This editor's letter is only peripherally related to deck building and is almost entirely an indulgence of my own sentimentality. The background is that although I've lived in Connecticut since 1996, I grew up in a New Jersey town that even now has fewer than 3,000 people, and where everyone knows everyone else.

I inherited the house my father built, and where I grew up. The story is convoluted, but while I've owned the place for nearly 20 years, I came into possession of it only last June. It hadn't been lived in for years, and my wife and I spent every weekend last summer working on the house. Finding ourselves empty-nesters when our youngest left for college last September, we moved into the house to speed things up. We moved back to Connecticut in January, with most everything done. About a month ago, we started going back to Jersey on weekends to finish up the little details. It's done now, and the tenants are in and happy.

Much has changed in our hometown over 16 years. The economy has scythed down the suppliers and contractors I'd dealt with as a carpenter. Only by luck did I get back in touch with an old friend who is an excavator. Ron put me in touch with people I needed to get things done, and in the process we renewed our friendship. Taking my cue from this, I reached out to friends and cousins I hadn't seen in years, and found that most of the people I'd cared about were still there. Where I started out feeling estranged in my hometown, now I feel like I've re-found the thread.

One stand-out event happened only last weekend, our final one in Jersey. I'm a cyclist - one of those goofy-looking middle-aged guys who ride expensive bikes and wear ridiculously tight clothing. In Jersey, I often went for long, early morning rides before starting work. On one such ride, I realized I'd be passing the house of my eighth-grade teacher.

Wayne (he insists I use his first name, although I still find that difficult) inspired in me a life-long love of learning, and coincidentally, of cycling. We'd stayed in touch in earlier days, but when I moved away, I got busy starting life in another place, and he dropped into my past. I hadn't seen him in 16 years. Wayne gave up teaching long ago, and he and his wife Anita developed a successful high-end construction business. In fact, I'd worked with him on one of the last projects I did before moving away.

On an impulse, I pedaled up their driveway. No one was home, but I stuck a business card in the door. Before long, Wayne called and invited my wife (who was in my eighth-grade class) and me to visit. Wayne and Anita have a stunning home - not huge, but right - and were gracious hosts. We spent an evening on their porch watching lightning bugs light up the forest.

Wayne comes from at least three generations of carpenters and woodworkers, and he gave me a box of his grandfather's tools. He wanted them to go to someone who would appreciate them. It's one of the most touching gifts I've ever received. Wayne, if you happen to read this, I want you to know that you nailed it. Thank you, for everything.

Andy Engel