A shadow box is a deep container rimmed with warm wood and topped with sparkling clear glass. Into this box are placed treasures. If my father’s life were to be represented by a shadow box, it would contain a hand carved elf, a blue ribbon rosette, a black hockey skate, and a few beechnuts.
My father was a simple farm boy from Virginia who did well after the war and became an educated man. He moved to Ohio and got a job as a junior high school wood shop teacher. He was so skilled at woodworking that he could be called a master craftsman. He taught himself woodcarving using tools from a special carving shop in Frankenmuth, Michigan. I asked him to carve an elf for me. He finally finished this five- year project. Not content to give me just anything, he perfected the features and carving and rounded the body just so.
Later in life, Dad took up gardening. He learned to grow show mums by tricking them with shadings and by babying each bloom. He won so many blue ribbons at a garden show in Mansfield, Ohio that he went on to Columbus and won awards there also. The rosette stands for either best of show or sweepstakes. A sweepstakes winner has the most awards at any given show. My dad has many such rosettes.
He was active in other ways, and was still in good physical condition until his last year at age 92. He was a gym teacher at one time and I learned to do a handspring by placing my hands on his knees as he lay on the floor. I flipped right over him onto my feet, right there in the living room.
My father had the energy and fitness to swim a pool length while in his sixties and seventies. Another activity he participated in was ice-skating. He donned those black hockey skates and we skated on a frozen pond near our house. At night, the lights flooded the lake and he skated around all the people, getting his exercise while my friends and I tried to skate backwards or play crack the whip. As we rode home, his cheeks were pink and he looked invigorated.
The beechnuts in the box are special because they stand for our times together. Nearly every fall, we would go for a walk in my grandmother’s woods and collect treasures: colored maple leaves, acorns, buckeyes, and beechnuts. The little beechnuts are good to eat and their memory lingers in my mind.
Sometimes on our walks, Dad would explain things to me such as how the fungus grew on trees or why the well water smelled like sulfur. One year, we experienced a majestic moment together as a shaft of sunlight pierced the wood’s darkness and butterflies danced on an old leveled stump. These memories deserve a place in the memory box.
Look now into the box. The elf and the rosette reveal my father’s valuable qualities of experience, dedication and excellence. The skate indicates his endurance. Most important to me are the beechnuts. They unveil the secret that the heart of the country boy remains pure and true.
Happy Father's Day to all of you Dads out there. You deserve much praise and acclaim!