If a person could be represented by an inanimate object, my father would be this oak book case. These stacked barristers that encase sets of Hemingway, George MacDonald, the Brontës, Miss Austen, Alcott, Dostoyevsky, Dickens and British mysteries, among others, in the corner of our family room, once held Bible concordances the size of shoe boxes and theology books on every Christian theme known to the Church, in my father's upstairs library: Gray & Adams' commentaries, Encyclopedias of Religious Knowledge and missionary histories, as well as his impressive hymnbook collection. The house was long and narrow, the upstairs hall reaching from front to back. Besides four ceiling-high stacks of barristers in two studies that book-ended the long hall, one in the front end's huge bay window where one of his two roll-top desks (without the roll-tops) window-faced Lincoln Street, and the other in the small bedroom at the back end of the long hall with a tiny balcony escape adjacent to the other desk without its roll-top, he had also built neat shelves lining one wall of the entire hallway floor to ceiling. Every hair's breadth of space on these shelves was perfectly fitted with books by theme, in various states of wear, each spine religiously aligned with the shelf's edge.
It wasn't only the books he loved with their millions of characters in thousands of pages that made up the tools of his trade communicating the word of God. He loved their shelves and book cases, too. He loved wood. He loved boards. My dad was gone before we moved to this farm, but we lived on another small farm for a short while twenty years ago, and my brother Bennett caught him on video walking into the soft filtered afternoon light of the tall barn as if into a sanctuary, then with his beautiful carpenter's hand (yes, like Jesus), stroking the 100-year-old boards as wide as the tree they were rough sawn from, a look of ecstasy on his face and a deep moan from his chest, while rays of light through the boards wrapped him in a celestial aura. Really. Just like that.
My mother came from fine mahogany stock, but Dad was of oak. Simple, steady, slow growing, common in those days (he told us he paid just $4 per oak barrister section in the 1940s), and strong. He lived an inner life with the windowed door closed six days a week, and on the 7th, the door opened, and he spoke. I remember him strolling the long hall on Saturday nights, rehearsing his Sunday sermon in quiet whispers, while I was downstairs watching a movie on television, occasionally hearing the floor creak under his pacing feet. He gathered inspiration from his forest of oak shelves and leaves of bookish testimony and carved an unaffected piece of clear prose.
At my family's cottage we have a large black and white etching Dad bought somewhere, some time of a teenage Jesus standing in his father Joseph's carpenter studio. There is light flooding in from the window, sawdust and pale curled shavings like fallen leaves on the floor, a plane, chisel and mallet covered in wood pollen, left hurriedly on the work table as if Joseph had just run to help his neighbor pry a sheep loose from stones. This young boyish Jesus contemplates the work of his earthly father, and the heavenly light from another Father pours in the window, melding in a marquetry of dark and light, air and wood, sun and earth. Infusion of the divine in the human and humble was my father's joy.