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Friday, March 15, 2013

The Great Cradle Caper

This is gonna be a tale, so grab yourself a cuppa coffee, or a glass of wine, sit down (by the fire, if you are up here in the Northlands with me, or in your most comfy slippers where ever) and make yourself comfortable.

Long ago, in a universe far from now in time and space, there was a girl who loved working with wood. She was, as she would come to say in later years "her father's only son." In truth, she was an only child, much loved by both father and mother and both of whom she delighted in following about and helping with their daily chores. Mom had been a nurse, but when she finally had a baby, she put career aside to nurse her family. Dad taught wood shop and drafting in high school and coached a variety of sports. The little girl had  been born with a serious defect in her heart, so she was not allowed to run or participate in the sports her father loved, but nothing prevented her from spending many hours with him in his shop, fetching tools, handing him nails and holding boards in position.

Eventually she became old enough to use power tools with his supervision and would accompany him to the shop at the school where he taught, which had a very well equipped wood shop. She had a bit of an artistic bent, loved books and wanted to make a book case of her very own. Her dad thought this would be a good first project and allowed her to draw the design herself. When it was done, he helped her select a proper quantity of wonderful birds eye maple. This was not exactly the typical material for a first project, even if it was a major one, but nothing was too good for his girl.

Soon the bookcase was built and finished; dad supervised and instructed but it was his daughter's plan and work. The structure had deeper shelves at the bottom for larger, heavier hard back books and more narrow and slightly more closely spaced shelves at the top to hold her large library of paperbacks. Each shelf extended a bit beyond the vertical side of the structure, with a rounded protrusion that she intended to use to display bric-a-brac, such as her small collection of china tea cups and saucers and china figurines.

She used the book case for year after year;. Though she had built it as a young teen, her father's suggestion of material and construction advise had helped her make something that was extremely strong and durable. It was, however, not pretty. As time wore on, in fact, she began to think of it as ugly. And it was ungainly, taking up far too much space; with it's bric-a-brac "wings" it was a dusting nightmare and eventually she decided it's days were done.

Never ones to be wastey, she gave the case to her father, with her blessing to reuse the wood as he saw fit.
I'm not at all sure where this all fits on a mundane time line, as it did happen, as I said early on, in a universe far away in time and space. But suffice it to say, her dad held onto that wood. Birdseye maple, as with many of the fine woods, was becoming far too costly to use on just ordinary projects.

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In the summer of 1975, a wonderful thing happened! The girl -- who had become a woman quite a few years earlier -- became with child! As she was planning and plotting and preparing for the arrival of her first baby she decided that she needed a cradle, not a crib. This idea of putting a baby in a bed that resembled a cage just didn't feel right. She was planning to nurse her young one, and figured that it would likely be in bed with her and its dad quite often, but the thought of rocking it to sleep had its own appeal. Little did she know, at that time, that much of that rocking would be done with baby in her arms, at the breast, as she sat in her trusty rocking chair! She also wanted something much larger than the typical baby cradle. She wanted something that Baby could sleep in for a year or two, something low to the ground and safe, so that s/he could, when older, crawl safely in or out of bed without the danger inherent in trying to scale the high sides of a typical crib.So she asked her dad, Baby's grandpa-to-be, to design and build something suitable.

And he did. He built a low, long cradle, using the maple from the World's Ugliest Bookcase. He made the center part of the rockers round, so that it had a nice rock-a-bye and the ends of the rockers which protruded past the side of the cradle the grandfather-to-be made completely flat. When the cradle was tilted to the side, like a toddler might do to climb out, it was completely stable and would not tip over! (The mother-to-be proved this to herself after the birth by balancing on the side of the cradle, barefoot, with it rocked onto the rocker, while she installed a lightbulb in a ceiling fixture overhead!)

There was not enough wood to make the sides, though and Grandma-to-be said that using wooden dowels for the sides would not be safe because Baby could get a hand or foot caught. The cradle had to be finished and so he used Masonite (not the prettiest of materials) to complete the sides. The size of the cradle required a custom made mattress so Grandma got busy with a piece of foam rubber, waterproof fabric and her trusty Singer sewing machine. She hemmed flannel for sheets and they delivered the cradle to their delighted daughter.

Good Fortune, Earthly Blessings
Now, daughter had been taught the traditional art of the Pennsylvania Dutch hexeri by her grandmother and she knew that the baby needed to be surrounded by blessings. So she set to work, painting a traditional blessing design on both the foot and head boards of the cradle. On the foot she painted the basic hex rosette, a blessing of good fortune, but instead of the usual 6 petals, she used eight, to ground the blessing on the earthly plane.

The, on the inside of the head board, she painted the traditional "Benevolent Protection for All Things Great and Small.She painted the date 3/3/1976 next to the sign on the foot board only 2 weeks before Baby was born.

The cradle happily held baby Trina, who was followed in turn by m'Elaine, Talitha, Amanda Rose and Halley Amor each about 2 and a half years after the previous sister.

During these years the cradle moved from the farm in Colorado to town in Wisconsin to an intentional community in Washington state. It held dolls for a while, after Halley out grew it as a bed and then was relegated to storage. It did its time in damp root cellars, dark storage units, and standing on end in a garage.  Oregon, Texas, North Carolina, Maine ... the cradle waited patiently though time took its toll and the mattress passed into the realm of "things whose time has passed.". The "babies" who had laid within its embrace grew to young women and became mothers of their own, with their own homes, families and styles. The cradle was big, didn't fit into the homes or plans.

The girl, then Mom, now Grandmother became known far and wide for her hex painting art work. Now and then -- often when trying to make space in the crowded garage -- she would consider what to do about the cradle. It was made (mostly) of excellent wood, embellished with her art and she wondered if selling it on her web site or Ebay would be appropriate. The answer always came back NO, so it got moved into another place in the garage, set on wood to protect the foot board and the cavity filled with a different assortment of storage boxes.

Then, as often does in life, change came to the daughter who inspired the cradle's creation. A new husband and -- surprise -- a 4th baby on the way! The girl-turned-grandmother was sad that she had not been able to attend the wedding of most of her girls, nor see their babies or the babies-who-are-not-babies-now. There was work, poverty, health... life ... getting in the way as it does when families spread over wide distances sometimes. Something nudged... intuition, or inspiration, or maybe desperation to clean up the garage... and the girl-turned-grandmother offered the cradle again to her daughter and to her delight and surprise Daughter said YES!

However, there was the matter of a mattress... sheets... and most difficult of all, getting the cradle from Maine to Utah when there was not time, money nor a vehicle suitable for the trip. The cradle would have to be shipped, but shipper after shipper said it was too big or quoted prices higher than a month's mortgage payment! Eventually someone suggested FedEx and, surprisingly, they offered a quote that, although high, was within reach. They would not ship something an antique though, nor an heirloom they said. Nothing irreplaceable. The cradle would need a secure crate to protect the not-antique-heirloom in transit, but would not cost too much to build and add too much cost to the project.

Foam was acquired; mattress cover fabric that had been bought years before was brought out of storage and assembled. A trip to the fabric store for flannel brought the delightful surprise of a 60% off sale! And even the 2x3s for the bones of the crate were not too costly. There were two sheets of wimpy, warped plywood in the garage that would skin the crate. And so the cradle was measured and construction began two days ago.

Day 1 - Measurement of the cradle and construction of the crate bottom.
 Day 2 - construction of the sides - not shown
Day 3 - First attach sides attach to bottom...
Day 3 - sides attach to bottom part 2

Day 3 - Insert cradle and close in!

I painted the address on the crate.
 I addressed the crate to Baby in care of Mom and Dad and added a piece of paper inside, just in case there were issues, with the address as well as cell phone numbers for Mom and Dad.
Loaded in Artie for the trip to FedEx, late afternoon.

The way it fits in that crate, it probably won't matter if they turn it on its side or even upside down, but it will be easier for them to get it open and out if they start with the cradle sitting on its rockers! The entire thing is screwed (NOT scewed-and-glued!) together and I'll send instructions with suggestions as to which screws to remove first.

That is one solid crate and I am halfway wishing that I had a "bounceback" spell to put on it! I can think of tons of uses for it on the farm! I am hoping that the Utah crew will either find a use for it, or at least find a use for the lumber and hardware.