It was Friday morning, two days after Halloween and I was staring at my Grandpop’s face. I was sitting alone on the couch in my living room. My tablet was propped up on a pillow in my lap and I had a stylus in my right hand.
I was drawing my Grandpop. My sister-in-law shared a bunch of photos of him after he passed. When swiping through the photos, one in particular spoke to me. The photo was taken when my Grandpop was 25, give or take. He wasn’t even “Grandpop” yet. He was simply known as “Bud” back then. He looked self-assured and fearless, bold and ready for a fight; the opposite of how I last saw him before he died a week before.
Yeah, I thought as I followed every contour of his face with my eyes and redrew them with my stylus. This is how I want to remember him: as “Bud.”
Typically, when I’m working on a project like this, I like to have music playing to keep me company. Not that time. I wanted quiet reflection.
I thought about how lucky our family was to have Grandpop in our lives. I thought about how generous he was with his time, talent and treasure. I thought about his final days and how he was surrounded by love. I thought about how strong he was with his faith. I felt gratitude that he died without struggle or pain. He didn’t suffer.
I thought about the upcoming holidays and how hollow they’ll feel without him. I thought about all of the squandered opportunities that I had to go see him before he got sick.
As my thoughts darkened with the singe of regret, I considered turning on that music to divert my mind off of its shadowed path. I decided against it. I knew that I needed to go down that path and explore every tributary of my grief.
So I cried. I drew. And I thought.
By mid-afternoon I had finished the drawing, but my project had just begun.
• • •
The blast of potpourri hit my nostrils as I stepped through the sliding doors of A.C Moore crafts store. I craned my neck and scanned the store, searching for the correct aisle. A small, older woman wearing an A.C. Moore-branded smock slowed her hurried stride as she noticed my confusion. She had thinning gray hair in tight curls and glasses perched low a upon a narrow nose. She lowered her forehead so that she could look at me over her glasses, somehow giving her the appearance of both looking down at me and up at me at the same time. Poor lost soul, I imagined her thinking.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah, do you have woodburning pens?”
She smirked at a private joke and beckoned. “Follow me.”
She led me through a maze of stacks glittery styrofoam pumpkins, countless spools of ribbon and innumerable bins of yarn to an aisle filled with woodburning tools and accessories.
“There you are. Anything else?”
“No, thanks.” She smirked again before hurrying away.
• • •
I set the woodburning pen down into its cradle and stood up to see my work from a distance. I picked up the 5″ x 7″ basswood that served as my practice piece. I turned it toward the lamp so that the light would highlight the contrast between the raw and burned surfaces. The shading was dark and even. I lowered the piece and rubbed my thumb across the image. It was pleasingly debossed into the wood. Not bad for a first try, I thought. Maybe I didn’t need to practice first. Maybe Mom will want this.
• • •
On November 3rd, Don and I met at his workshop for the second time to finish the work that we started a week and a lifetime ago. He let me do a little more of the work this time. I helped find and mark the centerline of the guitar body, which is deceptively tricky and incredibly important. He routed the new neck pocket. We filed and sanded the remaining wood so that it contoured exactly to the old body.
The moment of truth was when we put the neck into the pocket. Don let me do the honors.
Perfect, snug fit.
I drove in the four screws that hold the neck to the body and gave the neck a firm sideways tug. No movement, sturdy. I was filled with relief and happiness. I smiled and handed the guitar to Don. He twirled the guitar in his hands and nodded.
“Told ya’: no problem.”
“Never doubted you for a second.”
Without Don’s generosity of time and talent, my guitar would still be a defunct hunk of junk. But more importantly, without Don’s willingness to share his craftsmanship, I wouldn’t have had this project to help me through my grief. For that, I’ll always be grateful.
Don is a great friend.
• • •
A few days later, I set the woodburning pen down for the last time. I massaged the first knuckle on the middle finger of my right hand where the pen had rubbed it raw. I stood up and stretched my back. I had been hunched over for hours, inhaling the smoke from charred wood.
I looked down at the back of my guitar. My project was complete. My old Strat was new again. I had gutted and replaced almost everything: hardware, electronics, neck and a new pickup.
But now it had something that it never had before: a name.
My guitar will be now be called “Bud.”
I will play this guitar everyday, which means I’ll get to spend time with him everyday. Anytime I want, I can tilt the guitar away from my body and look down to see his face. Each time I’ll be reminded how important he is to me and my family.
Working on this guitar gave me the time to reflect on my relationship with my Grandpop. It helped me to process my grief and to reconcile my sadness.
It also helped me to understand that he and I weren’t so different after all. We love to create, to work with our hands and share our talents with others.
Oh, and did I mention that he was a thinker?
I guess that’s something else we have.
Grandpop, this song’s for you.