A few weeks ago I found some goblets at my favorite antique store, “The Crooked Willow” just outside the little town where we work, Osakis, Minnesota. One of them was undoubtedly my Dad’s glasscutting work. I knew this would happen one day; and I often looked at antique stores to find crystal etched by the hands of my dear, tenderhearted father. I always loved his hands; they became stiff as he aged, his fingers slightly bent from the thousands upon thousands of pieces of glassware that he held in them. My dad was a glasscutter. Everyday he took plain, everyday glassware, tumblers, goblets, plates, vases, and etched beautiful designs on them with a wheel. An ancient art, and few of these talented craftsmen remain, my brother and cousin notwithstanding.
I bought the piece, and brought it home. I had also discovered at the Crooked Willow four other smaller goblets that were grouped together with a mis-matched pitcher which was of Princess House design. The birds engraved in the goblets looked very much like my Dad’s, but the flowers were not his. It was a slight variation of the pattern my father often engraved that he called “Gloria.” I didn’t buy them. Yet.
Sometimes timing is everything.
Just a few days ago a memory came to mind from my childhood. My dad had a glass cutting machine at the bottom of the stairs in the basement of our home in South Minneapolis on East 36th Street. Once in a while I would sit at my dad’s machine and engrave flawed crystal pieces just for fun. But on this particular day, Dad allowed me to engrave the flower design for an order he was working on. The flower was etched into the glass using a smooth wheel, like a tiny treadless tire only made of stone. Other designs were made with wheels that had a sharp lip around them for creating lines, others were used for leaves and other embellishments. The circle pattern was the easiest, but still required a steady, skilled hand. The glass piece was placed on the stone firmly, and held with both hands until an etched circle was created. A total of seven little circles created the pattern into a flower.
I worked on those for a few hours; not one of them even close to perfect. I remember feeling baffled that my dad didn’t resort to, “Okay, thanks, Jill. Now off you go to play.” He let me continue to try and fail on valuable glassware. Then he took the goblet in his capable hands and, using artistic license, added embellishments to the flower to hide my flaws. I remember that some of them were beyond repair, and those he took to his polishing wheel and polished the center circles and embellished the surrounding of the flower, adding etched stems. The polishing process was laborious and long. He had to put a substance on the glass and stand by his polishing wheel until the etched circle that I made was translucent.
Upon this remembrance, I went back to the store yesterday to see if by chance the goblets might be “ours”. I was convinced they were. The flower patterns were hiding flaws, and two them were polished in the center. Dad and I cut these goblets. I bought them at “The Crooked Willow”, 130 miles from where they were created, 40 years later, from a store just a few miles from our new home exactly one year after my dad left us for his new home in heaven. They are now adorning my bathroom hutch, making a home for my jewelry.
What does this speak to me?
First, my father worked with what I gave him, flawed as it was. Why, when he could have been so much more productive without me? He would have had a much better quality product to give Mr. Odingard, his salesman had he sent me off to play. Why then didn’t he? I know why. Because relationship was more important to him than perfection. Because his identity was not in what he did. Because he valued time with me more than he valued his work. And perhaps there was a bigger picture reason as well. Perhaps the Father knew that forty-some years from then, on the first anniversary of his leaving us, I would need a sign from my father that I am loved and valued, flaws and all; and like my dad, my Gracious Heavenly Father can take my efforts, marred as they are by my sin, pride, and brokenness – as a parent, as a wife, as a friend, as a neighbor, as a disciple, as a human – and make something beautiful of them. Something that others may find useful forty-some years from now.