Builder by Kristen MacKenzie
On 05/29/2015 | 2 Comments
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Photo Credit: www.archdavisdesigns.com


Dad was more storyteller than mechanic, leaving his wartime occupation as soon as his tour ended. He was a Bible salesman when he met Mom, but before I was in preschool, my parents made a choice that was unusual for the time with Mom being the sole breadwinner, going back to work at the hospital.

Having a father at home instead of a mother gave my earliest years a shape that fit me well for the life I seemed destined for. There was never any pestering about dressing nicely or even bothering to brush my hair for that matter. But Dad did teach me how to tie my shoes and whistle.

I whistle in my workshop a lot. It’s a place where song comes easily. I like working alone, able to swear or sing and not apologize for either.


My guidance counselors said the same thing Mom had when I said what I wanted to do for a living.

“Are you sure, dear?” as if it was 1948 instead of 2002.

Showing up for class the first day and finding that I wasn’t the only woman confirmed what I knew was true; it was time things changed. By the time we graduated from the master builder’s program four years later, the number of women in the program had jumped twenty percent. I just wish Dad could have been there to see it.

“It was his heart,” they said. “He likely didn’t feel a thing,” they reassured me. I felt it though.

My father’s things were exactly as he’d left them the night before, preparing for the next day’s work. It was just the way I did things in my shop, because he’d taught me. The chisel was freshly sharpened, laying beside a pile of cedar to be trimmed down for staves.

He was found just inside the door, coffee spilled on the floor. He hadn’t even started with the day’s tasks before his heart gave out. The concrete was swept clean, no trace of dust or shavings. If there had only been something left to show his last presence there, I would have had something to hold in my hand, some way to feel him still. But it was gone and so was he.

There wasn’t any way for me to fit the truth of it into the space where Dad always was, tucked away into the places where I had become me. When I picked up my tools after the funeral and the awkward meeting with the lawyer, they didn’t feel like mine. The handles were slippery in my grasp, as if I’d never held them before.

He taught me. If he was gone, wasn’t all of this gone with him?

That’s when I started the boat.  My hands needed to find the rhythm of the work, new work, a project that was different and just for me. And for Dad. Building a boat felt like the only choice.



Kristen MacKenzie lives on Vashon Island in a quiet cabin where the shelves are lined with herbs for medicine-making, the floor is open for dancing and the table faces the ocean, waiting for a writer to pick up the pen. While a workshop does indeed live below the house, currently chicken coops and quail hutches are made there but there’s room for the dream of a boat and should it ever be built, Kristen’s father will fortunately be on hand to lend his expertise.

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