Guest blogger Scott Newport shares a story of a shoe box of childhood memories that reveal treasures made more precious by friendship and grief. His grief over the loss of his son. His friend’s grief over the loss of a brother.
A Shoe Box of Memories:
Treasures Wrapped around Friendship and Grief
“Hey Dean, is there anything Tim’s family needs?” I asked over the phone. I was driving my white Ford van when I asked Dean that question.
You see, Dean’s younger brother, Tim, had passed away unexpectedly just a few days earlier. We all worked together in the residential remodeling business. Dean and Tim are well known tile and stone setters. I’m just a carpenter. But I have learned that treasures are often wrapped around a friendship. My last memory of Tim was a phone conference that also included Dean. I can’t remember exactly what we talked about but we laughed a lot. The imprint will last forever in my mind.
When I saw Dean the following week at a meeting with a homeowner about a current project, he immediately came over to me and expressed his deep gratitude for my call. Then he pulled out an incredible small pocket knives with pencil-yellow handles.
Being a novice knife maker, it caught my interest. “Wow, Dean where did you get that?” I asked.
“I found it in a small shoe box stored at my folk’s house and remembered it when I was a child.”
While the superintendent of the job gathered the tradesmen together around the kitchen island, Dean left the conversation. He started to use the knife to cut open boxes of tile. I cringed when I glanced over, realizing how dull the knife appeared as it stretched the packing tape to its breaking point.
While the workmen navigated past the pantry and into the magnificent laundry area and connecting dog bathing stall, I approached Dean. I guessed he dreaded going into that laundry area because that is where Tim had left his last mark. The intricate Verde green, glass tiles on the walls were exquisite. The laundry floor was ornate, covered with eighteen by eighteen inch tile. It took Tim over a day to lay out the four pattern hatchlike design. Tim and his helper rotated the tile endlessly until they fit perfectly into the designer’s dream.
“Dean,” I said, “why don’t you let me take the knife home and put a razor edge on it.”
“No, no, Scott that won’t be necessary,” Dean politely replied while laying tile on the island counter.
“Dean, that knife’s a treasure you need to protect.”
The next morning before daylight I started to put an edge on the miniature knife and envisioned Dean when he was a young boy. I thought about a small hand-painted box at my folk’s house holding a few old Topps baseball cards and a couple of broken Hot Wheel cars. Turning the knife over, I also thought about Dean’s somber face the day before, when we talked at the job site that obviously held the memory of his brother Tim.
I have also experienced a great loss in my life and know how important it is to keep the memories of loved ones alive. While sitting on my favorite stool, tucked up against the bench in my workshop, I reflected for a while.
Along with knife-making I’ve been experimenting with leather crafting. I’ve made sheaths for the twelve knives I created out of raw steel. In those early hours I decided to make a holder for Dean’s knife. Recently I began doing artistic tooling also and thought I should do the same for Dean’s to say, “I do really care about you.” A gift of kinship.
The next time I see Dean I’ll return his knife in a small case. I’ll explain how important it is to keep the knife protected and sharp. And I hope, as time creeps by, he will embrace the memory of his brother. It’s common to bury those memories at first as they are too painful to handle. Like the knife Dean found buried in that shoe box–it takes a memory to bring it back to life.
Keeping the memories sharp is so important. Reminiscing makes those hard days a bit softer. Dean, like many of you, will encounter the grief demon. When we bear the little treasures in our protective cases, the sharp memories bring out life when death tries to keep us dull.
When I reclaim the memories of my son Evan, it makes me proud. As time goes by folks will see Dean and me as men who hold shoe box treasures like the sheath holds Dean’s tiny sharpened knife with the pencil-yellow handle.
If heaven weren’t so far away, I would make one for Tim, too.
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