When I was 15 my father and I took night-walks into the woods, pausing every 20 paces, listening, seeing how close to the pond we could get without alarming the peepers into silence. Often we heard deer-munchings. Once we saw a moonlit porcupine up a tree. Always we had an ear out for the Whippoorwill on the berm of RT 538 nested in the gravel. If we did hear it, my Dad would whistle back a fair but quiet imitation. (The song of the whippoorwill occupies the lower courts of whisability.) On one such occasion, having come to a star-drenched field, the milky sky-way blazing above, my father broached the subject of my romantical sighings. “I've watched you looking at a girl...” he paused, “your whole demeanor has changed. Your eyes are soft; you look sotted with love.” He was smiling. “Are you ready to get married?” I admitted that the desire was strong. All that stood between me and marriage was the scarcity of years to my name, the lack of a willing partner, and my inability to speak in the presence of beautiful girls. Other than that, I was ready. “And how,” his voice was still smiling, “do you propose to support a wife?”
Now this was a question dripping with subtle accusation, which I readily ascertained as a trap. My father himself was the youngest of four and was no stranger to my pressing the advantage of last-born to the avoidance of Work. Yet I considered myself a skirter, not a shirker. I met my obligations with gusto and performed my chores and duties with whole-hearted energy, but the prospect of added responsibility I met with the elusive charm that only the baby of a family can wield.
This cursory self-evaluation left me knowing I COULD work to support a wife, but something was wrong with that answer. It wasn't just that I knew my father was waiting for that response; there was something my heart was not articulating. So I remained silent under the stars, delving deeper into myself. An owl hooted from the end of the meadow. I eventually touched a finger to the feeling and opened my mouth. What came out was woefully garbled and inadequate. The rudderless hormonal ramblings of a 15-year-old. I'm sure it did very little to allay my father's misgivings. But now, after 16 years of marriage, I think I can finally put it to words, though I warn you, it may still be the wide-eyed lowing of a calf on the moor.
Bethany and I and the kids were on the Kaiser's garage roof, about 6 months into our trip, hammering shingles down on a cupola. It was around 95 degrees. It might have been a recipe for foul tempers had we not each held a hammer and nails.
The fundamental joy of pounding a nail with a hammer seizes our imagination as a toddler, becoming an icon; the quintessence of 'making something'. Bam bam BAM! And when we've grown to actually heft and strike the hammer we discover our childhood expectations of pure fun are delivered in full. Pounding a nail really IS the sweet spot of construction!
So we were all in fine spirits, sweating, building this little house on the roof peak, which 3 weeks before we'd had no idea was called a cupola. Now we knew how one was built.
I watched Bethany pound a nail. When she looked up we both grinned, and it dawned on me, this was it. This was the very thing I'd longed for at 15. To have a real live girl pouring her heart with my heart into the same project. Pouring our hearts together into whatever work there was. Into whatever people there were. A real live girl unafraid to hoist sails, sing songs, cross swords, and pound nails. RIGHT BY MY SIDE!
I stood under a sunset sky on the Kaiser's roof, spellbound by this girl with the hammer. Tears flooding my eyes. God got me good with this one. How long had I tried working to support a wife, when all along it was wiving to support a work. Not the 'behind every great man is an even greater woman' kind of work. Not MY work. Our work. A 'weaving our separate thousand dreams into one fabric of Doing and let God blow the sail' kind of work. This was the sweet spot of marriage.
As I reveled, dusk descended on the Kaiser's garden releasing a great cloud of mosquitoes. We were determined to nail the last eight shingles before it was truly dark. Our sweat hung like stratas of soup steam, perfuming the air. The mosquito cloud (like 10,000 Bugs Bunnies, floating on their fingertips, noses in the sweet-stream) ascended to the cupola and engulfed us. Have you ever swatted a mosquito biting your person with a hammer? We were dancing the Macarena at triple-speed, but the onslaught was so relentless and overwhelming our sanity was starting to suffer. We abandoned ship leaving the last few shingles for morning.
It is a fine morning waking up with hammer girl.