I got an email from the owner of the coffee house where one of my newer pieces lives. It’s a cabinet for storing newly-roasted coffee beans. The top is shaped like an actual bean.
“We love it!,” he said, “but…” Everyone I know has a big but.
“…one of the sliding doors is dragging, hard to open. I wonder if you can come fix it.”
Impossible, I thought. Those doors were perfectly fit and burnished with wax. They glide effortlessly in their tracks. There must be some other explanation.
Larry met me there the next day and showed me the problem. It was not, in fact, a malfunction of the door. It was much worse. I had made the cabinet interior too small for the coffee storage bins. They stuck out so far that the inside of the door dragged against them. I was dumbfounded. I had built the thing according to the specifications he had provided, which included the bin sizes.
“Did you buy different bins?” I asked, probably accusingly.
“Nope, these are the ones I sent you measurements for,” he pushed back gently.
“Hmmmmmm,” I said.
I felt a rush to the back of my neck, a dizzy fear that I’d made a really bad mistake. One that could only be explained by stupidity or carelessness. Neither of which are particularly impressive to a paying customer.
I couldn’t readily remember the dimensions Larry had sent me. I didn’t have a tape measure with me anyway so it didn’t matter. I knelt before the thing, unsure on which of us the blame rested, but wanting very much to save face either way. I knew deep down that it was possible I had messed up.
I swallowed my terrorized pride just long enough to hatch a plan. Thankfully I would not have to do a major overhaul on the cabinet. I could take just the door back and modify it slightly and it would work.
But that wouldn’t settle the very important question of blame.
As I pulled the door off I resisted every urge to say something defensive. I didn't want to look petty. Besides, the truth would eventually set me free. The moment I got home I would pull up the original email, print it out, and bring it back with me when I returned with the door. Along with a tape measure. I’d be able to prove that he’d given me the wrong sizes in that first email, that this situation was, in fact, his fault. That I, the professional, had not made a mistake.
I’d still remedy the situation at no charge, of course, because that’s just how swell a guy I would show myself to be. But I’d find a gentle way to let him know that this mess was his doing, one carefully crafted not to make me look too smug.
Arriving home I made a straight line — not to the shop to fix the door — but to my computer to find that email. I found the dimensions, printed them out, and only then got to work making the changes to the door. When it was done I set it on my bench next to the printout and the tape measure. The holy trinity of my acquittal.
The next day was April 30th, which happened to be the anniversary of my father’s death. It’s not as sad a marker as it was the first few years. As time has passed this square on the calendar has become less grievous, more reflective. Each year I spend the day thinking more and feeling less. I posted his picture on Facebook in the morning, along with a message about how much I miss him. Suddenly my page was flooded with his admirers, each leaving a memory of how he impressed on their lives. I was reminded what a gentle, humble man he was even — or perhaps especially — after his debilitating stroke, which left him unable to speak or care for himself for nearly six years. This man who had chosen humility had been handed humiliation, which he somehow carried with the same quiet grace.
As I collected my three things and began the drive into Austin I was thinking about some of the stories. Some I’d lived alongside him, some I’d been told about. I stopped to get a haircut, which always makes me think of him (Dad worked in his father’s barber shop in college). And this, in turn, reminded me of a story my mother tells from when they first started dating.
My grandparents’ house was two blocks from campus, so to save money Dad just lived with them. My future-mother visited one day and found my grandfather outside tearing up a fence, the one she’d seen him installing just a few weeks earlier.
“What on earth?!” she blurted.
He said that the widow next door had complained. The new fence was over the property line, meaning he had essentially taken land from her. So he was going to tear it down, move over one foot, and rebuild it.
“Oh no, so you miscalculated the property line,” she said.
“No,” he responded plainly. “This is the line.”
“What?! Then why are you doing this?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he just smiled and went back to work.
That’s who he was. It’s also who my dad was. Both men would rather show love than prove themselves right.
My neck still itchy from the haircut, I arrived at Larry’s shop. I opened the back of the van and picked up the cabinet door. Next to it sat the messenger bag holding my tape measure and the printed email. I was all geared up to save some major face.
I reached for it. Just then I saw Papa Love wiping the sweat from his forehead and thrusting his shovel down into the dirt.
I let out a slow breath, left the tape measure and email sitting there, and closed the hatch.