While randomly passing by somewhere today I smelled my Gramp’s old garage and a wave of nostalgia washed over me. I’m not sure how one would even describe it to someone and come close to getting it right. How do you describe a combination of fresh air, cigarette smoke, firewood, gunpowder, whiskey,chain saws, deer meat, gardening tools, work boots, and wood smoke combined and steeped in lots and lots of time. I’ve read that smell can be a strong trigger for memory, and I instantly remembered poring over old pictures, listening to stories, shooting guns, looking for deer, fishing…but most of all I remembered wanting to be here…in Maine. Exploring whats around the next bend in the river or the next rise of the trail. Jumping at the explosion of the flushing grouse. Throwing out a lure and seeing the line instantly tighten with a fish.
Centerfolds from Playboy magazine hung on the walls as did the names and dates of his friends who had passed. In those days in Maine drinking during the day was an accepted practice, and the estate caretakers and gardeners would often congregate at Gramps garage for a drink at 9 am which was morning break. I would sit with them, a child some 60 years their junior and listen to all their stories, taking everything in. Ted Donnell, Clyde Carter, David Hyde, Tony Hamor, Elmer Green, Hap Haskell, Waldo Damon, Donald Bryant, Ralph Young, and Hughie Wright were part of the crew that would visit his garage. As I sit here today I can still hear and see them in my mind. Before 9 am Gramp would say he was having “apple juice” but after 9 he would call it a snort. You can read more about Gramp here.
I’m not religious but I always had a deep respect for how our town’s minister handled funerals. When Gramp died he took the time to grieve with us and learn some of Gramps stories and special quirks. The minister knew of Gramps garage, and after the funeral quietly handed my mother a piece of paper with a quote from Frederick Buechner.
Only God is Holy, just as only people are human. God’s holiness is God’s Godness. To speak anything else as holy is to say that it has something of God’s mark upon it. Times, places, things, and people can all be holy, and when they are, they are usually not hard to recognize.
One holy place I know is a workshop attached to a barn. There is a wood-burning stove in it made out of an oil-drum. There is a workbench, dark and dented, with shallow, crammed drawers behind one of which a cat lives. There is a girlie calendar on the wall, plus various lengths of chain and rope, shovels and rakes of different sizes and shapes, some worn-out jackets and caps on pegs, an electric clock that doesn’t keep time. On the workbench are two small plug-in radios both of which have serious things wrong with them. There are several metal boxes full of wrenches and a bench saw. There are a couple of chairs with rungs missing. The place smells mainly of engine oil and smoke–both of wood smoke and pipe smoke. The windows are small, even on bright days what light there is comes through mainly in window-sized patches on the floor.
I have no idea why this place is holy, but you can tell it is the moment you set foot in it if you have an eye for that kind of thing. For reasons known only to God, it is one place God uses for sending God’s love through.
Frederick Buechner’s Beyond Words, p. 156