I’m pleased to share my latest woodworking project, aptly named Simple Square Box and Coasters. The commission originally asked for a simple slap-together wooden box in which he could place a necklace he purchased for his niece as a Christmas present. So the slap-together wooden box would be tossed into the same heap of recently bloomed ribbons of nylon and a pile-up of ripped and twisted wrapping paper resembling a fog-induced tangle of abstract alloy. Really, who remembers the wrapping paper of a long-forgotten gift they received at an indiscriminate holiday, the exception being gifts which modify destiny such as an engagement ring, new car, or divorce papers. But I couldn’t shake the thought; an insignificant wooden coffer hand-crafted to exact dimensions whose sole purpose rose no higher than the oft ignored cardboard box, one of millions prefabricated generic boxes produced by manufacturers. Yet this box really should´ve been seen as the first part of her gift, but instead was just another obstacle to obliterate in a doggedly pursuit of the delightful bauble inside. And after a few perfunctory refined and delightful “thank you’s,” the delicate bauble was distractedly deposited into her mother´s cupped hands. Her mother placed the bauble (whose importance continued to nose-dive like the stock exchange in 1929) among other gifts. And the slap-together box had been exiled to the paper mountain, and eventually would be crushed by the insensitive jaws of an indiscriminate refuse collector. Had I blithely reached into my pile of left-over lumber and found a throw-away board I suppose the box would experience a fate very similar to the one above. However, a particular piece of Poplar caught my eye because of its deliciously creamy base color and like a dried riverbed, a thick, malted-milk brown ran the length of the board which was absent of blemishes, gouges, chips, and knots, a cappuccino’s foam decorated by a creative barista; or, the faintly dusting of heat transforming the peaks of whipped meringue from snow-covered to densely charred remnants of a serial forest fire. I held the six-foot board respectfully in my hands, looked for cupping or warping at its ends like a sharpshooter whose focus remained on his target. I found the board to be true then placed it on the workbench to calculate the cuts. That’s when it began. I can’t find words to describe it, but it was like balance on a bicycle: no one handed you a ball of balance, you simply had balance. My experience with that board couldn’t be taught or handed down. It wasn’t an indicator of mania. It was simply, to respect the trees life in the differing colors of its rings. Those rings identified that tree like fingerprints identify people. And yet it was more: I felt a growing sensitivity and responsibility to work with the lumber to create an object of beauty. The longer I listened to the sensitivity of the wood, the greater my awareness of the woods signature became. It was then that I worked with the wood, and so did the wood with me.
“Surprise!” is what I used to say, years ago, early on in our twenty-eight year relationship. Back when we hadn’t really yet learned each other’s tastes (or better, tolerances). Fifteen years ago I’d stand there, his gift balanced by my sweaty hands, my nerves knotted and twisted like the Strangler Fig tree, praying for his hullabaloo upon opening the gift, followed by a tight embrace, further followed by his quick kisses like a woodpecker atop some pine. A decade ago I’d pluck the gift from beneath the tree with little ceremony, hand it to him, then sit back and watch as he tested-then-tore layer by layer of packaging, similar to a child tasting her way through a box of chocolates. The past few years like a couple of archaeologists, the dig was more fun than the discovery! At last he found the gift and I waited for the inconclusive and rudimentary sentiment followed by a brief embrace and a kiss as light as a hummingbird. Three years ago I’d started to hear “How’d you know I wanted this?” his amazement falling to the side of curiosity rather than tickling admiration, and my answer, diluted through the years like cheap gin, “I thought you could use this,” at which he cocked his head like our dog’s misunderstanding, and then I presented the real gift, “There’s a gift receipt taped to the lid should you choose to exchange it for a color more to your liking than orange.” I’ve learned over the course of twenty-eight years that we buy lovers/partners/spouses clothing we’d like to see them wear, and definitely not the clothing they like to wear. So after two decades of my repeated attempts to upgrade his personal style year after year by giving him exquisite gifts (which he surreptitiously found ghastly) I learned that a gift receipt, like the “get out of jail card,” nullifies my responsibility for his disinterest in modern style, and ensures that he can exchange the atrocious article for an object of his liking.
But this Christmas his gift to me was different than the previous twenty-seven. Very, very different. Absent was the gift receipt. He handed me the gift without fanfare, explanation, or apology. He simply said, “Merry Christmas.”
Hidden beneath wrapping paper we’ve had for twenty years was a book. But not some book he’d like to read. No, this was a book I’d already read and reread; I had a greater degree of familiarity with the final pages, but the earlier pages popped once more like bubble gum. The book he gave me was “Becoming not Became: The First 100 Posts,” by T.M. Mulligan.
I was dumbfounded then speechless then crying. I was flabbergasted to hold Mr. Mulligan’s first 100 posts printed on heavy, magazine-grade paper and hardbound. It’s rare indeed, to hold yourself up to yourself, to be reflected, to permit yourself to be tickled, concerned, angry, interested, and entertained. I suppose narcissism might come to mind; but if you’re beautiful or handsome why not enjoy a modicum of self-appreciation. Or, like me, those 100 posts represented dear friends, young and old, whom I haven’t visited, but whom all came together under the same roof for me. I shall take my time reading these posts and thoroughly enjoy each one’s company greater than before.
Thank you so much, Nick.
- What to do with Unwanted Christmas Presents by Simon (fromadaughter.com)
- Merry Christmas! (boston.cbslocal.com)
- A Favorite Christmas Gift… (feedyardfoodie.wordpress.com)