William Edward Beeken

William E. Beeken

My Father

Even in his absence, my whole life has been underscored by a love of trains and the smell of paint and wood putty.

My father did not work on the railroad; he managed a store for Dean & Barry. When he wasn’t at the store, he was renovating our old house from top to bottom. I remember the paint buckets, the wallpaper and the drop cloths. And everywhere he went, the smell of wood putty.

He kept an electric train track in our basement. I guess that was a nod to his father and grandfather who were both conductors for the New York Central. My parents divorced and I never got a chance to ask him. When I was 3 years old I remember sitting at the top of freshly-painted stairs looking down at him and the train going around the track. I remember him looking back, first surprised to see me there and then waiting for me to speak. I don’t remember having anything to say. I just wanted to watch what he was doing.

Some years after he died, I was in my workshop, building a table, when I suddenly felt his presence beside me. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t tell me I was doing it wrong. He didn’t even say he liked it. He just wanted to watch what I was doing.