solder with a blow torch to fix my plumbing.
I’m sure he’s relieved that Dave does all that now.
He taught me that no matter how bad you feel, you can still put on a suit and tie and go to church.
That you’re never too old for Sunday School.
That you should pray and study the Bible every day.
And that family is everything.
My dad has been with Jesus for many years.
And there are so many things I miss about him.
His encouraging words.
The tender love in his eyes.
His hands that seemed so huge.
The strength of his embrace.
His quiet patience, no matter what.
The wisdom that I could always count on.
And being able to call and ask for directions.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
I love and miss you so.
James R. Scott (1928-2000)