My friend Bob and I are building a compost bin, a sturdy one with four-by-four posts and thick wire mesh between. To make the frame we use heavy duty hex-head wood screws and I break out my trusty ratchet wrench. Now, I am no wood worker or even handy-man around the house. Those are not my skills nor my interests, anybody would tell you that. But I do love a good ratchet wrench. Mine is a Sears Craftsman that I got long ago from my dad. In fact, I got my love of ratchet wrenches from hanging out with my dad as a small boy. Initially I was attracted by the universal joint in my dad’s set which enables a wrench to be used at any angle. This capability comes in handy when you are working in tight places which I learned later in high school when I got into working on cars. But as a small boy it was wondrous to see how that part of the set folded in various directions and when attached to the wrench and a socket could bend and twist at the same time.
There is an iconography of tools for some of us who were lucky enough to find at least one tool that made an impression at a young age. They become both tools and symbols that physically work on projects like the compost bin or fixing a car, but also on a psychological level indexing memories that have been stored for decades. There is muscle memory in the wrist and arm that, as you turn the wrench back and forth, are keys that unlock those first moments of working with the wrench and working with your father. There is also an auditory memory, you hear the zipping clicks that are like some mad cicada, and you are transported in time to being five years old. The scent of the wood brings back memories of the workbench that dad built in his garage that still stands there today.