Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Lazy Susan

There was something about Christmas at the Kunkel house that was really wonderful.  We were always close as a family, so that was special. Even during those years when the money was scarce, it was still there—so it was not the gift giving.

I suppose it was because my Dad, Mr.Sawdust, grew up as an only child that Christmas among his seven children became such a special day to him.  In fact, I believe his experience as an only child had much to do with his desire to have a large family in the first place.  He reveled in the day, surrounded by his children, and as we got older he seemed to love it even more. He would greet us at the door delighted beyond words.  And as each new grandchild was added, his pleasure only increased.

Growing up in a home with such creative, imaginative brothers, there was often a surprise; a gift that was kept hidden until the very end of our gift giving.  It would be hidden in a corner, covered by a sheet, and finally unveiled; a painting, a refinished piece of furniture, something that had been given much thought and time in preparation for the day.

Christmas has never been quite the same since Dad died in April of ’97.  We’ve all missed his excitement and I have especially missed his hidden surprises. Last year the day passed once again and I contented myself with those fond memories of Christmas past.
But to my delight there was a wonderful surprise in store for me, “unveiled” after the decorations had been taken down and the tree had been dragged out to the woods behind our home.  My brother Jeff called and asked if I would be willing to “baby-sit.” Jeff is a bachelor—no children—so this was an unusual request.

He drove to our home in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and unveiled a very familiar piece of furniture—one I had grown up with—a maple Lazy Susan table built by my dad in 1951, the year I was born.  It was one of the very first pieces he ever built.  My mom tells of the weekend her relatives were visiting from New York City, and Dad had his first “audience” down in the basement, mesmerized as he cut out the circle for the table top that measured close to sixteen feet in circumference. Jeff asked if I would mind “babysitting” the table until he had a place big enough to use it again.  I was delighted!  Yet, I had no idea at that moment just how delightful this experience was going to be.

I insisted Jeff stay for dinner—the first meal served at the table in many years, and with each turn of the Lazy Susan, the memories came alive.  I could almost envision my dad seated with us, at “the head,”—if there can be a head at a round table.
“Father  we thank thee for all the blessings we continue to receive
Our health, our home and all our loved ones.
Keep us safely through the night
And help us to judge wisely in all we undertake,
In Jesus name we ask thee….Amen”
Although he always recited the same prayer, his tone of voice varied; most of the time strong and confident, at other times hesitant and humble as if really pondering his blessings.

 My very first memories of the table are from the underside, because it was a great place for a toddler to hide from a pursuing brother or lie down and drink an afternoon bottle.
I think Dad had great foresight when he built it, because it would eventually seat seven children, Dad and Mom—comfortably. That is, as comfortable as one could expect to feel seated at table with seven hungry children ranging from age twelve down to one.

The Lazy Susan in the 1950’s, in our home in Morristown NJ

 Several years after the table was built Dad had a brainstorm—the table should be 'antiqued'.  It is unfortunate that brainstorms rarely hit a husband and wife at the same time. It was a memorable experience for the older boys who were actually given permission to do those things they often did "accidentally"—mar, dent, bang up a beautiful piece of furniture.  They were given bags filled with nails, chains, screw drivers and chisels and went to town.  The goal was to give the piece a look of two hundred years of hard use.  I'll just bet Mom made herself scarce, hoping her beautiful table would in fact be improved upon but convinced that ten years of "normal" use by the seven of us kids would have produced a similar affect.

 All of the food was placed on the attached Lazy Susan at the center of the table and each person would turn it to help himself to a serving of the food he wanted.  At times a rambunctious little boy (…notice I didn't say girl) would give it a sharp turn and spill the gravy or hit someone's glass of milk set too close to it and we'd have a mop-up operation. That never went over real big with Dad.  What I recall most, though, is how difficult it was to get a word in edgewise.  I would finally resort to standing up and yelling above the conversations of my six brothers to finally get to add my two cents.  That didn't go over too well either. Dad would quickly tell me to get my voice down and sit down. When Dad spoke, everyone listened. No one left the table without a polite, "May I please be excused?"
… I don't think I ever did get to say my piece.

As I sit at the table now, so many years later, my mind goes back to the numerous homes that have housed it.  From it’s original home—its birthplace in South Orange, New Jersey it was moved to my parents’ dream house in Morristown, New Jersey—a ten room colonial built by my dad in the 1950’s.  I remember my baby brother Carl giggling as he was spun around on the Lazy Susan seated in a big wooden bowl. From there it was moved eight years later, along with the family to Lancaster Pennsylvania where the Kunkel family experienced the hardest year of their life as a family.  But the Lord always graciously provided meals to be served around the Lazy Susan table—and we stayed close as a family.

From Lancaster the table was moved to Montclair, New Jersey and then to Upper Montclair.  Now close to my mother’s Italian family from the Bronx in York city I remember with delight the fabulous Italians meals we enjoyed many weekends, seated around the table for hours—the conversation and stories that were passed on I remember to this day.
Then on to our adventure in , Texas for several years, and back to Morris Plains, New Jersey—then on to Hackettstown where my dad founded a company that worked with Plexi-glass—imagine that!  The table moved to Long Valley, New Jersey but was too large for the dining area so spent a year in storage until our next move to a larger home in Hackettstown, New Jersey.
“Happy Birthday” must have been sung hundreds of times when all the grandchildren are included—the tune becoming more of a barber shop quartet arrangement as the circle grew and voices deepened through the years.
There were many times that the Lazy Susan was removed from the center of the table so dad could work on a project; a model airplane, a presentation or perhaps a complex genealogy chart—as mom patiently stood by.

Plans were made among my dad and six brothers…business ventures developed…furniture designs discussed…politics avoided…a woodworking school was conceived…holidays celebrated….all around this wonderful Lazy Susan table—throughout a time span of over fifty years.
And it is more beautiful, mellow now than ever.  Dad would be thrilled to see it sitting in a dining room once again, ready to serve more memories.

Lazy Susan at its “babysitter’s” home in the Pocono Mountains of PA. 

If ever a woodworker wonders if his efforts will be appreciated—his time spent is worthwhile—be assured you may be creating something that will be treasured for decades to come—that will engender memories more priceless than you could ever imagine!
As I sit writing at the table, just as my father did on so many nights—alone, yet amidst the company of so many warm memories—all I can say is…
“Thanks Dad!”

Mary B.Walsh
(Mamie-only daughter of Mr. Sawdust)

For more Mamie memories visit...

A Desk for Dawn Angel

There was a very special place in my Dad's heart for little girls.  He didn't mind big girls too much either—but a dainty little girl in the presence of my dad took center stage.  The day I brought our only daughter home from the hospital and placed her in his arms, I thought he would simply melt. She bore a striking resemblance to a little Indian papoose with her dark pink skin tone and long shiny black hair that simply defied gravity. She was irresistible.

And as she grew, her close relationship to her Grandpa grew as well. I would often be reminded of my childhood days, as I watched him take her onto his lap and tell her how very special she was.
In 1984, Dad decided to build a desk for Dawn Angel. The design was a slant top William and Mary set on large bun feet. The brass handmade drawer pulls were dewdrop shape, traditional of that period.   He ordered the cherry wood and soon after its arrival began building the desk, working over the next few months day and night.  When we would come for a visit, I would enter through his shop, to check on the progress, "...Ooh and. ...Ahh!" a bit.  He would often douse the wood with thinner as I looked on so I could picture the finished grain.

As was his custom, the desk had to have a secret compartment; and it does, a very secret drawer.  I believe it is the most ingenious secret compartment he ever designed.  When the piece was completed, Bruce hand carved "Dawn Angel Walsh" in elegant script across the front of the secret drawer and it was delivered to our home on her fifth birthday, December 8, 1984.  What a memorable moment for all of us!

Over the years, every time Dad came to visit, he would carefully look the desk over and comment on how the cherry was "a bit darker."
"It will mellow—grow richer in time!" he would always remind me.
And he was right—as it sits in our home today,  two decades later, it has surely mellowed and grown richer in time.

Dawn may very well hide something in her secret drawer someday—something quite valuable to her perhaps; but to this day the real treasure hidden there is the letter her Grandpa wrote to her on the completion of the desk. It remains in the secret drawer to this day.

The letter is written on stationary with his Mr. Sawdust letterhead.
 And it reads:

December 8, 1984

To my granddaughter, Dawn Angel Walsh
Schooley's Mountain, NJ.

My dearest Dawn:

This is your fifth birthday.
I've made this desk for you because I love you more than I can say.  Someday, God willing, you will grow up to be a fine and gracious lady like your mother.  And you will come to know the great love with which this desk is filled.
I want you to keep this letter in this secret drawer.

There will come quiet times when you'll be reading this again—and I can be with you.  There will also come those times when things aren't going so well for you—and I want you to remember what I am about to tell you:
I expect you to keep all kinds of happy things in this drawer.  You can put them in here and they will last FOREVER.  But this is also a very special drawer—and I'll tell you why:  Once in a while, something will make you unhappy—maybe very unhappy.  And I want you to know what to do:
Whatever this thing is that makes you unhappy, just put it into this special secret drawer with all the nice, happy things—and, believe me, it will disappear into thin air!

BUT I must tell you about the very special way it works:
First, you have to pray to Jesus.  Then you must tell Him all about this unhappy thing that's bothering you—and that you need some Special Help.  Then make very certain he knows exactly where you're putting it.  And the next time you open this special drawer, it will be GONE!
Happy birthday, my precious one.  Forever!

Grandpa Kunkel (age 63)
(He should have enclosed a few tissues!

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Hope Chest

The Hope Chest

In 1972 it became obvious to Dad that my boyfriend Ed was not going to just go away.  Not that he wanted him to.  He liked Ed from the moment he met him.

"So, what kind of a hope chest would you like, Mame?"
"I guess I never really thought about it, Dad?" 

The thought of marrying Ed was a pleasant thought, but the realization that I would be leaving my father was a tough one for me.
"Well, why don't we do some thinking. You know I have some walnut on the way from Dad."  My grandfather’s farmland in Missouri was edged by massive aging walnut trees, and from time to time he would have the wood shipped to New Jersey.
There was never any doubt but that my hope chest would be made of walnut. 

"You know Dad, my favorite piece of all the furniture you've ever built is that walnut corner cupboard."
"…it's a beauty!"
"Maybe you could build the chest using those lines." I suggested.
 Of course I thought he'd do some thinking and within a week or so come up with some ideas.

"Let's do it!" 

With that he unrolled a large piece of drafting paper and within minutes he had the basic design on paper.
"I love those Queen Anne panels!" I said.
With that, he drew four of them across the front of the chest.
"This baby will be able to sit in the middle of a room if you like—panels on all sides—that makes twelve of them!"
I quickly realized the extensive hand carving involved. "That's a lot of work Dad!"
"That's OK Mame—you're worth it," he whispered

In the past when Dad planned to build a piece of furniture, it was during a prosperous time. He had a special place in mind for the piece and he was exuberant. But this project would be very different.  It had been many years since his last piece, and it was during a time of transition for his business.   I almost felt it to be a means of distracting himself from a difficult time of life.  In fact I recall the entire span of time it took to build the piece as a struggle for Dad. It was as if he was cautiously breaking ground once again to get back into the field he loved so much.  The finished piece was every bit as beautiful as his other furniture.

As was his custom, he built a secret compartment into the chest that could never be detected—that is if he hadn't disclosed it to everyone who ever saw it.  Everyone was always asked first to see if he could find it. No one ever could. Then he would remove two delicate pieces of molding from one side of the chest, which were secured by a dowel.  Then a narrow secret compartment that ran the full width of the chest would slide down.  It is just big enough to stash some valuables, expensive jewelry, or maybe some gold pieces.  I have to tell you though, now that I've revealed this very secret compartment—the most valuable part of the chest is to this day the chest itself.  I could never put a price on it.  In fact, I've at times wondered how in the world I'd ever get it out the door if there were ever a fire!
 In Dad's words—"This baby's big!"

…Big and beautiful I might add..

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Empty Nest

The Empty Nest
By Mary B.Walsh
I have thought often of the "empty nest syndrome." I have read about it, and heard it discussed, always presented as that difficult transition in parenting when our young "leave the nest" to venture out on their own, whether to college, the service, in marriage, or simply "on their own."

There is another empty nest experience that is even more difficult, though. When a young person leaves the nest and takes a nose-dive, making an unwise, possibly destructive choice in his or her life. At times the consequences may impact the lives of the child and parents for years to come. These parents—and there are many—endure an experience that is not discussed as freely.

By God's good providence I watched a mother Blue Jay's diligent preparation of her nest and she demonstrated so beautifully what I wished to say to those who live this difficult experience.

From my journal….. June 1

Mother bird—where are you this morning?

It is no mistake that I have watched the careful building of your nest for two consecutive years. As I've stepped out onto the deck, exhilarated by the hope an early Spring morning lends a weary heart; I have watched your careful loving labor.
It's a perfect spot for a nest, so it would seem—two stories up on a corner log of our home, sheltered by an overhang.
I was saddened for you last year after watching you faithfully tend your eggs night and day, only to discover them hatched, revealing premature little birds—not strong enough to enter this world. We humans call this a miscarriage. I know the pain that brings, having looked into the faces of my own premature, stillborn babies.

But this year would be different—another Spring time, renewed hope. Again I watched your careful selection of twigs, straw and even a long swirl of toilet tissue—that was quite a find!

I marveled at your devotion, seated all day and night with your head cocked heavenward, beak straight and unflinching.

I must confess I took a peak last week and saw your five infant birds. We humans would call them quintuplets. They looked so snug and content in their comfy nest, awaiting the soon return of their faithful mother. I was happy for you.

How disappointed I was to discover your nest this morning, empty and abandoned. Was it a cat or perhaps an owl from the nearby woods that had been watching all along; lurking, just waiting for you to leave the nest so he could attack your young and take them from you. The nest is not just empty; it is desolate. Had they grown strong and you watched as each one took off in flight, it would be empty—but yours is a desolate nest.

Mother bird, I have a few things to tell you, wherever you are.
When you sit high in the tree tops listening to the chatter of the other mother birds, boasting of their young and their successful flights; some to far off places, some with families of their own—don't lose heart. Remember your loving preparation, your devotion before and after their birth; that you would have given your very life to protect them. And you will understand something deep within your heart that they may never know; that sometimes it has nothing to do with our single hearted devotion, efforts and best of intentions. Some things are simply beyond our control.

But if your find yourself in a lonely moment, tempted to despair, please remember this most important truth. Even the disruption of your nest, the loss of your young and your disappointment, were in God's perfect plan.
And did you know that the Lord's care and concern are not limited to us humans; he speaks of you as well.

"Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your father's will." ` Matthew 10:29

The Lord uses you often in His Word, my dear feathered friend, to bring a picture to mind that we humans can truly grasp. A favorite image of mine is found in the Psalms:

Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast. Psalm57:1

.......under the shadow of His wings—there's no place I'd rather be.
And so mother bird, until next year. I'll be watching for you in the early Spring. Maybe you'll be back to try again—maybe not. Either way you will be a stronger bird I'm sure.

And don't ever give up hope, and trust in a loving Father.
.......I won't if you won't.

Goodbye mother bird.


Friday, December 11, 2009

The Christmas List

I felt unusually good as I turned off the busy roadway toward home—maybe I would be ready for Christmas after all.
I had a tree in the trunk of my car—not just a tree, a beautiful tree. I had my eye on it from the moment I entered the tree farm; but the price was higher than I planned on spending. As I turned to leave a gentlemen selling trees stopped me.
"You know they're all half price!"
"Great—then I'll take that one right over there!"
As he bound the tree and prepared to put it in the trunk I went inside to pay the cashier.
"Check that off my list," I thought as I backed out of the lot. There was still so much to do. I turned up the Christmas music and headed home.

It had been less than two months since the night of my husband's dreadful hit and run motorcycle accident—the night he had been left for dead in the middle of a dark busy road only a mile from our home; weeks filled with surgeries and doctor's visits—not much time to plan and shop.

But I made a list and checked "things to do" off daily. I could not believe that I was almost at the end of my list.
—Bake cookies.
—Few last minute gifts.
—Meal for Henry...

Henry came into our life a few years earlier and we watched as he struggled to keep a roof over his head. Mental illness and other disabilities caused him to fall further and further behind until he was finally evicted from his home. He spent a Christmas Eve with us that year which turned into a number of weeks. He was so grateful that we allowed him to stay, that he kept us in firewood that winter—supplying us with wood from some of his clearing jobs. He could singlehandedly down a tree faster than anyone I had ever seen.

Now Henry was completely homeless. I heard he was living off the side of the road; first in his truck, until someone allowed him to stay in a small work trailer on the property. It had been an unusually cold November followed by a chilling early December.

Perhaps it was exposure—Henry ended up in the hospital the second week into December with symptoms of pneumonia. He was released but still not well. One day he asked my son if he could stop by and clean up for a doctor's appointment. When I spoke to him that day I was once again taken back by his personable manner. I asked him how he was feeling—we talked for a while.
"It's nice talking to you again Mary."

It was then that I added Henry to my list.
—Make a meal for Henry and take it to him—perhaps Christmas Eve.
It was sad to see him in this condition. My hands were full—but I could certainly make him a meal.

As I neared the curve before my road snow began falling lightly on the windshield. Beautiful tree in the trunk—snow falling—maybe it will be a white Christmas after all!
Suddenly without any visible warning a deer ran down a hill hidden from sight and crashed headlong into the side of my car. The jolt brought the car to a sudden stop and I sat stunned, realizing I had hit something big. I had never hit anything before in my life.

I got out of my car and walked back to the deer—something drivers are warned never to do—but I did. He was lying still, alive—eyes open; but he appeared to be dying.
I began to cry,"I'm so sorry—I'm so sorry!"

For the first time since my husband's accident, the reality of someone leaving a human being in the middle of a dark road, knowing they could be hit by other cars and trucks, hit me. The memory of the state police coming to my door in the middle of the night, holding Ed's helmet and tattered shirt, shocked me. My husband was truly left for dead. Whoever left him there was brought to an abrupt stop, just as I was. Yet that person drove off and left him there to die.

I got back into my car and headed home, figuring I would call the police and report the deer's location.
The excitement of finding a tree had diminished.

Later that evening my son received a call. It was the police. At first I thought it might have to do with the deer, but soon realized this was even more serious. He stopped answering questions long enough to tell me that Henry was found dead in the trailer. Henry was not an old man—this was so unexpected.
He had apparently died in his sleep, possibly from his illness. The police realized he was homeless and were calling contacts found on his cell phone trying to get information.
I felt so saddened—the very last item on my list. I would not be making a meal for Henry.

The more I thought about him the more I wondered, had he also been left for dead off the side of the road? Was I guilty as well?

As I check off the items on my list this year I am reminded of Henry and realize that we all leave others for dead to a greater of lesser degree. We all have Henrys in our lives. They may not be homeless—but they are those who have not been able to keep up with the world, for one reason or another.
The last item on my list may very well be the most important thing I have "to do."

But Henry did have a special Christmas dinner the night he died we later found out. Another homeless man prepared a special meal for him over a camp fire earlier that night; fillet mignon —and they enjoyed it together. I am very thankful for that.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lessons from the Annex

  1. Writer’s Retreat: Four rooms, shared with eight individuals of various ages and temperaments. Share bedroom with one moody middle aged gentleman. Small child’s metal desk in corner provided. All curtains drawn during daylight, windows blackened in the evening. Music not permitted. No walking or activity between the hours of 8am and 5pm. Sunlight and fresh air limited; can be taken in occasionally from attic skylight. Must stay for two years. Only serious inquiries, please.

…..Any takers?

Yet, from this “retreat” came
The Diary of Anne Frank—and eventually more than 18 million copies printed in 52 languages. After the Bible, it is believed to be the most widely read book in the world. Why has this diary so impacted the world? That question has been addressed by many writers far more qualified than I, so I will narrow the question down considerably. Why has this book so impacted me?

I read the diary in junior high school, when I was the age of Anne Frank, but reread it several years ago with greater interest. Journaling had become very important in my life over the past few decades. The contents of my first book, “
One Family’s Journey through Alzheimer’s,” published by Tyndale House in November of 2000, came directly from the contents of eight years of journaling.
After reading the book the second time I was deeply moved. But the greater impact was to be felt one month later.

The following is from my journal,
October 11, 2001.

"It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I'll be able to realize them!"
Yours, Anne M. Frank

This is, in my estimation the most powerful quote in Ann Franke's diary.
Today is the one month anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the twin towers, the Pentagon, and the downing of a passenger plane in PA. We are being warned by the FBI that there is cause to believe there could be another attack within the next few days.
I marvel at how our world has been transformed since I read this in
The Dairy of Anne Frank a little over a month ago. At the time, I tried to put myself in her place; living in dread of being discovered, hearing the bombing raids night and day. I closed the book, savoring the great freedom I have enjoyed all of my life. Now suddenly we have, in a very real way, lost some of that freedom. No, we are not enclosed in a four room hiding place, but hemmed in by fear of the unknown—possible imminent evil plans of these terrorists.
In a very real way "
I feel the suffering of".. thousands; people whose bodies will never be recovered, their families grieving, reeling from the utter shock of their loss.
I honestly do not fear for myself. The Lord is my shepherd and it is under the shadow of His wings that I reside.

The tendency I have felt, as others have is to put life on hold. Everything seems so insignificant in the light of all these tragic events. But reading Anne's journal has encouraged me to press on in striving for those goals I had previously set—continue writing. I was amazed at the reading and studying that took place within those four walls in those two years. Ann's father provided an uninterrupted stream of materials for her and her sister to study. Their response could have been to despond and stop living, but instead they continued to live as best they could, with as much structure as possible, under such adverse conditions.
No, there was not a happy ending, quite the contrary; but that does not render her journal less instructive. It is the very fact that her journal came to an abrupt close that speaks volumes to our world—the profound reality of the evil mankind is capable of.
There is so much to be learned through it.

Now, years later, I find myself thinking about the diary once again. I believe there are several important lessons, especially for writers, to be gleaned from Anne’s words and example.

A cabin in the woods, bungalow on a tropical beach—although either one sounds mighty inviting to me—is not essential to peace of mind and creativity. In “annex” settings, writing becomes the sandy beach—the very necessary diversion for survival.
Although most will never endure such a horrendous ordeal, we all go through our own inescapable “annex” experiences. Situations where we feel like victims—we did not ask for it, we did not cause it, but here we are. When serious illness strikes a loved one, divorce tears a precious family apart, or any number of serious life crises takes over our life and attention, we are enclosed in our own “annex,” unsure how we will survive— if we will survive.

Courage, as clearly demonstrated by the Frankes is moving on despite despair. Certainly Anne and her family displayed remarkable courage. The example of Otto Franke, Anne’s father, providing his daughters with books and a continuous supply of learning materials was admirable. It was courageous in view of their uncertain future.

Writing, at times becomes a courageous act. It is not easy—but it becomes essential to survival. And survival writing, often escapes the confines, travels freely into the future and finds its place in the hearts and minds of others in need of what you have learned while residing within that annex experience.
Anne Franke did not know that her diary would be freed from the annex. But she hoped, and steadfastly recorded her thoughts and dreams, until the evil they feared overcame them and led them to their dreadful end.
—But that was not the end after all, was it?
Her words could not be captured, abused or exterminated but traveled freely into the future, and have impacted the lives of millions of readers.

Dreaming of that cabin in the woods? Dream about it, yes—but it may never become a reality. Sit yourself down at that little metal desk in the corner and dare to write. No music allowed? Play it loudly within your heart and soul. Music, just as the written word is a medium that transcends circumstance. Prayer, music and the written word; three powerful mediums, that cannot be contained, each with power to impact and change lives. Perhaps that is why the great hymns, a combination of all three, have come through the ages and still lift the spirit above circumstance. They transcended the bondage of the cotton fields, freeing the spirits of the slaves.
Curtains drawn and everything appears dreary? Writing will let some needed sunlight in. It will take courage, but you will be the victor in the long run.

—And time will only tell how many others may benefit.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Father before me

From my earliest remembrance—there was the typewriter.