The Stool

The Stool

When my father was young, all the boys at his school were required to take a class called Wood Shop, where they learned to make things out of wood. The project for eighth grade was to make a stool, for which Dad earned a coveted A+.

When I was growing up, that stool occupied a place of honor next to the hearth. Every night before bedtime, I sat on that stool while Dad relaxed in his armchair and asked me questions about my day. What was I learning in school? What was my happiest moment of the day? What’s one thing I did that I’d like to do better next time? The questions were often adapted to particular circumstances, but they usually involved expressing gratitude for blessings received, and acknowledgement of areas to focus on for personal growth.

When I left for college, the last item squeezed into the trunk of my vintage Buick was that three-legged stool, with the fatherly instruction to spend five minutes at the end of each day celebrating my accomplishments and thinking about the path toward becoming a man of character.

A few years after finishing my degree, I met the woman of my dreams, married her, and soon we started our family. The stool stood across from my armchair in the living room, and from the time they were very young, each of our three children took their turns sitting on the stool and answering my nightly questions about their day. I found their answers sweet, and at times troubling, but I strove to affirm their successes and their struggles without inspiring guilt, and they rewarded me with disarming honesty and sometimes hilarity.

As my children left for college, I kept the stool at home, and reminded them that it was always available if they wanted to come and talk. And that’s what they did when they had something to share—a disappointment, a milestone, a problem that needed another person’s perspective. I like to think they understood they would always be welcomed and safe.

After sixty years of marriage, my wife passed away. The house felt empty and cavernous. I knew it was time to downsize. I found a little condo in a retirement community, and I said goodbye to most of my possessions.

The final item to relinquish was the stool. My oldest son came to claim it. I walked him to the car, and he turned it upside down to place it on the back seat. “Wait—did you see this, Dad? There’s something written here.”

I squinted, trying to make out the faded, penciled letters written in a childish scrawl: “To my future son. I hope I listen to you like my father never did to me.”

Note to my readers: This is a piece of fiction. My other ideas for today’s post were just too daunting, so I searched a Writer’s Digest PDF called A Year of Writing Prompts for something I could finish quickly. The prompt for February 9 went like this: Your father made the chair when he was a boy, and it’s gotten rickety. Preparing to finally throw it away, you flip it over to carry it to the trash, and notice a message etched in with a knife. It reminded me of a stool my husband Greg made in Wood Shop, which eventually got thrown away when it was too rickety to use anymore. This is the story it inspired.

About Andrea R Huelsenbeck

Andrea R Huelsenbeck is a wife, a mother of five and a former elementary general music teacher. A freelance writer in the 1990s, her nonfiction articles and book reviews appeared in Raising Arizona Kids, Christian Library Journal, and other publications. She is currently working on a young adult mystical fantasy novel and a mystery.

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