Facts & Arguments is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
Looking down at my once-beautiful, Art Nouveau-style Tiffany floor lamp, I still held out hope that Dad could repair it. Seeing it nestled inside a cardboard box, I couldn't tell the enormity or complexity of the task I was about to set in motion – nor how it would affect my father.
Several of the hexagonal panels would need replacing. Copper foil and lead solder had given way. Unsheathed, the cracked glass barely held its shape. My most cherished piece of art lay in shambles.
I was unpacking from my move to Belleville, where I was to live with and take care of my parents. I had no misgivings about the move, but I was uncomfortable with uncertainty. I hoped my desire to do the right thing, and the love and respect I shared with my parents, would help see me through.
In the previous year, Dad's arm and leg muscles had almost completely atrophied. The steady decline of tribecular fibre myopothy had taken a deeper hold. Frequent rest periods had become the norm. "Time to rest the old cocoon," he'd announce, raising the electric recliner to meet his unwieldy power chair.
His craft had effectively fallen by the wayside. How would he feel if I suggested that he lift his once-skilled hands to a hobby that, in its heyday, evoked joy from family, friends and charities?
Even with a chairlift in place, the stairs to the basement of their bungalow presented the least of his worries: If he failed to hold onto the grab bar on the wall down there, or transfer neatly onto a wooden barstool fitted with wheels, it could spell disaster. I pictured him alone, falling headfirst onto the unfinished concrete floor, yards away from his corner workshop.
Yet there I was, about to ask Dad to reach, hold and articulate tools, to craft with precision. Was I asking too much? What if he found it all too taxing?
Yet, I had a feeling that Dad needed to participate in the lamp repair. One day, I simply asked him.
"Hey Dad, how'd you feel about fixing up my stained-glass lamp?"
"Better move the necessary supplies and equipment upstairs into the garage," he said, with little deliberation.
A daily rhythm of repair soon took shape. Unassisted, Dad steered his power chair to the front door and unlatched the handle with a walking cane, then scooted down the ramp to his makeshift workbench in the garage.
I'd had no idea how meticulous he was. Days were spent dismantling the broken lamp. Every salvaged piece of glass was stripped clean and labelled. New glass was cut, ground and tested for fit. Within three weeks, stacks of copper-foiled stained glass lined the workbench. Preliminary panels were then tacked to the form. It looked like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Cocoon or not, Dad maintained the intimate skill of an artisan.
"Would you mind helping me with the final assembly?" he eventually asked.
The idea of helping my father brought back fond memories of his former workshop in my childhood home. I was 14, holding a freshly sanded cedar lampstand. Using a foot-long drill bit, Dad hollowed out a bottom passage for the electrical cord. Tiny ribbons of wood landed on the floor. Overhanging lights trapped fine sawdust in the air. The scent of cedar was heady – we never bothered with masks.
When I wasn't acting as Dad's assistant, his locked workshop was off-limits. But the urge to sneak in and explore was irresistible for a teenage boy. Once inside, every step had to be calculated – everything had its place, especially Dad's pride and joy, his mail-order Lee Valley woodworking tools. They hung on a wall-mounted pegboard, their positions outlined with a black chisel marker. Dad's hunger to create home furnishings from scratch was palpable.
Almost three decades later, the collaborative feeling of accomplishment I'd experienced in my youth came back to greet me in Dad's garage.
"Gently touch the solder coil onto the end of my iron," Dad said, his grip firm on the iron handle. The lead sizzled and beaded on contact. His forearm began to quiver. Pin drops of melted solder rolled off the iron tip, landing inches away from his groin. Tiny holes seared through to the bottom of his seat cushion.
A look of apprehension registered on Dad's face. "Do you mind switching me places?" he asked as he put the soldering iron into its coiled holster. I'll never forget that near-mishap in the garage, but we didn't speak of it.
Two days later, the panels were completely formed. Dad applied the vented brass cap and polished the copper patina and stained glass to their former glory.
I gazed at the fluid, nature-inspired design. Mom always helped him choose colours. On the shade, translucent Dartmouth green glass framed a canopy of dark oak, red maple and yellow beech leaves. The organic extension of foliage trailing from the lower skirt was particularly whimsical.
Its simplicity reminded me of the inner peace I had come to restore, in both me and my parents. And its fragility, like theirs, released in me a sense of vulnerability that helped me to accept the unknown.
Eric Gainer lives in Belleville, Ont.