Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Father's shelf

In my never ending task of shuffling contents within and between the farm buildings I came across a red metal shelf. It had been my father’s and now it was mine. Except for the thick layer of dust it was empty. Its former contents are part of my life now.

Dad thought it was important for me, a new husband, to have the same sturdy shelf he was using so he bought me one for Christmas in 1983. I still have it along with a few other things he gave to me.

Underneath the Christmas wrapping paper was an unmarked flat box. When I opened the box I realized what I had – a bunch of metal pieces that needed to be assembled to resemble a shelf. I knew this because of what Dad told me when I tore off the paper. “It’s a shelf,” he said with a smile.

When Rhonda and I got home to our garden-level apartment in St. Paul I dumped the contents of the box on the living room floor. Since we didn’t have a garage or a basement, I thought this was the best spot. I’m not sure Rhonda agreed, for what young bride doesn’t like the look of metal pieces, screws, nuts, bolts and cardboard strewn about her living room?

I had three tools for the job: A screwdriver, a pliers and a hammer (just in case things got out of control). It seemed simple enough: Attach the metal shelves to the metal brackets to make a shelf. But after I was done it looked rather odd. I remember thinking how lucky we were to live in an older building with tall ceilings, as this shelf reached way up high when I stood it up on the floor.

I wasn’t too impressed with the quality of the material used. It was quite flimsy, and why only four shelves? It had a top and bottom of course, but there seemed to be too much space in the middle to fill with only the two remaining shelves. As I was not sure what the problem was, I asked Rhonda to come into the room.

“What’s the matter with this piece of junk?” I asked.

She put her hands up to her mouth to suppress a laugh. It didn’t work.

As the daughter of a cabinet maker she recognized the problem immediately. She pointed out that the brackets, which made up the frame and supported the inner shelves, were meant for all four corners – not just two (the way I had put it together).

My completed project had two tall, lonely metal stakes that held four shelves (miles apart from each other) on just one side. Only the lowest shelf, which was resting on the floor, offered any stability for storage. With nothing holding them up from the other side, the other three shelves hung in twisted shapes to flap in the breeze. A feather wouldn’t have found support there. I couldn’t help but laugh too.

I took it apart and put it back together – kind of. I now have two shelves, one my dad put together, and one I put together (twice). Someday these family heirlooms will belong to my two kids.

But more importantly I hope I have given my kids the other things they will need: The tools to build a happy family, the knowledge that they need God in their lives, the ability to admit their mistakes, the skills to take problems apart one piece at a time, the strength to start over, and the willingness to laugh at themselves.

Dad had given these to me too.

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