The Carpenter's Daughter

He was always a good father. He came home before sundown and made presents for Christmas.

My five older brothers kept him busy throughout the year. They all helped in the woodshop. When I was five, I sat in the wood dust and played with the curls. One day I filled my hair with them.

“Look, Papa! I’m a princess!” Then spinning, I made the curls fly from my hair like the breath of a dandelion.

He laughed at me. “A little spinning top you are!” His forehead glistened with sweat acquired while sanding Mrs. Elson’s new cupboard.

I looked at him quizzically. “What’s a ‘top,’ Papa?”

“One day I will show you.”

The sparkle in his eye said it was true.

That Christmas underneath the tree a little cloth bag held a wooden spinning top. Unsure what to do, I handed it to my father who grasped it gently in his calloused hands. Suddenly with a flick of his wrist, he made the little toy spin and dance around the floor. They said I laughed hysterically until I, too, got up and spun with the top.

That was Grandmama’s last Christmas. She passed in the spring.

I asked Father in the workshop why people came and then they left. He shrugged his shoulders and returned his focus to Mr. Henry’s coat rack. Above the peg holes, Father carved vines and leaves into the wood. His large hands worked delicately with his tools.

Mama died that summer.

She came home from market one day hot and exhausted. Then she fell on the floor. Father put her to bed while brother ran for the doctor, but there was nothing he could do. Father sat by her side long after dark, holding her hand.

I was so tired and should have gone to bed, but I didn’t want to leave. I fell asleep by her side. When I awoke, she was gone.

Father stopped talking. Some of my brothers did, too. I went to the village ladies when I needed to cry. They held me in their arms and fed me cookies or bread and milk for a time. Then they’d make me go home.

Mrs. Elson always took me in. I visited her after chores and stayed until sunset. She taught me how to bake bread, knit socks, clean an iron stove, and mend leather shoes. She also taught me how to read.

Mrs. Elson became my mother.

That Christmas, Father gave me another spinning top. This one had flowers carved around the edges.

One by one my older brothers married. After each wedding, I only saw them in the shop. Eventually, only Father and I sat across from each other at the dinner table.

A ladle of soup, a cut of meat. Every Christmas, another wooden top.

They were all different. Some narrow; some wide. Some edged with geometric designs. I saved them all in my box. I was sixteen now; I never played with them.

Eventually, I married. Mrs. Elson’s son was a good boy. One day I looked at him and realized he was a man. Funny things happen when time goes by.

When Father gave me away, his eyes filled with tears. All those years of silence and he still loved me.

He gave us cabinets after the wedding. We began building a home in which Mrs. Elson’s lessons served me well. In time we built a family. We named our newborn daughter Olivia. She had my mother’s eyes. Father glowed while holding her.

Father slowed his pace in the workshop. The brothers ran it well, and their sons began to help in the same way they had. 

I visited Father on the occasional afternoon and Saturday. Most nights he sat before the fire carving. He gave Olivia a wooden rabbit for her first birthday.

Every year at Christmas, he gave me another spinning top. They had become more intricate over the years. My box grew full.

Then came the night when father wasn’t well. I brought soup and put him to bed. Olivia played on the floor with her rabbit. I sat next to him where he had sat with mother all those years ago.

Old hands lay quiet. His eyes still beamed. I took Olivia home and promised I’d visit in the morning.

I found him sitting in his chair. The fire was long gone out with morning sun. His eyes rested peacefully. He had never sung in church, but I knew his heart was there and his soul was safe.

Clasped in his hands was the tiniest spinning top I had ever seen. Lightest maple, it fit in the palm of my hand. Etched around the edges, delicate vines and leaves.

Meg Davis