The Dustpan

It’s after supper on Saturday evening. I’m piddling in my shop. Zelda is with me. She came over to spend the night with Grandpa. I’m in heaven. The smell of wood and a grandchild who loves to sweep up sawdust has me in a good mood.

The last month has been tough for our family. Too many funerals. Too many hard things to contemplate for an old man.

But not tonight.

Tonight, I am in Grandpa mode. I’m supervising the sweeping being done at the hands of an 8-year-old. She is enthusiastic. My world is okay for a change.

“I love to sweep sawdust,” she says. I wish all my employees had this joyful spirit about work.

“And you’re doing a fine job of it.” I say this because I am an encourager of work that I don’t have to do.

“You wanna use the big broom?”

She makes a huge smiley-face. “Yes sir. What’s a big broom?”

“I bought a push broom a couple of weeks ago just for you.”

I hand her the broom and she giggles. Eyes wide open. I love how simple things bring simple pleasures to a child.

She reaches away from her with the broom and starts pulling the sawdust toward her. The handle is longer than she is tall.

“Hey. It’s a “push” broom. It works better going the other direction.”

She looks at me with a scrunched-up face. I’m sitting up on my shop table, so I get down and show her how it works.

“Let me try. Let me try.”

In a matter of minutes, she gets the hang of it. She backs up in the corner as far away as she can get and makes a long push to the pile she’s started. Back to the corner again and another long push.

I give more instructions. “When you get to the pile and stop, bump your broom on the floor to shake off the sawdust caught in the bristles. Otherwise, you’re carrying sawdust back to where you started.”

“Like this?” she asks.

“One bump. A little harder.”

I grab the regular broom so I can get around the edges of all the table legs and junk in my shop. She pushes by me like a bulldozer on a mission. She is tireless in her work because to her this is like a game.

“You missed some over there.”

I point like the supervisor I am. She runs to take another pass. And before long she has a pile in the middle of the floor the size of two wheelbarrows.

“Can I put it in the barrel now?”

She knows the drill like a seasoned veteran sweeper. I have three 30-gallon barrels in my shop. One for trash. One for cut-off scraps. One for sawdust. She grabs the handle and drags the barrel over near the pile. Marshall has come to see what’s going on and he helps her with the barrel.

“Where’s the dustpan?” she asks.

Lordy, I have to get off the table again. The dustpan hangs on a nail under the edge of my saw table. It’s a cheap plastic one. Probably came from the dollar store with a broom that is long gone. There is silver duct tape on one side where the plastic split out a few weeks ago.

I hand it to her. She inspects the tape.

“What happened?”

“It had a split in it. My buddy, John, put the tape on there to fix it.”

She gave me a sideways look like “looks dumb to me.”

I really can’t blame her. Old guys that fix stuff with duct tape don’t really care what it looks like as long as it is functional. This is the beauty of duct tape. It’s not made to be pretty. It’s made to get you back up and running, at least for a while.

This has been 40 years ago, but I pulled into a gas station to fill up and get a snack late one night. A Mountain Dew and peanut M&Ms. I also pulled over because my temp gauge was starting to move up a little bit.

When I got out of the car, I heard a hiss coming from under the hood. The top radiator hose had a pinhole leak. After things cooled down, I took the radiator cap off to relieve the pressure. I had a roll of duct tape in the trunk and wrapped that hose until it looked like a python had swallowed a gopher.

It wasn’t pretty, but like I said, it got me back on the road and home. I wouldn’t have made it without duct tape.

So, I’m back sitting up on the table watching Zelda scoop and dump sawdust into the barrel. She stops and turns to face me with the dustpan held out where I can see it. The other side has now split out.

“Hand it to me.” She obliges.

“You can use a shovel to finish,” and I point toward the far wall.

She grabs the short spade because it’s her size. Not the best dustpan, but hey, I’m not the one scooping sawdust. In a few minutes she and Marshall finish the cleanup and head off to the house to watch “The Goonies” together. I’m content that I’m not along for the movie.

I’m standing at the shop table enjoying the quiet for a moment. I grab the dustpan and start to toss it in the trash barrel. You recall now, it’s a blue plastic dustpan from the dollar store.

But it occurs to me that I have some duct tape. And not just any duct tape; I have Gorilla Duct Tape. This stuff is like the strongest tape I’ve ever used. If you stick it to anything, it’s not gonna come off. You’ll tear up the piece before you could ever get the tape off.

I started with just one piece along the split in the bottom of the dustpan. Then I thought, “I should do both sides just to be sure it holds.” Then I noticed that the crack also went up the backside toward the handle. Well, I said to myself, “This thing is no good if the handle breaks off.”

More Gorilla tape.

I really can’t say what got into me. It was like once I got started I couldn’t quit. Some unexplainable force that is generational in my family just took over. It was like my dad’s spirit was whispering in my ear.

“That’s a good dustpan. We don’t throw away perfectly good stuff around here. Money don’t grow on trees, ya know! Just a few more pieces of tape and she’ll be good as new.”

When I got done, I would have felt ashamed about such a waste of time if I wasn’t so proud of how it turned out. My dustpan was no longer blue but black. I left the rubber strip alone along the front edge of the pan. It was, in fact, better than new.

I hung it back on the nail. Turned out the lights. Closed the door.

And I went to see if the two goonies were done with their movie.

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