My parents gave me an 18th birthday ultimatum: work at their cabinetry business, or get a job. All throughout middle and high school I went to their showroom after school, making paper clip braces, or climbing from counter to counter. My mother always had trouble leaving the office. There was always some quote that needed finishing, an incomplete drawing, a picky client. I would end up staying at their office long after dark. When she was finally ready to go home, she told me to lock up shop. I would brush my hand softly on the bumpy old painted walls, eyes closed, and flick each light off.
Being grounded meant going to the office in the summer and pretending to file paperwork. Instead I ended up hole punching every colorful piece of paper I found, at the end of the day opening up the flexible black bottom of the hole-punch and dumping out a pile of perfectly round flakes. Some pieces still held fragments of work, from a cut off dollar amount to a piece of a printed black drawing of a refrigerator, the lines too straight for reality. I would pour them into white envelopes and give them to my mother. I always hoped they would burst out dramatically when opened, but my mother’s precise hands only revealed a small pile of circular paper.
Generally it wasn’t that bad, but being young, I got restless trying to find entertainment in a silent showroom.
I remember watching my dad work in his dusty warehouse. He would patiently teach me how to slide a two by four through a table saw, show me the best way to use smelly stain to turn wood a rich cherry color. In third grade, I had an assignment where I had to build a replica of a typical dwelling for an Indian tribe. My father took me out into the backyard to clip off palm fronds to make up the roof of my miniature home. His wide hands seemed so strong as he easily clipped off the large forked branches. We assembled the whole thing at his warehouse, and by that age I had memorized his patterns. As soon as we got inside, I was to unlatch the bay door and yank on the large chains to make the door curl into itself. While I did that, he would lean over the band saw and draw out plans with a rectangular pencil that he sharpened with a thin knife. After following my father’s hands while they helped me cut, glue and screw wood, we had my finished project. On the drive home from the warehouse, I held the home in my lap, tracing my finger over the sanded holes for doors and windows, both proud and amazed that it came together so nicely. It was as if all those pieces, the branches and the scrap wood, have always been meant to make this perfect little hut.