September 2010

Snowy’s Box

Snowy was a labrador retriever, who for 17 years dwelt in this place sharing a life of love, devotion and loyalty. The gentle nuzzle at the end of a long day or the playful antics in uncompromising expression of joy, endeared Snowy to the people who shared this unique life. When Snowy died this year there was a great void in the hearts of those who felt so privileged to have participated in this life. They mourned. They missed their friend and devoted companion.
I have always been a keeper of dogs. I can’t imagine being without dogs. They teach us so much with their ability to unconditionally love and constant willingness to share their lives with us. I have lost faithful petted friends and I know the sorrow that comes when they leave us. So when the friends of Snowy contacted me about a little keepsake box to hold the cremated remains for their departed friend, I was a bit reluctant. I felt I was putting them off. “I have several large commissions right now”, “I could not possibly get to you for 6 weeks”, I would say. All the while actually meaning I was not sure my skills were fit for such a task. They kept insisting and so I decided to send some rough drawings and ideas.
One day in the mail I received a letter with a deposit for a small keepsake box and the assurance that time was not a factor. They just desired something special and wanted it made by me. I must admit I am susceptible to flattery so I agreed to take the commission. This began a series of correspondence that brought me into the world of these wonderful people.
As I started working on the piece, hand planing the cherry or sawing little dovetails, I thought of my past friends. I thought of Spooky, my childhood dog who ran along beside me on my paper route or Muffin who was always there throughout my high school and college days always patiently waiting at the window. I thought of Lady, our black cocker spaniel, my daughters puppy and my wife’s constant companion. I remember how Michelle mourned for weeks when Lady died. I thought of Kelsey, our current dog who came to live with us and helped ease our loss. As I started to carefully shape the little legs on the box, I thought about how Kelsey is now 11 years old and having trouble with her hips and I worried. I remembered when I had heart surgery and Kelsey refused to go to her bed but stayed under my feet for six weeks. At times, standing at the bench, chisel in hand I would find tears in my eyes.

Slowly, the box began to take shape. I could not decide on a shape for the top. I think I made about 4 attempts, working through the process of design James Krenov called “composing”. “This is too heavy”, or “This is too flat”, finally arriving at a shape that seemed to please the overall shape. I wanted this box to be something special, something precious, something carefully and thoughtfully made. Everyday throughout the summer, I would toil on the little box filled with anxiety over mistakes, realizing this was not a box, it is a monument. This needed to be a chest for something very precious.

I chose for the engraving:

“I thought of you with love today but that is nothing new
I thought about you yesterday and days before that too.
I think of you in silence, I often speak your name.
All I have are memories and a picture in a frame.
Your memory is a keepsake, with which I’ll never part.
God has you in his keeping, I have you in my heart”
Beloved Friend

The care and love of our fellow creatures brings us in touch with our humanity. It has been said that “Compassion is the basis of all morality”. If this be so, then dogs may be here to teach us about ourselves, a constant reminder that love may be unconditional and devotion and joy is life. This life that enriched us for 17 years, enriches us still. I know I have been moved and touched. I have been changed. I felt a bit sad when the time came for the little box to leave and make it’s way home. I knew I would miss it. I am a better person for having the privilege to share with these wonderful people and in a small way participate in this unique life that was Snowy. Snowy continues to give and share in that unique way that at times only dogs seem to know. This is Snowy’s box.



September 11

Tomorrow is September 11th. It has been a busy summer. I am finding it hard to believe that September is here. I think it appropriate to take a moment and pause and reflect. I remember September 11, 2001 as being a beautiful fall day here in the midwest. One of those days that makes you think that all is right with the world. Then it happened.

Much has changed since that gorgeous fall day, but I like to think that we haven’t changed. I made this plaque with words from President Bush, which I think were some of the most heartfelt and sincere words I ever read. The quote reads;
“I’ve learned to expect the unexpected, because history
can deliver sudden horror from a soft autumn sky.
I have found you better know what you believe,
or risk being tossed to and fro by the flattery of friends
or the chorus of critics.
I’ve been grateful for the lessons I’ve learned from my parents:
Respect every person, do your best, live every day to it’s fullest.
And I’ve been strengthened by my faith and humbled by its
reminder that my life is part of a much bigger story”

We are not a perfect people. Our leaders are not perfect people. The great wonder that is The United States of America is that we still believe we can be perfect. We argue about it, debate it, fight over it, always reaching, always in “pursuit” of that more perfect union. Other cultures seek a state of being. We seek a state of becoming and that makes us great. I am working on a commemorative plaque for September 11th. I have not finished it but here is the design. I found it very interesting that The Star Spangled Banner” asks a question. It does not make a declaration, the author is wondering if it could be possible after such a bombardment(the 19th century version of shock and awe) if the symbol of the idea called America could possibly survive. It waves! The symbol of freedom and self determination still waves. The hope and light for the world still waves! The banner of the right of people to pursue their own happiness and beliefs still waves! It has been rough at times. We have struggled and we are still struggling. Battered and torn, poorer and bruised, troubled and worried the banner still waves.

We may never reach perfection. We may never have a time when we do not disagree. We may never vanquish all of our enemies. We will continue to believe. The Star Spangled Banner yet waves o’er the land of the free and home of the brave. God Bless us all and God Bless the United States of America.