Dappy’s La Familia Memorias (aka Boxes Filled with Love)

Posted: February 13, 2022 by patricksponaugle in Blogging, Diary, Flash Fiction
Tags: , ,

During Christmas of 2021, my dad (we call him ‘Dappy’ because that’s the nickname his first granddaughter gave him) handed out seven handmade wooden boxes as gifts. Two to his children (me and my sister) and five to his granddaughters (my four nieces and my daughter, Grace.) They were amazing, and are worthy of some showcasing.

Each wooden box was in the form of a book. They really look like books. Each one was roughly the size (a bit larger) than my hardback collected volume of The Lord of the Rings.

Each one was customized to the individual child and grandchild.

The front cover of the book was removable, ingeniously attached by four magnets, with an engraving of a photo of my dad on the inside of the cover (all of the engravings and text on the boxes were done using a laser.) With the cover removed, the interior lid (and fancy hinges) of the box were now exposed, along with the name of the recipient and some personalized physical device that was appropriate.

(Dad appreciates my love for GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire – I gave him A Game of Thrones as a gift for father’s day years ago – so he affixed the symbol of the Hand of the King to my box lid.)

Opening the box reveals the interior – the box appears to be empty (I will talk about this specifically in a moment) – and the box lid interior featured a customized message from Dappy.

The message Dappy left for me was in part aspirational (and continued a reference to A Song of Ice and Fire by alluding to the Stark motto ‘Winter is Coming’) as well as sneaking in some Star Wars which is never unwelcome to me from my dad.

Quick story time: as is evident from the construction of these masterpieces, my dad is pretty handy. Growing up on a farm in West Virginia, he picked up a lot of hands-on skills from his father, my granddad McClure Sponaugle.

I am not all that handy.

Rather than trying to mold me into a copy of him, my dad decided when I was a teen to figure out some way to relate to me. I grew up reading for pleasure, and I gravitated towards science fiction. On family vacations (usually in the summer, usually to the beach) I’d bring along a bunch of books to read. One year, dad asked if he could read some of the excess books that I’d brought.

I merely thought at the time that he’d forgotten to bring along enough medical journals to pass the time. I loaned him a short novel that I had on hand, Hunters of the Red Moon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

Dad really liked it, so when I had the chance, I loaned him DUNE and Ringworld, because I felt that he should read some of the acknowledged classics.

The fact that dad customized the keepsake box for me with geeky elements, ones which spoke to my interests was very welcome and touching.

Along with the boxes, dad sent us all a link to an online document where he described the work that went into the box design, the wood that was used, the technical challenges he faced (particularly with the hinges.) It’s many pages, but I did want to share some striking details. Some of the wood used in creating the boxes came from trees that no longer exist as a species. The species died out as part of a blight, but the wood was available to dad as lumber stored on the family farm.

Dad’s document about the boxes details the specifics of many types of wood he used in the boxes – to get darker and lighter wood for contrast, to use wood that came from elements of the family farm, trees he had felled himself, etc.

To quote dad’s document:

You may not feel the presence, but some of the wood in
your books was held by your remote ancestors. It was all
handled by me.

The back of my book (or the outside bottom of the box, depending on how you want to look at it) had something special for me. (It’s hard to see from the picture, but I’ll elaborate.)

The whirl in the wood (burl walnut) reminded my dad of a black hole, within some gaseous nebula.

I got to see this piece of wood while the project was in construction (dad let me know about the gifts because he wanted to hear my opinion on some of the details he was planning) – he asked me what I saw, and told him that it looked like a dragon holding an egg.

I might have disappointed him for seeing a fantasy element in something that he perceived as reflective of an awesome astronomical phenomenon. These things are subjective, I’ll admit.

Dad was personalizing the backs of the books, and for mine, he wrote a short story.

To again quote dad’s document:

The other unusual piece of lumber that spoke to me was
the burl walnut I used in Patrick’s back page. Burl walnut is
not common and in this piece I visualized a blackhole in a gas
cloud. When I showed the raw board to Patrick, he first saw a
dragon. (How a dragon survives in space near a blackhole, I do
not know.) I later thought of writing a mini story for Pat
about the image I visualized. This was a scary idea since he is an
accomplished author of this type of writing. Maybe he will use
my idea to write his long overdue science fiction novel.

Dad’s bringing up my habit of writing MicroStories (you can read some of them on this blog) – small stories where most of the work is incumbent on the reader. (I am not pretending that I’ll ever get rich writing MicroStories, but I do like doing it. Maybe one day I’ll write a MacroMicroStory aka a book. Stranger things have happened.)

Anyway, I was impressed that dad wanted to write a small science fiction story for me, inspired by the image that he’d perceived from the whirl in the burl.

From dad (he gave me permission to share this text):

An emergency meeting with the Elders was called
when the antigravitation system became unstable.
We had safely remained outside the event horizon
of KS-1916 for the previous 6 weeks.

Before the meeting ended
the space around the craft
began to glow and a loud voice
“Welcome home My Children.”

One of the qualities of a MicroStory is to imply meaning but not insist on it, so I appreciated that dad’s story set up the events and raised questions (Who were the Elders? Why had they not been consulted six weeks earlier?) and allowed for the reader (me) to pull out my own meaning. Regardless of the science fiction trappings, the message I identify is one of children being welcomed by their parent during a time of crisis, and that is very heart warming. Much like the gifts of these keepsake boxes.

Remember, I specified that the boxes were empty. But they’re intended to be filled by another gift from dad.

Dad had designed them so that they will eventually hold an external hard drive filled with images, video, and audio that he’s been amassing for years. My dad was relentless about taking photos of family events, and our lives in general, and since his retirement from his ophthalmology practice in 1998, he’s been working to digitize decades of photos and other media, with the intent of storing them on hard drives of sufficient capacity to reside in these boxes.

(With seven redundant copies of the media, distributed among his children and grandchildren, I hope that we can routinely copy the content onto new hard drives over the years, for fidelity.)

Another quick story: for my parents’ 50th anniversary, my sister and my wife and I worked on a surprise gift. We created a DVD slideshow of our parents over time, from before their marriage to the present. To make this slideshow, we had to (temporarily) steal slides from my dad’s digitization project. My sister managed to get a bunch, my eldest niece managed to get some too, but to fill in gaps, during a family reunion, I managed to convince my dad to take my daughter and nieces fishing so I could raid his boxes of slides for representational photos to cover some important times in the family.

This was a triumph, and my mom and dad were shocked that we managed to make this video using dad’s well-guarded slides. Now, to return to the main story…

Dad considers the boxes and the to-be-completed media digitization projects two parts of a gift, but in reality, there are three gifts. The document dad that dad wrote up detailing his desire to pass these things onto his descendants and covering the magnificent construction and design of the boxes, is a joy to read. As my daughter might say, reading the document “got me in the feels.” Check out this passage as dad concluded his info document about the boxes:

When you get your box this Christmas, it will appear to
be a very nice “empty” wooden box that resembles a book.
(You may or may not cherish an empty book box. ) However,
these boxes are unusual for they are not empty. They can
never be empty. During the construction, the maker
permanently infused them with his love for you and La familia.
This love can not be removed, destroyed or altered.

Getting a box filled with Love was probably the best gift I’ve ever received.

Thanks for reading my post on what an awesome dad I have. Everyone deserves a parent exactly as cool and accomplished as he is.

Images were all taken by me (although, of course not of Hunters of the Red Moon) – I doubt anyone has any interest in sharing the images of the box, but I grant permission, regardless. I reserve the rights to the text here (to include Dad’s words.)

© Patrick Sponaugle 2021 Some Rights Reserved

  1. Haylee says:

    These are genuinely stunning, both for the craftsmanship and the thoughtful personalisations for each one. I remember when you shared a picture on Twitter and I was showing everyone, gushing over how beautiful they were! And I second what Grace said, because I’ve filled up every time I’ve read about the idea behind the boxes and the heritage of the wood. We have a bannister (handrail in US?) up our staircase which I took from my grandfather’s house when he died because I’d be holding something he held every day. I think most people thought I was crackers – so glad someone else feels a similar way!!
    You’re a very lucky man / family and I fully expect to see one or more of the boxes on Antiques Roadshow or Heirlooms in the Attic in the distance future! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patrick, there can be no greater gift than a whole heap of love. Love in the conception (in all senses), love in the making, love in the giving, love in the memories, and love in the physical object. I have always talked to trees, and they have always listened with love. May these marvellous gifts talk to you all and listen to all spoken, and unspoken words for eternity. May you love them and feel the love given by them and through them. Happy Birthday Dappy, if I may be allowed to call you that treasured name. You are one very special gentleman.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. H Dale Sponaugle says:

    Pat, Thanks. This post by you is a most wonderful birthday gift. It accurately describes my “La Familia Wood Book Project”; its concept, its construction, and its meaning to me. Greetings to Haylee and Peter. From your comments to Patrick, I sense you know what a wonderful talented, caring, person Patrick is. His mother and I have been blessed and proud to have him as a son. Love, Dad

    Liked by 1 person

    • Happy Birthday, Dad! An occasion that even eclipses the SuperBowl on this day. (Go Bengals.) Thanks for letting me include exerpts from your background info letter that went with the gifts, and the Excellent microstory on the back of my book.


  4. I am absolutely blown away by this and these boxes are most certainly not empty. I could feel the love emanating through my computer screen; there literally aren’t words to describe how marvelous these are. The ancestral history and foundation infused in these being given to the next generations is just beyond expression, and the sheer talent in craftmanship, but not only that your dad recognizing that you were your own person not a copy of him and wanting to understand that about you. There are some amazing gifts and then there’s this ♥

    Liked by 1 person

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