Monday, August 11, 2014

Unsigned Work

Yesterday I searched in vain all day long for my mother's album that documented her art work.  My living space is very small, and it is puzzling that I can't find that album.  It must be here somewhere.  My plan was to start a new series featuring more of the things she had made -- most of which she had given away.

For several years, I have been looking for a carved wooden toy that belonged to my father and had been bewildered and saddened that I couldn't find something that was so dear to me and to him.  Just before I went to bed last night, I was standing on my grandmother's chair and looking once again in a small walk-in closet that has shelves and books in it, among other things.  On a top shelf, next to two dolls that belonged to my mother, was a zippered bag.  After all this time, it occurred to me that I may have put the carved wooden toy in that bag at some time in the past when I emptied the closet in my every-so-often process of going through everything I have and getting rid of what I don't need anymore.

There was the carved wooden toy, along with other treasures that I had forgotten about.

When my father was a small boy growing up in Minnesota in the 1920s, a Christian missionary who had spent time in China gave my father a carved wooden figure of a man in the process of removing husks from rice.  With a little research, I came up with this current image from Thailand of a simpler lever-based rice huller:

So far, I have been unable to find any similar carved objects from China on Google Images.  

Somehow, over the years, the carved rice-hulling man lost the front of his right foot.  His right foot was also no longer attached to the surface of the lever, and he could be swiveled on his left foot.  As I was photographing him, I noticed that the stick he had been holding was lying on my table.  It must have fallen out while I was in the process of reattaching his right foot to the tiny pin that stuck up from the lever. When I looked at his hand so that I could reattach the stick, I could see that a hole was drilled from the top to the bottom of his hand.  The stick could be inserted above or below, but could not be moved through the hole in its entirety.  The stick appeared to be broken off at one end. Was there another stick that was meant to fit into the top of his hand so that it would look as if he were holding a tall staff for balance? Looking more closely, I see that it is possible that his left hand is also missing.  I can see now that at one time there was a break to his left lower leg, and that it had been glued back to his left foot.  I wonder what the story is.  

The finely carved toy is unsigned.

After my father retired from his job as a systems analyst, he traveled to the places he had dreamed of traveling all his life.  My mother chose not to accompany him.  One of those places was China -- a completely different China from that of his childhood.  In his retirement, my father also enjoyed woodcarving.  Who knows what seeds were planted in his dreams when he was given that carved wooden toy as a small boy?  I sense that it was one of his treasures throughout life, although I don't recall seeing it until after my mother died in 1994.

Just as it was with my mother, my relationship with my father was conflicted and is in need of healing.  It was painful to think that I had lost his carved wooden toy that he kept throughout his life.  I treasure the ways I do feel connected to my father and am grateful to have found the carving again.  

One of these days, when the time is right, I know I will find my mother's album, too.

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