Whittling Wood

Oh, dear; Blue has gone into a sulk again and Green is being upset too, you would think we were all a bunch of kids in the schoolyard here.

Still, here is this week’s exercise – write something about wood for twenty minutes.

Whittling Wood

I watched Dad for a long time, the way he would whittle the wood, lifting it regularly up to his eye staring in a vague concentration. He only had a penknife to fashion his little miracles out of the chunks of wood he brought home from the wood yard. It had a red handle with the Swiss symbol emblazoned in gold. This time he was carving a hedgehog about 5 centimetres long with a wonky noise that followed the grain, and would give the hedgehog character.

It was pine but with a bountiful close grain and it smelt of lemons and limes to me. I was ten and my birthday was in the morning; the hedgehog, I knew, was not for me but for my little brother, so that he would leave me be to enjoy my presents. I didn’t feel as excited as I had in previous years; I knew there was no money, my grandmother had had to step in and buy new school clothes for me, and I had none of the set texts so would be carting around battered school copies with ripped pages and ink blotches.

I went to bed as he was finishing inscribing the lines on the hedhog’s back that were its prickles. I found sleep hard but eventually I slept and awoke to sunrays under my door and through my window – the light was a harsh white and it made me feel nostalgic. It was the first time I had ever felt that sad poignancy in my stomach and I savoured it, unsure as to whether moving from the warm cocoon of my bed would destroy it.

I got up anyway because all ten year olds secretly know there have to be some presents on their birthday even if there is no money. I snuck down the stairs in a Minnie Mouse nightshirt and hand crocheted orange-pink bed socks.

The living room table where we ate our meals contained a few small presents wrapped carefully in reclaimed Christmas paper and the card I recognised as a Christmas card that had been chopped and reincarnated. It had a Care Baer on it and I loved it.

Dad appeared from the kitchen and smiled, handing me porridge with a chocolate square on top. I grinned and sat down cross-legged on the floor blowing it to a coolness I could eat. The chocolate square was molten, though it had retained its shape.

Presents! I longed to open them and before I finished swallowing my last mouthful I was up and prodding at the parcels. Dad consented to let me open them then rather than waiting till after school for Mum to come home from work.

One was a geometry set from my grandmother – useful, practical and much needed for school. The next was my Mum’s oldest make-up set full of half used blues and pinks – it held no interest for me and I pushed it aside. Then, to my joy, there was a small balsa wood aeroplane, and another and another made with matchsticks and broken wooden pegs and other such things; I had a whole squad. Mostly they where biplanes, and I was ecstatic.

But there was one last present and it was the smallest, tiniest of all, but it was heavy. To my astonishment I uncovered a red handle that was so familiar but this one was half the size with only a few things, two blades, a bottle opener and a corkscrew. It was beautiful though the gold emblem had already been scraped off and the red handle had a blobby yellow scar from some glue repair in the distant past.

Grinning, my dad produced a box of offcuts and said I could choose three pieces. I grinned and looked at the wood. The first piece I touched told me what it wanted to be – a Chinese man with a large hat in the paddy fields – I made him for my mother, the second said it wanted to be skull and I made it for my brother. The third piece, why, it said it wanted to be a hedgehog and ended up with a very wonky nose – I gave that to my Dad.

Posted: Tuesday, March 17th, 2009 @ 2:13 pm
Categories: Uncategorized.
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