My father is the type of person who just decides to do something… and then does it.

Now, I’m not talking about simple things. I’m talking about big, complicated projects, things about which he has little or no knowledge of how to do prior to doing them. Like, “Gee, I think I’ll make ships in bottles now.” Or, “Hey, I’m going to make a stained-glass, Tiffany reproduction lamp now.”

That sort of stuff.

One year – probably around 1978 – my father decided that he was going to build a banjo. To my knowledge, he’d never built a banjo – or any type of instrument – before. He’d done other kinds of woodworking: wooden candy dishes, gavels, ship-in-bottle stands, and such. But never a musical instrument.

For months I watched as a banjo began to take shape. I remember the wooden skeleton hanging from the garage rafters waiting for its”guts.” Dad meticulously carved out the ebony fingerboard and peghead, where abalone and mother-of-pearl would carefully be inlaid. A detailed design was carved into the wood on the back of the neck. A small, mother-of-pearl swan was carved and inlaid in the heel.

I had seen my father work on lots of projects before, so to me, this was just another of Dad’s hobbies. I assumed that he was building himself a new instrument; after all, he was the banjo-player in the house, so it made sense.

However, on Christmas morning, I was stunned when Dad handed me a large, black instrument case. Inside was the banjo, and inlaid in mother-of-pearl on the peghead were my initials, “EMS.”

All along, he’d been making this instrument for me.

***

At the time, I had no idea why my father gave the banjo to me. After all, I didn’t know how to play it (although I did try to learn afterwards), and I really didn’t like listening to banjo music. I suppose that not many non-banjo-playing teenagers would know what to do with such a gift.

Dad told me later that he’d wanted to give me something special that he made himself. Something I could give to my children one day.

My daughter is slightly taller than a banjo.

Thirty years ago, I didn’t get it. But I do now.

And if I forgot to say it then… thank you, Dad. I love it.

To this day, it remains the most special Christmas gift I ever received.

***

This post is part of the “Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories” series. To learn more, or to join in the fun, please visit Geneabloggers.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O’Neal

Elizabeth is a professional genealogist, writer, and consultant. Likes: long walks in the cemetery, and the smell of old courthouse books. Dislikes: people who copy stuff off the internet without giving credit, and county clerks who can't tell the difference between Eastern and Pacific time zones. Secretly hopes her daughter will one day develop an interest in family history (but no luck so far).

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