On this day in 1984 I'm building a toy chest for Will's second birthday. In six days my son will be two years old.
I'm using 16-inch pine planks that I pried from Wagon Wheels just before the poor cottage was crushed. Unlike my older two children, Will never lived at Wagon Wheels, but this toy chest will give him a piece of it.
Though not quite two years old, Will actually assists me in the construction at least to the extent of picking up sweet-smelling pine shavings and placing them in a pile. His older brother Jesse, age seven, helps run the plane over the top. Everybody loves to plane. Then both Jesse and Will watch the quickening of color as I apply oil to the wood - no stain, no varnish, please.
And oh how I love salvaged wood. Here's a photo from 2007 which I've been advised never to show anybody because "there's something creepy about a man hugging a toy chest." In the photo you can see the shape of the chest (an old Shaker design), the extraordinarily wide planks of the sides, the planed top. You can also see that the chest is somewhat banged up from 23 years of use. Eventually Will left it behind, not needing a toy chest at Dartmouth - so it remains where I can hug it again if ever I feel so inclined.
Building that chest was such a pleasure - and such mental therapy - that I recreated the experience in a chapter of my novel Clear Heart. If you're curious you can read all about it - Chapter 30 to be exact. Or episode 14 of the Clear Heart podcast.
I'd quote the chapter here, but it's a bit too long for this setting. But, hey, I tell you what. For the rest of April readers of this blog can buy the ebook of Clear Heart for half price! Such a deal! Just follow this link to Smashwords, put Clear Heart in your shopping bag, and use this discount code at checkout: CJ48P. You'll get 50% off the price of a book that already costs less than one beer at Sullivan's Pub. Now it costs just half a beer!
Here are the words of some people I respect, craftspeople who could build a far finer toy chest than I:
" I LOVED Clear Heart. In fact, I couldn't put it down. It's about a 55 year old ex-hippy carpenter named Wally—and the interaction between true craftsmen, their good-natured joking, routines and habits (like sometimes getting too friendly with female clients). It's male bonding at its finest, filled with endearing characters and fast-paced, nail-biting mishaps. And it made me want to ask Wally: 'You hiring?'"—Kari Hultman, The Village Carpenter
" I just couldn’t put it down. It was a great read. Now I have met many of the people in Joe’s novel, quirky sub contractors, stupid clients and the like. I found myself (I believe for the first time) actually rooting for fictional characters. The book is gripping. It is a love story and so much more. I should also tell you that it is a book for adults. I wouldn’t have my (prude) sister read the book."—Stephen Shepherd, Full Chisel Blog