How to Repurpose Your Dead Relative's Stuff Into a Meaningful Keepsake



My Grandfather was a woodworker for many years, making clocks and custom furniture in a unique, rustic style that he sold (in pre-internet days) at craft shows throughout Northern Michigan.  Some of my earliest memories are of working with him in his garage shop, filled with sawdust, wood shavings, and a cacophony of noise from power tools.  Of course, being the 1980s, the safety equipment consisted of Gramps saying, “don’t touch that '' when I reached for a whirring table saw blade or some other such sharp object. 

Before he died last Fall, Gramps imparted to me a love of wood and craftsmanship that exists to this day. I now have my own small shop in my garage along with a few of his tools, wood he handed down, and a lot of wisdom he imparted during long winding phone calls.  

Along with the thousands of finished products he made and sold over the years, Gramps was the master of the semi-finished project and he had a number of them in his house, barn, and shop that were discovered when he died.  Ever the optimist, he always had a plan for every single piece of wood he collected over the years and, let me tell you, he collected a LOT of wood.  

One of these semi-finished projects was an amazing table top, made of a piece of Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus Virginiana, for those with a botany interest) which was his wood of choice for most of his tables and other furniture.   

For those who don’t know, to a woodworker cedar is a wonderful wood to work with.  It is soft, malleable, machines well, and has huge color and grain variations that make the finished product a thing of beauty and, done correctly, a work of art.  The table top he had made was over four feet in diameter but with “arms” that stretched past that four feet.  He had spent hours cleaning, sanding, and finishing this table top with epoxy and the end result was stunning.  However, it sat on his patio for at least 10 years, ready to be a table, but never fully becoming one.  I would pass that table top in my visits and always admired it, but never asked him why it sat there, year after year. 

After he died, I was helping my parents clean out his house and my eyes fell on that table top.  I asked if I could have it. I wanted to finish the job that Gramps started and make it into a table to be enjoyed by family. I showed it to my wife.  She was amazed at the craftsmanship and beauty (and size!) of the piece, but she noticed something I had not.  Those “arms'' that made the table so beautiful were spaced in such a way that the table top (if used as a table) would be about a half the size of the actual circumference of the table and, worse yet, half the time you would put a drink on the table, the glass would fall through those arms and right onto the floor!  As soon as she said that, I saw it completely and starkly. I also figured out why the tabletop had been sitting on Gramp’s patio for so many years. I had been too blinded by the form to notice the lack of function. 

So, I was in the same boat as Gramps. I had this beautiful object that he had hand- crafted but without a plan as to what to do with it.  Again, my wife came to the rescue.  She said that the piece wasn’t meant to be table at all, but it certainly was art and as such, should go on the wall to be admired by anyone who came to our house.  Genius!  So that is exactly what we did. I mounted this beautiful piece of art on the wall of our screened in lanai in a place of honor.  



Now, I walk by it every day and can think of Gramps and, when visitors and friends ask, I can tell the story.  This helps me keep his memory fresh and I can share part of him with the world.  I think he would have liked that. Though I am not sure HE considered what he did artistic, anyone else who sees it would recognize the artist's eye of the man who saw such a beautiful object in the trunk of a random tree lying in a deep swamp. 


This blog was written by Jerry Pahl, the brother of Death Deck co-creator, Lisa Pahl. 


1 comment

  • This was an awesome read and brought tears to my eyes. I could relate to soo much of this story.


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