by Debra Wierenga
"May 10-14. - Went every day to the wreck." --Robinson Crusoe

When I was ill with one of those diseases
of childhood my own children were spared,
my father read me Crusoe in short pieces
each day after work. A builder's son, he shared
his regard for a castaway's ingenious
repurposing, showing how a life can be pared
to parts with possibility -- how to respect
what can be salvaged each day, from the wreck.

Deb wrote this for me. Recently it came back to me in a new light.

As I was working (enjoying) my newly ‘salvaged’ garage space and tackling a remodeling project in Deb’s basement, it reminded me of the last years of my dads life. It made me sad.

He was about my age, maybe a few years older, but, like me, didn’t know how to retire. He worked with his hands, just as I do and found satisfaction with what he created . . . just as I do. He made grandfather clocks . . . large floor models. His goal was to have one in the home of each of his children. Working from the oldest to the youngest, mine was last and unfinished at his death. Nearly 40 years later it remains unfinished in my basement.

I worked for him on one of his last jobs . . . Reroofing a house on 12th Street in Grand Rapids. I recall telling my brother Bob, that this should be his last job. He just wasn’t capable doing that kind of work any longer and was becoming more dependent on me . . . I resented that. After all, I had my own life. I’m sad now that I didn’t understand then how important it was to him to still be able to work . . . work and his family and his church made up his life.

Larry, a friend, worked in a furniture factory and frequently offered scraps of hardwood that I considered treasures. I coveted them and only reluctantly allowed dad to use a few pieces for his clocks. They didn’t really fit with his project and by this time his carpentry skills were not what they used to be. I was embarrassed . . . sad . . for him. He wanted pictures taken, in hopes that perhaps he could sell them. Then he died.

Well, approaching his age, I find myself walking the beach looking for driftwood and stones . . . objects that have existed for years, hundreds, thousands of years, without being discovered . . . and ‘repurposing’ them . . . showing how they can be put into a new form . . . new beauty. And, I suppose, like my dad sharing a glimmer of hope that others might appreciate my work.

I’m never sure if there is a ‘correct’ way to interpret poetry. I suppose not. But then Deb’s words . . . ‘how to respect what can be salvaged each day from the wreck.’ came to mind.

I realize that what I salvage from each day has little to do with what comes from my hands. At the end of the day there is the hope that tomorrow will come and be better than today and has everything to do with what comes from my heart and soul and left to my family, those that I love the most . . . just like my dad did.


Last summer I took my ‘Bird Castles’ to sell at a craft show at Virginia Beach, VA. I sold a lot of them but hardly enough to cover my expenses. I sold one to Tracy who gave it to her sister Pam for Christmas. They both spent a lot of time (and had lots of fun) before Pam made her purchase. They talked about a book from their childhood called “The Sailor Dog”. They thought I would like to see it and lo and behold an hour later they returned with the book. We talked about it. They were sure I must have been inspired by Scuppers house built from driftwood.

A few days ago I received a package from Tracy along with a Christmas greeting. It was a brand new copy of the The Sailor Dog. (I’m sure their original copy will be kept in a safe place for a long time to come.) It included the following note:

“Thanks for the Christmas present supplied by you - - that I can give to my sister Pam - - returning us both to our childhood.”

That not only made the long trip worth while but gave me a clear example of what Christmas is all about.

It seemed appropriate to add this to the memory of my dad, along side “Salvage” that brought me back to my childhood and my penchant for repurposing!

. . . . From The Sailor Dog
by Margaret Wise Brown
Pictures by Garth Williams
A Golden Book--New York 1953

. . . . . . He was washed up onto the beach. It was foggy and rainy. There were no houses, and Scuppers needed a house.
But on the beach was lots and lots of driftwood, and he found an old rusty box stuck in the sand.
Maybe it was a Treasure!
It was a treasure---to Scuppers.
It was an old-fashioned tool box with hammers and nails and an ax and a saw. Everything he needed to build himself a house, all by himself, out of driftwood.
He built a door and a window and a roof and a porch and a floor, all out of driftwood.
And he found some re bricks and built a big red chimney. And he lit a fire, and the smoke went up the chimney.

Thanks, Tracy and Pam