Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: Day 10 - Christmas Gifts

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 musical 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 (representative of our last name, Swanay) 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 many 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.

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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.

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.

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This post is part of the "2012 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories," and was originally posted on December 10, 2009. Slight modifications have been made.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

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Debi Austen said...

What a wonderful gift. And that banjo was as big as you were!

Tree Hugger - Suzan said...

Love the picture of you and your banjo!! HOpe you pick a little and have someone to pass your lovley banjo to!!

Renate said...

This is a beautiful story, and the banjo is quite lovely, too!


Elizabeth O'Neal said...

LOL, that's not a picture of me, @Debi and @Suzan. I was a teenager when Dad gave me the banjo, and it would have been in the late '70s. The little girl in the picture is my daughter, about 3 years ago. She likes to be my Vanna White. :-)

Felix Lee said...

That is such a wonderful and touching story. It looks like your father was quite a craftsman. The details on that banjo look so beautiful. It's a very special gift indeed.