Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Christmas Gift

He loved being a daddy and granddaddy. He doted on each of those grandchildren. He invented a ridiculous name for each...Whippersnapper, Scamp, Scalawag. And one the grandkids eventually came up with an unusual name for the granddad which was soon adopted by all the others.

This year, 1986, almost the whole clan gathered for a three day family reunion at Thanksgiving. They got together at a daughter’s home in Tennessee. There was great food. There were family stories. The whole bunch crowded into the Grand Old Opry to hear Little Jimmy Dickens and Sarah Cannon (Minnie Pearl). He took about half the bunch with him to a big craft/antique fair. Back at the haouse there was more laughing and joking and more stories and more food. And on that last day, as everyone was ready to drive off toward their separate cities and towns and states, someone said: “We ought to take some pictures!” So some were dragged back inside to pose. There were pictures made of just about every combination of grandparents, parents, and children imaginable.

He hated to leave, but he had something up his sleeve. He was glad to get back to his special projects.

You see he had decided to use his woodworking shop to build a memento for each of the children. Sleds for the boys - some were Yankees and could use them - and doll cradles for the girls - just right for the Cabbage Patch dolls every child had in 1986.

Monday and Tuesday, December first and second he spent a good bit of time gathering materials. Making drawings and templates. By Wednesday afternoon, December third, his basement shop was strewn with maple and oak and pine pieces. There were cardboard templates of cradle rockers and sled runners. There were some pieces already cut and ready for sanding. Others were marked for cutting. He had been there for a bit that morning I imagine. His jacket was hanging on a nail by the back door with his carpenters pencil and rule in the pocket.

But he wasn’t there.

He had gone out to bring in some firewood that morning. Collapsed into a chair. The EMTs worked to revive him as they sped to the hospital but it was to no avail. He died before noon.

That afternoon his son walked around the house, trying to find a way to cope with overwhelming grief. Then the son walked down those stairs into the basement workshop. He could smell the cut wood and in that jacket by the door he could even smell his Dad's Old Spice and sweat. He could see his Dad in the care and love invested in patterns and pieces of wood. And suddenly he knew how to use the grief. His father had left therapy all around that basement.

He called his brother. “You take the sleds. I’ll handle the cradles.” For three weeks they were their father’s hands on earth. For three weeks they cut and shaped and sanded and stained and polished. There have never been sleds or cradles more saturated with love.

And on Christmas morning 10 children found under their Christmas trees beautiful final gifts from their loving Grandshaw -- that was their silly name for him.

But my brother and I had received the greatest gift of all that Christmas of 1986... our father gave us a job to do.

I wrote a poem about Daddy’s workshop and those sleds and cradles:

In Daddy’s Workshop, The Day He Died
December 3, 1986
for Charles Shaw, 1919-1986
Scraps of pine,
pieces of oak
await his hands
guiding the teeth of a saw,
— the bite of a router,
— the grit of a sander,
— color from a brush,
— the polishing rag.
His stubby fingers trace the shaped edges;
test the smooth surface.

Scent of pine,
and pungent oak
mingle with his
in the denim jacket
on a nail near the door,
with pocketed pencil and tape handy.

He stands here, hours ago,
the great boy,
planning his surprise,
sketching, exploring the shapes to be formed.

Scraps of pine,
pieces of oak
— want cutting, shaping, sanding, shining;
— cry to be more: sled, cradle, rocking horse;
— await his hands.

He speaks to the scraps and pieces:
“Tomorrow I’ll buy maple for the runners.”

Tomorrow is here;

and he is here
— in scraps and pieces
— in scent and plans;
and here am I,
— his hands.

Scraps of pine,
pieces of oak
cry to the him in me:

You have rockers, ends, planks, plans,
and three weeks till Christmas.

On Thursday at the Rome/Carrollton District United Methodist pastors' Christmas dinner I concluded this way:

Now I’m a double Methodist PK. My wonderful mother is right here in my audience so I’ll have to finish up this most personal of stories by reminding you that...

Another Father has given a bunch of jobs to be completed right here in the north and west part of Georgia. And I for one am very grateful for the way Charles Shaw and Ruth Shaw have worked at those jobs. But I’m also very grateful for the way Jim Turrentine and David Campbell and Warren Jones and Jacqui Rose-Tucker and Dewey Bailey [who told a story tonight that I’d never heard about my Dad] ....and all of you in this room... are working as the Father’s hands on Earth.


  1. Terry...Although I read it in tears, Thank you precious son for telling this story again. Your presentation of it for the Rome-Carrollton preachers Christmas dinner was great...I was gald to hear it then and to read it now...You have a gift for telling a story...

  2. Thank you, Mother. I'm so sorry I lost all the old comments on my blog. There were several on this post.