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Date: SUN 06/17/01
Page: 5
Edition: 2 STAR

Memories of father rest in antique chair

By Melissa England

My dad would be 80; I squint trying to picture the young man who died at 37. I can't make it happen. My father is frozen in time, forever young, as I grow older. I wonder sometimes when I play my mental games what it would be like to have him now.

The ache I have felt for him has softened but can still be referenced if I allow myself the stillness to hear the child inside me. Sometimes the feelings just explode when caught off guard by a tender moment, and then I allow the tears that wash through me. I love my father, from this life to the next. I love that he gave me the feeling that I was special.

He made me believe in my own voice; he made me believe I had the power to figure things out. I hammered nails. I taped things shut. We made a cat trap together, so I could catch my own pet (never mind it was the neighbor's). He made a dollhouse, with lights and carpet. He loved me with sparkling eyes and warm hugs, and he laughed the kind of sound I could feel in my belly. With my eyes closed I can call him back and tell him for the millionth time, "Daddy, I still miss you." Then I take a deep breath and recount the people I love, people who surround me, and I am so very grateful. But the tiny silent prayer is to God to please take care of my dad, especially my dad, so he won't be lonely or scared.

With that I put him away.

Then something happens. A girlfriend buys an antique glider; it's white with intricate, delicate woodwork. It reminds me of some other time, some other place, and I love it. She keeps it outside, and the weather eats away at the finish, and then underneath into the wood. She asks me if I still want it - I do, I always have; we strike a deal and move it to my front porch. I test it, rock it, get my wood glue out and try to glue all the gingerbread pieces back into place. When that doesn't work, I pull out the old nails and try to replace them with new. The wood crumbles under my touch, I try Spackle, and dab thickened paint in the now-gaping holes. It becomes more like a puzzle trying to fit the misshaped pieces together. It's a losing battle, but still the chair calls to me.

Across the street in an open garage a man with silver hair, a jumpsuit and glasses works. He has the kind of space rich with the tools of his trade. I watch him sometimes while I bang on my computer. He's an organized kind of guy, running his fingers over what he creates. I catch myself smiling; he does things well. It shows. His yard is perfectly manicured, trash containers are in a row, and his cars are clean. I ask for his help. He's a serious kind of guy, talks about the kind of wood, what steps would need to be taken, and then he agrees to recut and install the shattered pieces.

I'm excited. The chair feels like a precious toy. He shows me what to do, and I work my part, stripping wood, sanding pieces and going to the hardware store. He calls me, updates me. Every day I check his progress. It's a bigger job than anticipated. Each piece takes 22 minutes to mill, and there are 18 pieces. My husband gently reminds me people retire for a reason. I know, I answer guiltily. Then he hugs me and buys me a sander that fits perfectly in my hand.

The pieces come together like magic, bringing the chair back to life. Strangers notice. With approving nods, his handiwork is admired. Our relationship has become more familiar, and he stands in my driveway just yelling my name. He doesn't know how that makes me smile. I'm delighted to see what's new and what's next.

And then it's done. He carries it back and gently places it in my garage. We both stand admiring his work. I have more to do - more sanding and a coat of paint. But his job is done.

I watch him retreat, watering his lawn, cleaning his driveway. And there is a moment I feel God has answered my prayer. My dad would feel like that, a good man with steady hands. A man who could figure out the next step and teach me as he goes. I run my hand over the pieces he made. They are so finely cut, smooth from sanding, and perfectly mounted.

How amazing this life is. In heaven I imagine God arranged for some small child to sit upon my father's knee. Here He arranged for me a moment of time when I could stand by the side of a carpenter.

Happy Father's Day.