Eulogy for a Cabinetmaker

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A new star appeared in the sky recently. His name was Elliott, and he’s the man who raised me. This is the eulogy I wrote for him.


When people ask me about my family, one of the things I think about is the condiments. The ketchup, specifically. I picture a holiday table, maybe the 4th of July, with my grandmother joining us. I’d grab the almost-empty bottle of ketchup, get out what I could, and declare it empty. My mother would look at the container suspiciously, shake it and hit it, get a little more out, and then set it aside, because it was empty. My grandmother would then take the bottle, whack it a few times, get a little more out, and declare it truly empty. When we were all done with the meal, Elliott would put the empty ketchup bottle in the fridge and tell my mom he’d add water to what was left and use it in one of his lunches. Only then was the bottle actually empty.

When Elliott first came into my life, I didn’t like him much. He had a funny accent and seemed completely resistant to my five-year old charms. Despite the accent, I understood him every time he put his foot down and didn’t like it one bit. I resented him for daring to move into my life and put an end to my idea that I was anything short of perfect. For the next twelve years, I pushed him and pushed him and pushed him away.

But he stayed.

He stuck it out when puberty and menopause both moved into the house at the same time and the only safe place was his garage. As clothing and food bills increased with my constant string of growth spurts, he simply dug in and worked harder. When I finished college and moved back into the house, full of youthful know-it-all but poor in plans for the future, he was still there. And when I asked him to help walk me down the aisle, wild horses couldn’t have dragged him away.

In the simplest terms, that was Elliott. He promised to love me and care for me, so he did.

As most of you know, Elliott was a cabinetmaker. The first time I heard that I wondered why he didn’t call himself a carpenter, a builder, or even an artist. I watched him build closets out of empty space, strip down and remake two houses, and create solutions for everyday problems using whatever spare materials he had lying around. (And the garage was always full of things he might have a use for someday.) “Cabinetmaker” seemed like such a small title for a man whose talents seemed so much bigger.

I’ve learned, though, that there is more to a cabinet than I used to think. On the inside, cabinets are sturdy, secure, useful, and adjustable, while the outside needs to be beautiful in addition to functional. Elliott was like the cabinets he built. He was so dependable that it was easy to take him for granted. If something was broken, he could fix it. If you needed something, he could find it (again, usually in the garage). But he wasn’t just a hammer and nails, he was also a paintbrush and a song and a quiet joke told with his signature smirk.

Elliott’s love wasn’t loud or boastful. If he loved you, he wouldn’t hire a band or make a banner proclaiming it. He would never chase you or hound you with constant reminders because his love was simply always there. Elliott’s love was the perfect card picked out for a birthday or Christmas. It was making my mother’s coffee every morning, just the way she liked it. It was quiet smiles when he listened to you tell a story. It was the fresh flowers he picked up at the store because he knew my mother liked them. It was pages of his coloring given to friends and family. It was a kitchen full of custom gadgets like a hideaway spice rack for my mom, and a bathroom sink and mirror installed higher than standard for me. It was hours spent in the car driving to airports and then, “Have a safe trip and call your mother when you get there,” said quietly into a hug.

In the end, Elliott taught me that things don’t have to be as difficult as I sometimes think they are. When gravy gets into the vegetables on my plate, I’ll hear him say that it’s all going to the same place. When it rains, I will know that we were wet before we were dry. I will measure twice and cut once, and I will always keep the spare nails, screws, and scraps of sandpaper because you never know when you might need them. But most of all, he taught me that love isn’t always loud or pretty. Most of the time, it’s simply being there, every day, making their coffee just the way they like it.

 

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