rebuilding our home

Posted on Monday, September 9, 2013

The bags under our eyes were as big as the bags we’d packed for Europe. It had been three rigorous years of Master’s degrees for both of us and we needed a long break from the “real world.” In need of justifying my degree in Spanish, I’d convinced my business-talking, software-studying husband why we should go to Spain. I’d calculated the right amount of emotion with practicality and he was convinced. We were off for an adventure… indefinitely. With out hearts set on hope (and sleep) we sold our belongings. In each discarded table, bed, dresser and blanket, I battled between the pain of loss and increasing freedom. I had less to weigh me down, but more to temporarily miss. As my home emptied and local consignment stores filled, I knew my once cherished objects would supply other homes with new celebrations. But out of each piece that occupied my home, I could not part with the small cross that hung on my bedroom wall. It hadn’t extended it’s own purpose for me as my rug had wiped my feet, my frames had hugged photos of friends and long-distance relatives – it looked to others as just a cross hanging on the wall. But it was the work of a long-ago memory of my father and me.

When I was seven years old, my father, nestled in his garage, cut, sharpened, fastened and built me a wooden cross. The softness of the sanded lines was as tender as his eyes. The sharpness of each edge was as stern as his disciplinary voice. I removed the cross from the wall admiring the ashy imprint it left against the remaining white paint, and tucked it in a box of things to keep. With our remaining domestic belongs secure in a tiny storage unit and hundreds of other pieces of us spread throughout the town, we headed for Europe, daring to live life without a plan for once.

But six months later, we discovered we couldn’t change who we were. We were planners and we were homebodies. After filling ourselves with memories and adventures that would sustain our need for travel for at least a decade, it was time to return back to the “real world.” We arrived back in the United States homeless, sleeping in friends’ homes until we soon settled back in a cozy spot we could call our own. Despite years working in corporate America, we felt like young college students sleeping on a worn mattress and eating dinner on a wobbly card table. After many long nights of interrupted sleep beneath the wild Spanish moon, we decided a bed frame was what we needed first. Over the next few months, we slowly began to rebuild our home-life.

In the plan to rebuild, my mind sauntered back to my father; how we desperately needed a table, chairs, a media space to hold movies and CDs we didn’t part with. But I knew my father’s talented hands would no longer be put to use, not since the day he permanently fell asleep in his bed with a heart too wild for this world. While on the search for a dining table and media center, I heard my father’s distinct laugh among the shiny, polished, particleboard pieces sold in our local furniture shops. I knew we could not bring this into our home. We desired something from the Earth – real trees and hands that cherished the land. I contacted a local woodworker, Darren, with a plea to help us create fine furniture for our growing family at a price we could afford.

I soon learn of our woodworker’s work and his love for his two daughters. It reminds me again of my father and his desire to show his love always though his roughened hands. My father was a carpenter all of his life. I was always fascinated by the creations made with his own two hands (and only nine fingers – he lost one in a sawing accident). Similar to my own father, I see Darren’s passion in creating pieces with his own hands (ten fingers, luckily). He admits to being very cautious with his tools. Darren tells me, “I enjoy the freedom of expression. I enjoy using my body and mind to create. I take pride in creating something out of nothing but restored materials. I like feeling capable, and working with my hands makes me feel that way.” Darren works with wood that has lived another life. “I like it to have chips and dings and signs of weather and use,” he tells me. “Most of my wood comes from wineries and old properties around Sonoma County.” I feel the warm smile of my father carried in the wind. My husband and I design three pieces with Darren: a dining room table, a bench, and a media center. The wood for my furniture, he educates me, comes from a blend of reclaimed hundred-year-old fir, pieces of a winery fence and a barn floor. I imagine dents of the barn floor imprinted with wandering cow tracks and footprints of hard work, the weathered fence heating summer after summer while old vines ripened alongside.

I think about the history and future Darren shapes with his hands and how my father never got the chance to see my home in wine country. He never had the chance to build me the chicken coop I’ve wanted, as Darren has done for his girls and their twelve chickens. But my father built me a playhouse that housed hundreds of tea parties and secrets. He created my cross wall hanging. The cross that accompanied me on my wedding day and held my wedding band before it was placed on my finger. I cannot piece together his ashes and bring back the eyes of my father or the strong grip that held my tiny hands. Instead I have his hands held in the crevices of a cross we built over twenty years ago. And if I stare deep into the spiraling trail of ancient tree rings, I can see that he and I meet again. Perhaps we come again in other lives and forms as full creatures or persons. Perhaps not. Perhaps, like my father’s ashes spread across the forest floor, bits of his work are carried into others, sprinkled onto Darren’s hands and into my home.

The bags have been long unpacked and our eyes now shine with brightness for a life lived with adventure and new beginnings. I anticipate the new experience my husband and I will share at our dining table with our new child, the movies watched on our media center. I think of the stories already lived in the hundred-year-old fir, the winery fence and barn floor wood and of the many more to come. I smile as I sit on the couch and squeeze my husband’s hand – my child inside me, the media center in front of me, the table to my right with it’s bench tucked beneath, and the cross hanging on our bright white wall.



feature image provided by stephen st john


  1. This is a really sweet story. Thank you for including me in the process of rebuilding your home. I’m honored to be a part of it and to have made new friends in such cool and caring people such as you and Kevin. Cheers! -Darren

    • Darren,

      It’s people like you that follow your passion and just do what you love that inspire me. Thank you for your work and for inviting some fun memories to come back in the process!

  2. That’s really sweet. It’s always a pleasure to see creative people in the process of creating.

    • So true, Becca! And now we have personal pieces of functional art in our home that we’ll have for many, many years.

  3. Gorgeously written :)

  4. I love reading about your dad. That you are able to feel his presence through the cross and through interactions with people you continue to meet – beautiful.

    • Thanks so much for reading. I appreciate your comments, Rebekah. It is funny the certain things that can remind us about someone – an object, another person… the ones we love really do continue on when we slow down enough to notice.

  5. Jessica,
    One of your best. I love it! So much emotion. I loved the metaphors: the softness of the sanded lines relating to the tenderness in his eyes and the sharpness of the edge relating to his stern discipline. I could hear him whispering to you.

    • Sweet Sally, thank you for your comments. You’ve heard quite a few stories of my father. As always, thank you for your support. How is your writing going?

There comes a time when one realizes the cage was unlocked all along. Learn More

Copyright © 2012-2016 Rowdy Prisoners. All Rights Reserved.