The Gift and Sort of a Miracle - From My Window

Jane Thibodeau Martin

About seven years ago, recently retired, I spent time helping a former coworker and casual friend who was seriously ill.  I took her to appointments in Tulsa, and picked her up after stays at a major hospital in Houston. She was widowed, had no children, and was from a very small east coast family who was dealing with the simultaneous illness of her mother so far away.  I had time, and was happy to help.  When she entered at-home hospice care, other friends or I stayed overnight so she wouldn’t be alone.

During one of those evenings, she had me get a lovely wooden box from her bedroom.  It was small but beautifully carved, with various wood inlays. What was unusual about it was the surface was 3-D, that is, the carved inlay scene of flowers and a mountain wasn’t flat, but stood out in relief.  It was a work of art.

She went through the contents of the box piece by piece – her mother’s jewelry, which her mother had given her at their last visit before both of them became too ill to travel.  Most of the pieces were gifts from my coworker to her long-divorced mother – for mom’s 65th birthday, for Christmas in 1985; each piece had a memory attached to it that she shared with me.

When she finished, she closed the box and gave it to me, so I started to return it to the bedroom when she stopped me.  “No, I want you to have it.”  I honestly didn’t know what to say.  The box had her mom’s wedding and engagement rings; it belonged in the family.  She was insistent.  Finally, I said we could talk about it another day and returned it to the bedroom.

After she passed away, several of those who had helped the coworker came to her house to help clean it out.  We had all come to know and respect her only sibling, a brother, who had stayed with their mother until her passing; and then come to Oklahoma to be with his sister for her last days.  Emptying the house was going to be a big job, and he really needed to get back to work.

Another coworker and I started on the closets when the brother came and pulled me out of the room.  He handed me a bag, with the box in it.  “She told me in no uncertain terms that you were to have this,” he said.  I again protested that the jewelry belonged in the family, and he did take his mother’s wedding and engagement rings out, but insisted I take the rest.  I suddenly had a change of heart about accepting the gift, because I was consumed with regret.  The reason I felt badly is that it was now clear to me she had chosen this remembrance for me, and I had denied her the pleasure and closure of seeing me accept it.  And then she had had to remember to instruct her brother what was to be done with it; at a time when she had many heavy things on her mind

All of these memories came back when I admired the box again recently, and for the first time I turned it over and saw an inscription in fine point black ink on the back.  It said “Joy of Doing, ’84, Silverton, Oregon.”

I assumed “Joy of Doing” was the name of the box, but I was curious about the maker.  I did some internet searching and came up empty, although I discovered Silverton is a town of 10,000 people.  So small, surely someone there would know something.  So I searched “antique stores” in Silverton; what came up was a couple of bric-a-brac shops that sell used clothing and housewares; it didn’t seem that angle would be helpful.  Next, I tried “woodworkers, Silverton, OR” and way down the list of options was “Woodworker’s Guild of Oregon.” 

I checked the Woodworker’s page, and it was listings of guild members across Oregon, product sellers, classes, art and craft shows, and other articles of interest to artisan woodworkers.  A long shot, but I sent a photo of the box front and back to the webmaster of the site.  I wasn’t expecting a response.

In less than two hours, a kind person there sent a reply.  The “Joy of Doing” was not the title of the piece, it was the name of a business run by a man named Thomas Allen, a lifelong wood artisan.  He had died in 2008; the contact helpfully provided a link to his obituary.  I am an avid reader of obituaries so I was thrilled to get it.  He was a talented man.  Besides inlaid boxes like mine, he made wall sculptures for homes and public art displayed in many places in Oregon, according to his well-written and detailed obituary. 

I have no idea what the lovely and unique box is worth.  That is of no interest to me; but knowing where it came from is my treasure.  I marvel again at the power of the internet, and also at the thoughtfulness of the person who bothered to give such a helpful response to my inquiry.  It was, indeed, a marvel!   In pre-internet days, such a quest would have been very difficult. 

I still have some of the jewelry, but quite a bit of it I have gifted to people who I felt would appreciate various pieces.  The aquamarine earrings were given to my daughter-in-law to hold for my granddaughter-, since that is her birthstone.  The pearl earrings were worn by my daughter on her wedding day.  Each recipient hears the story of the lady who gifted it to me;  and most of them hear my lesson learned about reflecting carefully before declining a gift.  Share your gratitude with the giver, when they can see it.

Sooner rather than later, I will gift the box to someone else, with the information on the artist tucked away inside.  The gift of the box was generous; the lesson that accompanied it is priceless.

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