I’m not really a “favorite furniture” kind of guy. I don’t have a special chair in our family room, and I’m okay with putting my clothes in whichever drawers have room in them. We’ve moved around a lot, and knowing that we may someday move across the sea is a pretty good motivator to not invest too heavily in large furnishings. However, there is this one thing…
It’s a vegetable bin.
It sits in our pantry, and has traveled with us through several moves. It’s not fancy. Most people don’t even think twice about it when they’ve seen it. It is solid. It was build to last. It’s dependable. It does what it’s supposed to do, and does it well. Just like the man who built it.
I’ll admit, there are times when I’m in a rush and don’t really notice it. But often I do stop to take in it’s elegant lines and beautiful simplicity, and this brings back a flood of memories.
Aunt Barb and Uncle Jim were two of the kindest people I’ve ever known. Barb was my Grandma’s sister, and had a fondness for tiny dogs that looked like a cross between something off of Star Trek and a pair of really cool slippers. Jim had been friends with my Grandpa before they became brothers-in-law. He was what you would call a “gentle giant.” Although he didn’t say much, when you did hear his slow, deep voice, you knew it was going to be either very wise, very funny, or most often, both. His eyes were always smiling. They lived closer than most of our relatives, and although their house was just minutes from the busyness of the airport and shopping malls, it was like a quiet oasis, and an adventure land for us kids.
Inside, the walls were covered with Aunt Barb’s collection of egg beaters, and Uncle Jim’s collection of Native American arrowheads he had found over the years (this was, to me, a connection to my own Grandpa, who had a similar collection from his property in the country). In the family room was an electric organ, which we were sometimes allowed to play – but not too much. Downstairs were more of Uncle Jim’s collections, a fascinating treasure trove of things he had acquired over the years – knives, military memorabilia, arrowheads, and lots more. In the back was his shop, where he made furniture – everything from magazine racks to entertainment centers to…well, vegetable bins – and all with the same deliberate care attention to detail with which he lived his life. We weren’t allowed in this room, but standing by the door you could see the amazing tools, and breathe deep the smell sawdust and wood stain.
Outside, the yard seemed to go on forever. Close to the house there were walkways, fences and curbs to practice your balancing skills (as every future ninja must). There was a porch swing, which was great for quiet moments, but the real adventure was found in something I had never seen in any other back yard – a genuine, playground quality merry-go-round. We would take turns spinning each other into oblivion for what seemed like hours, until we couldn’t hold on any more and dizzily lurched around the grass, trying not to run into anything. If we were lucky, we would find Uncle Jim walking slowly toward the back of the yard to his garden, and he would let us tag along. All of the great-aunts and uncles had gardens, just like Grandpa and Grandma, and Uncle Jim would point out each different vegetable and show us where it was okay to walk as he picked what was needed for dinner.
Once, on our way back to the house, I got a rare glimpse inside the garage, where I developed my first love affair. A mint-condition 1966 Ford Mustang, which, my dad confided in me, had “almost no miles on it.” I didn’t even know what this meant at the time, but I could tell by the way he said it that this was a big deal. This is still my dream car.
Even as a kid, I knew that Barb and Jim were meant for each other. Although I rarely saw them in recent years, I know that his heart ached as he watched her waste away with Alzheimer’s, and broke when it finally took her. When I heard this week that Jim had passed, too, I stood in the door of the pantry and looked for a long time at that vegetable bin.
They lived through the Great Depression, served their country in World War Two, and raised families who are now scattered across the United States, but most of my family from that greatest generation are gone now. I hope that their legacy of hard work, laughter, valuing the things you have and not worrying about the things you don’t, and putting your best into everything you do, will be carried on in my generation and passed on to the next, standing firmly but quietly through whatever may come.
Just like my favorite piece of furniture.