Friday, August 12, 2011

Carving out a memory

(A column originally published in December 2005)
It stands in the corner of the boy’s room, ready to be called into action to slay dragons, engage in a duel, or defend the castle. A sword, carved out of wood and highly polished, that looks like a cross between a cutlass and a saber.
The little boy had asked for this special gift, and watched as it was carved. He stood in a basement woodshop, lined with workbenches and machines, with tools hanging on the walls and a large window letting in light. Warned not to touch the saw or tools, the boy looked on in wide-eyed wonder as a piece of wood plucked from the lumber pile became a sword.
A pencil was used to sketch the basic shape of the sword on the wood, and a saw cut it out. The sword was carefully smoothed to prevent any splinters from piercing small hands before being presented to the boy.
Other examples of the woodcarver’s craft are in the boy’s room. A small wooden dog stands on his bookshelf and a finely detailed silhouette of a Native American warrior hangs on the wall near his bed.
The hands that lovingly carved the sword are idle now, and the woodshop is dusty with disuse.
My grandfather, the woodcarver, turns 85 this month.
Alzheimer’s has slowly been taking him away from us. The only blessing is that he still knows my grandmother, his anchor to the present. The moments when a familiar twinkle return to his bright blue eyes are few and far between.
The little boy, my son, says he remembers watching “Big Buppa,” his great-grandfather, carve the sword. I’ve told him stories about the active man I remember from my childhood. A veteran of World War II who worked as a teacher, school principal and for the Community Action Agency. He would delight young grandchildren with his rendition of the ABCs, jumping up and being silly when he got to the letter P. I remember getting tractor rides and watching him use a bulldozer he had bought at auction.
Grandpa would stride around the farm where he raised his large family, always with some project to work on. Tending the vegetable garden and raspberry patch, cutting wood for the sauna or fireplace and making magic in his woodshop kept him busy. Those who borrowed tools and didn’t put them away risked his wrath. He loved to travel, and a trip he and Grandma took with my family in the Southwest is a treasured memory. Home movies document the trips he took his family on, out west and even to Alaska. Other home movies show family sleigh rides in winter, kids sledding in front of the house, and the day my mom rode her pony to school.
It has been a few years now since Grandpa has recognized me, and most of his extended family and friends are now strangers to him. But those who know and love him remember the man he was, and my son has his wooden sword, and the memory of “Big Buppa” carving it for him.

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