Things I Have Learned: The Ghost in the Sander

A somewhat random and reckless look at life from a fairly old guy

by Bill Ward

Today’s Wisdom: Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose. ~Kevin Arnold

The other day I had a project fixing some water damage in my bathroom vanity. Needing to do some serious sanding, I got my old vibrating sander out. When I say “old,” I mean old. My father operated a cabinet shop when I was a kid, and that sander sat on his workbench for years, always handy for some quick touch-up work. When he passed, I ended up with quite a few of his tools. 

As I worked on my project, an odd thing happened. Each time I picked up that sander, a vision of my father passed through my brain. I don’t know if Dad’s spirit was attached to his sander, but my memory of him sure was. It was almost like he was in the room with me as I worked. Add in the smell of the sawdust, the same smell that overwhelmed his cabinet shop, and it became a pretty powerful experience. 

I also ended up many years ago with many of my grandfather’s tools. Memories of my grandfather flash when I grab one of his old wrenches. 

I suspect I am not alone in this experience. People connect with powerful memories in the things they associate with. I recently drove past the house of my childhood. The memories that flashed through were almost like a movie in very-fast forward. They were all good.

One of the things I have learned is that places, smells, vehicles, photos, dates, and even tools evoke memories. What are some of the things that stimulate good memories for you? I know the opposite can also happen, so I only ask that you raise the good ones. Ask your family members around the table sometime. I bet you get some interesting conversations.

In our basement are at least two storage bins full of photo albums of our family life, mostly from when the kids were little. We don’t get them out much anymore, but when I am older and grayer than I am now, I hope someone brings them when they come to visit. It is fun to re-experience the good stuff. They can also bring me a can of sawdust so I can take a deep whiff and go visit Dad for a while. 

I’m just sayin’.

Bill Ward is a retired healthcare administrator from Minnesota and a regular columnist, author,
and untalented rock n’ roll musician. He winters at Casa Del Sol in Donna. You can contact Bill
by email at

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