My Dad loved to work with wood. He told me that he loved the feel of the wood in his hands, and the look of the grain while he was working with it.
My Dad taught me how to refinish furniture. We had an old maple dresser, a roughed up piece of furniture that Paul had used in his childhood. I looked at it and saw the scratches and dents, and wanted to throw it out to buy a new one. But Dad looked at it and saw treasure. He showed me that the drawers had been made solid and strong, without a single nail or screw. He taught me the words “dovetail” and “mortise”. He taught me that maple is one of the strongest, most durable woods, and that it is now so expensive that I’d never be able to buy it.
“Look,” he told me, pulling out the drawer, “You’ll get rid of this, and you’ll end up with particle board drawers and a laminate top. It won’t last ten years.”
We brought the old bureau into Dad’s garage, and he showed me how to strip it of its varnish, how to sand it smooth. He taught me to use a “tack cloth” to remove the wood dust, and then the two of us stained the now gleaming wood. I thought that we would put varnish on it, to protect it, but he told me that we should use wax instead. So we waxed it, we smoothed it, we polished it.
It was beautiful.
i put it in my daughter’s room, and later in my sons’. It was filled with pajamas and shirts and socks. It had stickers applied, and wax dripped on it from various candles. But it was still beautiful. And sturdy.
My Dad was creative. He used his love of wood to make beautiful gifts for his grandchildren. When my boys were very small, Dad made them wooden trains. One for each of them. Every car was lovingly sanded and shaped and put together. Every car was inscribed with the name of the little boy who owned it. They used to lie on the living room floor, pushing those trains around mountains of pillows, using them to transport plastic “army guys”, letting them crash down the stairs. I can see them now, two little tow headed boys with big green eyes, dressed in red pajamas, so deeply engrossed in their games that they don’t even see the Mother who stands there watching them with so much love.
My Dad is gone now. There won’t be any more furniture refinished, or trains built, or sheds put up in the yard. I miss him every single day, but I miss him most at Christmas.
So this year, as I was thinking about decorating for the holiday season, I picked up the wooden trains from where they had been resting on the living room floor. They had been sitting, untouched, under the branches of a big old dragon tree, gathering dust. I brought them into the kitchen. I wanted to clean them up, but I knew from Dad that I shouldn’t immerse them in water. Instead, I wiped them clean with a damp cloth, then rubbed every bit of them with lemon oil. As the shine returned to the wood, I could see the grain in each piece. I ran my fingers over the lovingly carved names, and put the trains together again.
I placed them on the shelf above my front door; a place of honor. There they sit now, with a Christmas candle, and a basket of greens, and a pretty wooden sled that my Aunt Ann gave me years ago.
I am looking at them now. So sweet. So well crafted. So filled with memories and with love.
I wonder what I will be able to create when it is my turn to love a grandchild.
Thank you, Dad!