He lived by himself after that. They had not had any children. They had a small house and lived simply. He always had a huge garden and was quick to share his summer's bounty with our family. At the time I had three very small children. He was kind to the children and never got mad when they wandered over to 'visit' with him or to 'help' him in his garden.
When he died, his extended family had a garage sale with his life's belongings. I walked next door to the sale and saw the dishes, clothes, furniture and all the myriad items one uses in an 80+ year life. I wanted something to remember him by and the kindnesses he had shared.
I looked at his hats, tools and other items, then I spotted this beauty (and I do mean beauty) under a table. It was clearly considered a 'leftover'. It was still filled with rusted screws, a few washers, and old nails.
I knew this was the piece I wanted.
I took it up to pay and the niece said, "You want that old thing? Just take it." She made it clear that it wasn't worth anything (to her) and that she could not believe I wanted it.
I took it home and washed it out. It was still kind of grimy so I power-washed it out at the car wash. Then it was near-perfect.
Clearly, it is an old tool box. It was more than likely made by my neighbor himself many years ago. The handle is a galvanized pipe. There are four different 'compartments' in it. (One board down the middle lengthwise then a divider across.) At first I tried putting plastic containers inside each compartment so that my own 'tools' would not get anything on them, but it was just too much trouble to always be making sure I got my 'tools' inside the plastic in the toolbox. I took the plastic containers out and have used it just as it is ever since. My tools fit it perfectly without any problem.
The toolbox has followed me to three different kitchens (or four if you count our kitchen before we remodeled). I have used it for 25+ years to hold my 'tools' for cooking, just as my old neighbor used it for years before to hold his own tools.
The worn patina is just as I found it. Aged with use. I had the metal 'L' disc I got on Ebay (it was originally from Pottery Barn). One day I just tacked it to the end of the toolbox, loved the look and have left it there since. Other than that (and cleaning it) I have done nothing to change the toolbox.
The funny thing is, in those three (or four) kitchens the toolbox has lived in, there has always been the perfect niche where it fit exactly and worked perfectly. That tells me it needs to stay. After all, ours is truly a working kitchen and every working kitchen could use a good toolbox!
Twenty five years ago people were not into reuse/recycle/reclaim as they are now. I have had a lot of 'comments' and 'suggestions' for my toolbox. I imagine I will continue to get 'friendly' advice about my toolbox. But each day when I see it, I am reminded of my 'friendly' neighbor and how a little part of our friendship lives on.