I love old man garages. They are inevitably musty, eclectic, and full of treasures. They are comfortable places for me, probably because I spent so much time in them as a kid.
My brother and I visited my dad's house today. I don't get over there very often, but every time I do, I'm struck by how funny and unusual his tastes and style are. When I was a kid, it was normal to live in a house where the wall art was all antique guns and photos of classic cars he had owned at various times of his life. There were by far more sentimental car photos than photos of people on the walls.
Growing up, I spent a lot of Saturday nights playing alone in man garages while my dad and his friends hung out, drank, and talked all night. We would visit his friend Big Don, whose garage was particularly epic, as he was not only a car & motorcycle guy, but a historian and outdoorsman. There were animal heads, Civil War artifacts, guns, knives, bikes, car parts, everywhere. They were all amateur bodybuilders, so each garage was also a miniature gym. None of the guys had kids my age, and I was expected to entertain myself without being a pest. So I would sit on a bench and flip through cabinet card photos, or peck out tunes on the hundred year old piano he had salvaged from the nunnery at the local Catholic church, or sit at the massive wood slab that was their kitchen table, playing with loose bullets that were rolling around or stacking playing cards into houses. Once, I found a coffee can with severed deer legs sticking out of it, the butchered ends salted. This didn't meet my approval. I also recall finding a huge tortoise shell that still stank of bits of flesh that had been missed. Big Don's house was totally fascinating.
My dad's garage was good too. Exploring always felt risky because you never knew when you'd come upon the unfortunate discovery of and unwanted insect. His garage was small, detached from the house and custom built by the house's first owner, who had had similar tastes. Some of his possessions had been left behind, abandoned by family after he died. Unlike Don's garage, ours was dark, and as much as I liked it, with the warped work table, the ancient pencil sharpener mounted to the wall that I'd use when doing homework, and the comforting smells of old wood and years of dirt, it was spooky and unwelcoming. I didn't tend to linger in there.
I lived in that house alone after I turned 18. My dad had moved in with his girlfriend, and rather than deal with renting it, he let me live there as long as I paid the utilities. I had a roommate at first, my middle school best friend, but eventually had to kick her out for her intolerable habits and inability to pay the minimal costs of living there.
Once the house was mine alone, I didn't go in the garage much. The mood was different after my dad took his things out. I would work on my various projects in there, painting the furniture I'd drag home from thrift stores, but I really didn't like to hang out. It didn't feel safe. The whole house felt creepy and unpredictable once my dad had gone, and I started to adopt weird behaviors in there to adapt to the dark mood. I'd avoid entering certain rooms or parts of the house after dark. This was easy, as it was a long and rambling ranch style, so I could stay well away from the east side of the house if I wanted to. If I stayed up late at night, I'd often become very uncomfortable around midnight or 1 am, sometimes to the point that I would leave the house and stay the night with my boyfriend instead.
After I finally moved out, my dad spent some time prepping it for renters. I stopped by to see the progress one day and he called me into the garage. The large door was open, letting in the breeze and light of spring in Phoenix. I had known for years that there had been a suicide in the house, but I never knew the details. I thought no one did. My dad pointed to the unfinished beams of the ceiling and said, "Ever notice that stain?" I said no. I guess I had never looked up. The stain was more of a splatter of black blotches on the beams. My dad explained that Vern, the old man and original owner of the house next door, had told him the details of the suicide years ago, and took him into the garage to show him. The splatter was the final evidence of that suicide, leftover blood and brains that had been overlooked by whomever had had the unsavory task of cleaning the poor woman up. I guess they hadn't looked up either. She had done it in there to prevent messing up the house. My dad had never told me because he didn't want me to be afraid of the house.
That might've been why our garage wasn't as cheery as others I've known.
Still, they are magic places and I'm always delighted when I visit people's houses and find that they have one, too - a crusty, dirty space full of weird junk. Not everyone does this, of course - curate an unrefined ever-evolving museum of personal tastes and pasts.