There Will Be Blood
When he was working on a motorcycle, part of him stayed behind
He was trim, in 2002, at age 80, he was the same 165 pounds as he was in 1939, the year he enlisted in the army. He was just shy of six-feet tall—not a big man. Except for his hands. His knuckles were broad, his fingers long, and the meat of his paw had the heft of a bear’s. Try finding riding gloves for those hands.
Before the Internet, to find anything motorcycle related (or anything) we were entirely dependant on local shopkeepers. If a store didn’t have what you required—or the interest in doing the legwork to help you find it—you called dealerships and hoped someone would help. Sometimes you just couldn’t get what you needed. Like a pair of really large gloves.
For my father, gloves marked large were laughably small. Extra large gloves—if he could get them on at all—would stretch to where they looked like rubber gloves overinflated with water. He rode with gardening gloves, and, during a luckless period when we couldn’t find anything that fit, welding gloves. But then, at the back of a motorcycle shop, I found a pair of new (and filthy) Craig Vetter branded gloves from the ’70s. They were astonishingly ugly. Pink and orange and yellow and brown and magenta leather scraps quilted together. They weren’t retro. They were regrettable.
I tried one on. I lowered my hand to my side. The glove fell off. I knew I’d found them. He was thrilled. He didn’t care how they looked. He appreciated the cut of a fine suit, but the notion that motorcycle gear could be stylish held no interest to him. Together with his two-tone leather jacket (light leafy green and deep forest green) he was a sight. In the presence of other motorcyclists, I always expected someone to make a quip—good-natured or otherwise—about his gear, but no-one ever did. It took me years to register that my father, even as an old man, had a physical presence that discouraged criticism.
The hands lost little of their strength as he aged, but his skin became as thin as tissue paper. At the least provocation they would bleed. Just handling a piece of emery cloth could cause blood to seep out. A genuine cut caused a bloodbath. He’d never stop midway through a task, but later I’d see bandages on his hands. Only once or twice did he curse under his breath about the frustrations of growing old.
Through those hands and forearms he could summon great amounts of torque. I’d have all my weight on an 18-inch breaker bar and not be able to make a nut budge. He would clamp his hands down directly over mine and lean into it. And, always, a drop or two of blood left behind. Sometimes, after he’d gone back into the house, I’d see blood on my hands, and think I’d cut myself. But the blood I’d thought was mine, was his.