Tears well up while polishing dry crackled wood on a magazine rack built by a grandfather I never knew. How can this inanimate object built over 70 years ago effect my emotions this way?
Though I never witnessed his wrinkled brow in concentration while whittling, sawing or hammering, I do know he was a serious and solitary man who had creative talents in carpentry. I know that he was a man who loved his daughter, my mother.
This wonderful piece of wood was constructed with patience and caring. Was it his hope to please my grandmother Evelyn, who was never happy? Or did he need to escape from her to his workshop, to keep his sanity while she was on the verge of loosing hers? Evelyn married a man 20 years older, a railroad man. He was away a lot. She berated him often. She complained and was unkind to him. My mother shared stories about her childhood, raised under her mothers ridicule, a frightened little girl in an unhappy home hearing her parents fighting, and the loss of a daddy who was dear to her. He died in his 50s from complications of a stomach ulcer. Evelyn had an affair with his coworker who drove her to the Railroad Hospital in Chicago where he was dying. I only found this out recently, but I am not surprised. Evelyn was cold. She was never grandmotherly. I suspect she had a personality disorder but the family never discussed that, and that is another story.
Wiping wood cleanser on it’s ancient varnish to bring back its luster also brings back my own childhood. My earliest memories are of playing on the floor near this magazine rack, hiding my stuffed animals inside or using its wooden platform for my Barbie dolls to stand against, it was the perfect size for Barbie feet. However, as I approached my teens, I rebelled against it, mad that my mom insisted my sister and I dust all its crevices, along with all the other furniture, every Saturday.
Thinking about my mothers’ deep sadness makes me cry. She is gone now too. All I want to do today is call her, talk to her. I want to tell her again how blessed I am to have been nourished by her love. I want to hear her kindness flow over me and hear our laughing together while we share every little thing about our lives. I want to ask more questions about her daddy, which she referred to him as with a faraway look of longing in her eyes. I wish I had realized the significance of her sharing those stories when I was younger. I failed to grasp the hurt she endured since my own childhood and our family life was very happy.
This magazine rack is a root to our connection that I keep in a safe place in my home. I keep my mom and her memories of my grandfather alive in my heart. This piece, as well as two chairs he built, are the only things that I have from a grandfather I never met. That, and the knowledge that my mother loved him so he must have been a good man. These pieces of wood created under times of hardship, furniture unknowingly left by him, are somehow a legacy of love to a granddaughter he never knew.