The Oak Bookcase

by Robin Turnipseed

“I have decided to sell my house,” my mom says the moment I answer my phone.

I tread gently into the conversation with a simple, “Really?”

The selling of this house has been a contentious topic over the past few years. Despite the fact that it currently sits empty, the house was her first large purchase after my parents’ divorce. Already married and living on my own, the tiny house created a home for my mother and brother and symbolized new beginnings on multiple fronts so I’ve always understood her resistance to sell even though she hasn’t lived in it since getting remarried 10 years ago.

A few years back, my mother married my stepfather and he built them a lovely home tucked into the mountains. Yet, the empty house continues to hold emotional ties that she finds difficult to sever. However, emotional ties are no longer reason enough to allow the home to sit vacant. The time to sell had arrived. We know it and so does she.

Our phone conversation continues with estimations of how much the house would sell for and begin to take inventory on all the renovations that need to be handled before listing it.

“Is anything left inside?” I ask.

“Only that oak bookcase in the back bedroom,” she responds.

Her words conjure memories of the large oak bookshelf that had been given to her many decades back. Measuring around eight feet long and four feet tall, the three shelf unit, has always been a statement piece in the house. It is a dark walnut stain and is a testament to master carpentry at its finest. The details convey that a skilled hand created this beast.

I’m mentally pricing such a well-crafted item when she indignantly interrupts my thoughts, “I won’t leave it and I won’t sell it. I don’t care what you say. Ziggy made that for me.”

“Who is Ziggy?”

I can almost hear her smile as she begins to tell me about the man behind the bookcase.

A Man Named Ziggy

It is the spring of 1998, and my mom slides into the church pew next to an older gentleman that she has never met before. He introduces himself with a simple, “I’m Ziggy.” He was a smaller man, around 5’4” and seemed frail. He wore khaki pants, a button-down and a newsboy’s cap, which he promptly removed upon entrance inside the building. He and his wife had started to visit the church where my mom’s role as the pastor’s wife gave her an easy means by which to befriend the newest parishioners and soon a casual Sunday friendship began.

Months later, as the heat and humidity hit the Tennessee valley, Ziggy slid into the pew next to my mom. On this day, unlike all the others, he wore a short-sleeved shirt. She saw the tattoo on his forearm and simply said, “Oh Ziggy, No.”

Surprised, he met her eyes. “You know what those are?”

Yes. Yes, she did. Having grown up with a military father, my mother found herself stationed in Munich for a few years in the early 1960s. A memory that still lingers with her is when she and her family were taken on a tour of Dachau. Dachau is a concentration camp that was on the outskirts of Munich and now sits empty as a Memorial Museum.

It was on this visit to the camp that my mother spotted a picture hanging up in a room that contained some of the prisoner’s personal belongings. This photograph was of an Auschwitz prisoner and the tattoo on his arm caught her eye.

It was the same tattoo that decorated Ziggy’s arm. Making the connection between the photograph and what she saw on his arm brought her to tears.

He leaned over and patted her arm. “Why do you cry? I survived.”

They never spoke of the camps again, but instead shared tales of faith, joy, and purpose. He spoke of being a carpenter and the importance of creating items that were beautiful, but also durable and built to last.

The Gift

Many years later, my father hired Ziggy to build an anniversary gift for my mother. My father bought the oak and Ziggy provided the care and craftsmanship.

This hand-crafted piece of art has been hauled home to home over the last 20 years. Eight different homes to be accurate. In some houses it sat front and center in the entry ways, with the sunlight gently bouncing off its dark surface. In other places, the bookcase sat in the dark corner of a guest bedroom or the back of the desolate basement covered in cobwebs.

Either way, it is the picture of resilience; a reflection of the carpenter himself: durable and stable.

Focus on Creating Things That Last

Time continues to charge on, but reflections from their Sunday conversations still ring true today.

Build the beautiful things. Locate the things which truly matter and pour time into them. Whether it be family, friends, faith, or work, intentionally focus on hand-crafting these areas of your life.

While the white noise of commotion will continue to barter for your time, purposefully invest in the durable and sturdy foundations of life. They will always be a worthy cause.

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