How Her Father’s Hammer Became a Spiritual Symbol

A heaven-sent sign of encouragement and love from their father.

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Posted in , Jul 23, 2021

An illustration of a father climbing a ladder; Illustration by Alex Green

”Remember what Dad always told us,” my twin sister, Brenda, said as I took out my toolbox. “‘You can do anything you set your mind to.’” It was true that Dad never set limits on us. But building a new porch from scratch? Maybe that was pushing it.

Initially I thought I would just be replacing a few of the rotten planks on my deck. That would have been an easy project, the kind of thing I’d been familiar with since I was a kid.

When our parents decided to build a weekend cabin, Dad drew up the plans and enlisted Brenda and me as helpers. He showed us how to do everything from floor to ceiling. I had my own lightweight hammer, but sometimes he’d let me pound the nails with his big 16-ounce. After Dad died, Brenda let me keep the ham-mer, which I displayed in a place of honor in the den.

How I wished Dad were here to answer my questions now. When I pulled up the rotten boards, we found the support beams were deteriorating too. The entire deck would have to be rebuilt, and all we had was Dad’s can-do spirit to inspire us.

“I wish I could be more help,” Brenda said. She was staying with me while she recovered from shoulder surgery, so construction work was out for her. “But I can do little things with my good arm and cheer you on!” Rather than a simple deck, we designed a new porch together—screened in, with an angled roof. Now it was time to get to work. I measured, sawed and hammered. Brenda stayed one step ahead, so I knew what was coming next. I imagined Dad right there with us, encouraging and building our confidence. “How do we know when it’s ready?” I’d asked him, just 11 years old, as we mixed concrete for the cabin’s basement floor.

“We drag a hoe through what we’ve got mixed and see how it acts,” he said. “If it crumbles along the sides, it’s too dry. If it sags into the middle where we just dragged, it’s too runny. Once the consistency is just right, it’s time to pour.” Why shouldn’t a couple of 11-year-old girls know how to pour concrete?

After a few months of hard work, Brenda and I had set new posts with concrete anchors, finished the floor and laid down support beams for the rafters. We set up scaffolding and stacked the two-by-eight-foot boards so they were ready to install. Brenda had already cleared everything off the scaffolding so I didn’t trip while nailing them down. Now she was on the ground, reaching up with her good arm to space them right where they needed to go, so I didn’t have to measure.

“These boards would be easier to place if I could just tap them with a hammer,” she said. “Would you grab Dad’s off the shelf for me, please?”

Maybe Dad’s hammer is just what we need out here! But when I looked inside, the hammer wasn’t on the shelf. It never left its special spot in the den. I searched all over, but the old hammer was nowhere to be found. It felt like a bad sign for our project. I went outside, where Brenda was still absorbed in her work. “Brenda, I have some bad news.”

Before I could tell her, we both looked over at the scaffolding. It had been empty minutes before—everything moved off for safety—but now, sitting right in the middle of it, was Dad’s hammer. “How did that get there?” Brenda said. Dad may not have been able to supervise our new project in person, but his can-do spirit was close at hand. This was going to be some porch.

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