Sincere thanks to all who took the time to write and submit stories for the True Tales of Woodworking Contest held by Lost Art Press to celebrate the publication of their new edition of “Making Things Work: Tales of a Cabinetmaker’s Life. Congratulations to the winner, Bruce Chaffin! Several of the judges’ top picks will be published over at https://blog.lostartpress.com. I’ll be posting others (lightly edited) here over the coming weeks–they’re too good not to share.
Origin story, by Robert Fiedler
i am a child of the woods. But first a little background.
Let’s call it an origin story.
It starts ten years ago with the five-and-a-half-hour drives back and forth to Rochester and Mayo Clinic. It starts with the words from my mom that begin the ending. A voice light years away at the end of a telephone cracks, they found a tumor in my brain. But it’s not my brain and it’s not my tumor. It’s hers. And so I lie awake in a warm summer bed, sheets kicked in puddles on the floor, staring at the ceiling fan cycling wondering why it hurts so much to know love and to imagine it falling away.
I’m back late again from Minnesota and Amy’s asleep in our bed. Having a cigarette on the front porch steps. Time and place for everything. I’m thinking thinking thinking. And then I’m thinking we need a sofa table. The house is new to us. Built in 1925. But to us. New. So I pull the car out of the garage and with circular saw belt sander glue dowels rubber mallet screws impact driver jig saw and shrink wrapped red oak and mahogany from a store whose entrance looks like an exit and whose exit looks like a…start making sawdust. Guerrilla Woodworking. Eventually a sofa table. Finished with poly, the beginner’s finish. I like it. A lot in fact. i liked making it. So does Amy. We adopt it.
I keep making trips to the Mayo. I keep coming home and can’t tell the difference between night and day. There’s a craniotomy. WBRT. Months of physical therapy. Learn to hold a pen. Learn to put one foot in front of the other. She left in a wheelchair paralyzed on the right side and came home on her own two feet. My jaw dropped. It still does. Not perfect. But. Not. Dead.
When I was a child before school ever came along it was just she and i. We lived in the country. Against and in the trees. A spring came out of the ground. We drank from it out of a cup tied to an old pipe with white string. i ran marathons through those woods. Climbed trees. Fell out of trees. Believed her when she said you are the fastest runner I’ve ever met! Endlessly whittled sticks into sharper pointier sticks and endlessly poked myself in the hands with the pocket knife. Bless you for trusting me with a blade.
Back home she grows old each year. The paralysis slowly creeps back into the right side of her body. This time not from the tumor but from the radiation meant to kill it. How can you be angry. You made deals… just 5 more years. i’m begging. Wish granted. But it comes with a price. The Machine. Like in the Princess Bride. Each year she ages three times faster than the rest of us. Her memory fades. She sees things that aren’t there. She fixates on imagined memories. She still says I love you every time I see her. She says you make beautiful things.
I keep trying to make those beautiful things with wood late into the nights and over the years. I stop the cigarettes on the front porch. Maybe it’s not the end of the world. Maybe it’s better to keep pushing. Keep going. Maybe you live until you don’t. The progression. Sofa Table. Picture Frames. Cutting Boards. Coffee Table. Dining Room Table. Desk. Tool Boxes. Roubo Workbench. Shoji Screens. Shaker Benches. Curves. Stools. Welsh Stick Chair. Greenwood. Spoons. Bowls. Balloon Back Windsor. JA [Jennie Alexander] Chair. I keep my day job keep my commute keep my student debts. I keep working wood. Every morning before work 2 hours. 1 hour carving at lunch. 1 hour carving spoons in front of the TV at night. 10-hour Saturdays. I can taste it. the Flow.
i don’t have an end date. she doesn’t have an end date. i We.
During grad school, one of my professors, Craig Stevens, told the class that making photographs saved his life. He then asked us, “what will save yours?”
I found my answer in the trees.–Robert Fiedler