One of my most prized possessions is an old wooden box. It’s about the size of a shoebox that a pair of size 16 shoes might come in. It’s got a hinged lid with an old-fashioned handle bolted to it, the kind that one might find on a very old chest of drawers. It was made by my father as his everyday tool box – the one he would carry around the house to fix things that were too heavy to carry to his workshop. Inside there is a collection of well-worn tools: an old fashioned ice pick, a multi-use screwdriver, several pairs of vice grips, a small level, a measuring tape, some wire cutters, a set of allen keys, a small tin filled with little screws and several utility knives, all fitted in just so. It’s utilitarian to the extreme, not beautiful by any stretch of the imagination, yet it’s one of the few items of my father’s that I chose to keep after his death. To me it says more about him than any home movie or photo album ever could. He worked with his hands. And he believed in using the proper tool for the job. He could have bought a perfectly good tool box at Canadian tire for $20 but that wasn’t his way. He gave me a hammer when I moved away from home at 18. Because one should have a good hammer. We didn’t talk much, but he would happily spend hours helping me make a stand for a new taiko drum, preferably one that required intense problem-solving and lots of sketches and diagrams.
Now, when something needs fixing around the house I pull out that old tool box and rummage through it to find the right tool for the job. And I feel good using these tools that were made to be used, that fit in the hand just so.
Why am I telling you about my father’s tool box? A few weeks back I was at the Nikkei Centre preparing for this month’s lead story on the late Canadian artist Aiko Suzuki, the subject of the latest exhibit at the Japanese Canadian National Museum. I knew of her peripherally but was not familiar with her work.
One of the people helping prepare the exhibit was Aiko’s daughter Chiyoko Szlavnics, a musician who lives in Germany. I was taking some photos for the article and Chiyoko was putting the final touches on the fibre sculpture hanging in the Ellipse Lobby, a monumental piece called Lyra Refrain. The work consists of hundreds, maybe thousands of single strands hanging from wooden slats. As we talked, she ran a comb through the strands, ensuring they lay just so. It struck me as I watched her work that just as I connected with my father through his tools, she was connecting to her mother in a similar way. She ran the comb back and forth through the strands, just as her mother must have done, years ago, and it struck me how precious it was to be able to touch, in a real and tangible way, those memories we hold most dear.