Wednesday, February 23, 2011

All geared up

In the days of my youth, my mom would come home from work with the noble intention of putting dinner in the oven. As often as not, she'd open the front door to an industrial smell permeating the entire house.

Odd chemical odors were not unusual back then. Dad's machine shop was housed in the basement and garage. He was forever coating, sealing, priming and fusing things with an array of ghastly products, the labels for which were festooned with jolly rogers and deadly warnings.

Hence, Mom wouldn't pay much attention to the acrid smell wafting into the foyer. She'd go about her business of stowing her purse, kicking off her heels and changing clothes--until she'd go to put the meatloaf in the oven, only to find the odor wasn't paint drying, but some weird chunk of oily steel tempering in the Magic Chef.

"Goddamnit, Bill!"

This phenomenon was never more beautifully manifested than on one fine spring day when Dad decided to heat a steel gear.

It was a gear much like any other gear, about seven or eight inches in diameter. Dad needed this particular gear to get very, very hot. So he cranked the oven as high as it would go, slid the gear onto the middle rack and let it "roast" for several hours.

When Dad thought the gear had gotten as hot as it was going to get, he donned Mom's oven mitt, reached into the oven and grabbed the gear.

That's when things went south.

He achieved his goal more successfully than he realized. The gear was hot--really hot--so hot that it immediately burned through mom's mitt. As soon as the searing steel touched his flesh, Dad dropped the gear.


 The gear fell to the floor where it immediately sunk and burned into the carpet.


Realizing the gear was leaving an eternal gear-shaped brand in front of the oven, Dad reacted by kicking it. The gear had perhaps cooled a bit, but was still incredibly hot. Hence, it landed a few inches from where Dad had first dropped it and proceeded to burn into the carpet there.

"Shit! Shit! Shit!"

Nonplussed, Dad continued to kick the gear several times until he finally grasped the situation (along with a tong), picked up the gear, and tossed it into the kitchen sink.

"Goddamnit anyway."

The final result was an arcing pattern of gears about two feet long. In a subtle artistic note, each gear impression was lighter than the previous one due to the cooling of the steal and Dad's emphatic kicks.

The gear brands remained on the floor for several weeks (or was it months?) until Mom finally got the new linoleum floor she'd wanted since we'd moved into the house (the gear brands may have, in fact, expedited said installation).

Every word of this story is true, and my mother, who is a daily reader of this blog, can corroborate it. That will have to do since all evidence of the gear branded carpet is gone. Oh how I wish I had a photo.

My advice to you, dear reader, is to take as many pictures as you can stand lest one day you shall be remembering your own version of the gear branded carpet story. You will laugh and laugh, until you realize that the people with whom you should be laughing are long gone along with the evidence, just like an echo.

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Today's photos feature Mom and Dad engaging in less indelible kitchen endeavors. Click on any to enlarge.

* * *


rraine said...

alert: i think that should be "corroborate" not, "collaborate."
that aside, don't you know wonder about the effects of inhaling all those fumes?

Anonymous said...

I loved the story. You look a lot like your Mom. I am very bad at picture taking, I keep saying I'll get better but alas it never seems to happen.

Hi Mom! :-)

Erin O'Brien said...

rraine: Thank you. Sometimes the proofreading department here at the Offices of Erin O'Brien gets a little lazy. It's hard to find good people these days.

As for your second question, I wonder about a lot of things, but not that. Mostly because any investigation of toxins I involuntarily consumed would quickly lead to the investigation of toxins I voluntarily consumed and I think we all know how embarrassing that can be.

Sarah@PingsAndNeedles said...

Oh Erin, I've been semi-professionally lurking at your blog for ages - always entertained but you know how it is, we lurkers are fickle souls, and we shuffle off somewhere else before our trail is scented ...

... But I just had to say how much I love this post - we all have a 'gear story' and the poignancy of your final sentence left a lump in my throat ... so true ... so very very true ...

thanks for a great blog :)

alphadog said...

If Erin's mom pleads the 5th I'll corroborate this tale. Not because I saw it first hand but because that was typical Bill O'Brien.
Erin's dad was one hell of an engineer, machinist, craftsman and thinker. He had an absolute genius for taking what appeared to be nothing, envisioning something, and making it happen with his own two hands; by whatever means available.
I daresay the tolerance of Erin's mom Judy played no small part in this.
Thanks Bill and Judy, I'm a richer man for having known you both.
Jon Moore

glittergirl said...

beautiful words and photos.

you got me at the end. sobbing.

i take so many photos as an adult, but i wish i'd taken more. i have my own carpet story i was telling my husband and found myself wishing for a photo.

thanks for the lovely story and for making me bawl.


Erin O'Brien said...

Thanks for all the kind words. They really mean a lot to me. I know that sounds canned, but it's true.

Alph, it's wonderful to hear from someone who knew my folks.

Anonymous said...

Y'know, one of my favorite things about your Dad was that lawnmower/Terminator type thing. I swear to god he was able to fold space, or at least create some sort of wormhole so that he could store it.

Great post. Thanks.


Leslie Morgan said...

And I repeat the sentiment,"Shit, shit, shit!"

LOVE to see the pics of your parents, Erin, but I am particularly drawn to how much you look like Mom.

WV - scion. Think Dad could fix up a faulty Scion, Erin?

Anonymous said...

Touching post.

Shit. Those echo's hurt too.


Bill said...

I love the way you write about your family. What a gift you have. I have lots of similar memories that will probably stay in my head because I don't have the wonderful talent it takes to put them to words. You may not have the pictures but your words, describing the memory, are just as good. No. Better.

philbilly said...

The commies held off invading us in part because they knew guys like your Dad would just go in the basement, turn a bazooka on the lathe from wrought black pipe, and kick their asses.

philbilly said...

I first read "less indelible" as "less inedible." Still works.

Erin, I have been shopping recently for a suitable barbecue grill as I gear up to weld an ancient cracked cast iron manifold that is unavailable in the world.

After the pre-heat, weld and post-heat operations, I'll have a groovy new grill, too.
I am pretty sure your Dad would approve. Gonna do some green tomamtoes, too.

MostlyFlumxd said...

Love it!

Anonymous said...

Hey O'Brien!!! Listen up. This piece made my Friday. I've been thinking about you and John for some reason, lately. And my connection in my heart to Cleveland is often strengthened by you and your writing. Carry on. And keep semi-calm.

Hal said...

I love all the pictures, especially the third one. Is your Dad looking for a bottle opener so he can enjoy what looks like a 32 or 40 ounce bottle of really shitty beer while he goes back downstairs to work in his shop?

And what kind of beer was that? At first the red label made me think Bud, but now I'm not so sure. I can't think of what else would look like that.

Whatever it is, that pic is priceless.

Bill the Wrenchbender said...

Great story, thanks for sharing!

CT said...

I loved this post, Erin. Straight to the heart.