The week that I was home in Ontario for my father’s death in November I packed up a box of things from his office and workshop that I wanted to remember him by. That office and that workshop were perhaps the truest manifestations of who Dad was: packed full of things that might one day be useful, extremely well organized, and kind of weird. I had no more emotional moment that week than when I entered his office for the first time after he died, seeing it exactly as he left it; it was sacred space, with his atoms still swirling around. I had to leave and come back the next day.
By the end of the week I’d filled the box I’d found in the basement (Dad was nothing if not a compulsive saver of cardboard boxes–a trait I have inherited). The box arrived in the mail today, courtesy of brother Mike’s postal prowess, and before its contents got scattered to the corners of my office, I took photos of everything, and thus am able to present here a Museum of Norm.
For years and years and years Dad had an index card taped to his office door at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters with a pointer that he could rotate to indicate where he was when he wasn’t in his office. It bears the marks of much use, and many edits, and it’s lost its pointer, but it survived:
Here are the places Dad could be that weren’t his office (clockwise from top-left):
- Working at Home (689-5218) – that was our home phone number in Carlisle; I still sometimes call it even though my parents moved. and their phone number changed.
- Eng. Geol. or Srd. Lab
- Elswhere in the Bldg.
- Printer or Xerox Room, R132/132A
- French Class/Seminar/Mtg.
- Room R105
- Computing Centre
- Burlington, Hamilton, Mac – Mac was McMaster University
This is my most treasured artifact.
Dad spent his entire career working for the federal government at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington, Ontario. Over the 30+ years he spent there as research scientist, his practice of nearshore sedimentology was organized under a variety of sections and divisions. Here are a selection of his business cards reflecting those changes:
Geolimnology Section, Lakes Division
Aquatic Ecosystem Management Research Branch
Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Branch
Aquatic Remediation Technologies, New Technologies Research Branch
Have Computer Will Travel
When Dad and I ran Cellar Door Software together in the 1980s, we made up some business cards on a dot matrix printer, under the tag line Have Computer Will Travel:
I inherited my love of having the right tool at the right time for the right job from my father. Between his workshop and his office he had the right tool for a lot of jobs, and I used the opportunity to fill gaps in my own collection.
From the number of batteries of all types – AA, AAA, watch batteries, and more – that Dad had in his office, it’s obvious that he found nothing more frustrating than not having the right battery at hand when needed. This tester allowed him to gauge whether any given battery was still worth keeping around:
A well-equipped workshop has many scrapers, and Dad’s certainly did. I remember this one in particular, though, both for its compact design, and for using it in a summer-long effort to scrape the paint off my dresser:
I used to marvel at Dad’s ability to use this wire stripper tool to remove just the insulation from a piece of wire, leaving the conductor itself intact. Now I can do it myself!
If I’m to be perfectly honest, I have no idea whatsoever what a sliderule is for, or how it works. But this beautiful, compact one in Dad’s desk drawer needed saving; its twin is in the collection of the Computer History Museum.
I don’t know why, but of all Dad’s tools I have the strongest attachment to this try square:
Dad was very much of the “pay more for a well-made tool and keep it for life” school, and these dividers are a good example of that. I love the tool; I also love his printing on the box.
I just love everything about this tiny magnifier with its sliding metal cover.
Pencil sharpeners these days are flimsy; this one, a model KS from the Boston Pencil Sharpener Company, is built like a tank. I’m going to mount it near the letterpress, and heretofore it will sharpen all my pencils.
A pair of heavy duty rubber gloves that are perfect for the wet work of letterpress. I also like the idea of holding hands with Dad.
I’ve a feeling Dad might have inherited these snips from his own father: there are well-worn, but still very usable.
My father and I shared a love of rubber stamps–I’ve got a whole barrel of them somewhere here in the office. These date from his days as a graduate student in Rochester, New York; the bottom one comes from C.H. Morse & Son.
It happens enough that it’s almost a law: when you need electrical tape you can’t find electrical tape. And so you use masking tape. Or cello tape. Or something else entirely inappropriate to the job. Now I have electrical tape.
Dad had an entire shoe box full of string in his basement workshop, and it was all I could do to prevent myself from taking it all. But space was a consideration, so I took only the two most interesting examples. I’ll use this for tying up metal type and for bookbinding.
Cords and Adapters
Are these a tool? A supply? Like me, Dad had boxes and boxes filled with power supplies, extension cords, and adapters. When will I ever need a stereo-mini-male to stereo-mini-male adapter? I don’t know. But if Dad felt he needed one at the ready, I should honour this.
When we moved from Burlington to Carlisle in 1972, the house my parents bought was at 63 Progreston Road; sometime thereafter the street got re-numbered, and what was № 63 became № 343. Dad saved the 63. I would do the same thing in his position.
Second only to a love of tools, Dad and I also shared a love of things-that-hold-other-things (I have an entire shelf with that label, filled with envelopes and boxes and pouches). This is a lovely example of a thing-that-holds-other-things, a Quik-Bands bandage tin. It now holds the aforementioned rubber stamps.
Joseph Brant Hospital Volunteer Badge
In his retirement, Dad volunteered every Friday at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington. His dedication to his post was such that the week he had a heart attack several years ago he phoned to apologize: “I’m afraid I won’t be able to make my shift on Friday, as I’ve had a heart attack.” This is one of his volunteer ID badges from that post.
CCGL Puffin Plaque
The RoxAnn surveys that Dad and his crew conducted in the Great Lakes were done from CCGL Puffin, a survey launch (CCGL stands for Canadian Coast Guard Launch).
While I was pretty certain the Puffin sank, as Dad’s 2008 email about the plaque was titled “The Puffin in happier days,” word is that she’s still on the water, acting as a sort of “tow truck for boats.” The Puffin’s sister, the Petrel, is still in Coast Guard service, and is their oldest launch.
Dad included a photo of the launch with that email:
Plan Your Visit
Alas after I surveyed the collection and took photos, I dispersed the items making up The Museum of Norm into various spots in my office, ready for deployment when needed. So there’s no way to tour the collection as a whole other than virtually. But as I test batteries, tie strings, scrape paint, and wrap things in electrical tape in the weeks, months and years to come, the museum will live through me.
What are children if not museums of our parents.