A Trip to the Mailbox: A Thanksgiving Story

Harry swept the burnt umber oak leaves away from the door with his foot. The swirling wind of autumn piled them against the door as quickly as he moved them away.

Shutting the door behind him, his cane tapped the wooden floor as he made his way across the room. He smiled as he slowly sat in the oak rocker handcrafted by his Dad nearly a century earlier. I’m not sure who creaks more, my old bones or this old rocker; he spoke to no one listening. The coal oil lamp on the table beside him cast a soft glow over the room, adding to the yellow cast of the fireplace crackling a few feet away.

This was a good day; he had mail.

He reached for his spectacles that lay across the opened Bible. Adjusting them on his nose, he reached again for the brass letter opener with the handle made from an antler of his first deer. He was ten when his Dad sent him on his first hunt with directions to bring back vittles for the family. He had no charge for either a buck or doe, just for meat. Oh, he was proud of that first deer!

He held the gleaming brass, gazing over a tool he had opened thousands of envelopes with, but one he had to explain the use of to his grandson, Ethan. It was a confusing conversation as Harry explained the importance of a written letter and Ethan describing how his mail came on a screen. Harry had lived so many years without electricity in his cabin in the woods that he did not understand electronics.

Likewise, his ten-year-old grandson, Ethan, had difficulty understanding how important the trip was for Harry each day as he tottered down the graveled lane to the mailbox. Harry explained that opening the mailbox each day was like opening a box of hope. On Thursdays, the local weekly Gazette would be waiting for him with the news of Yellowpine. Oh, sure, it was full of ads for things he didn’t want and promises of winning things he didn’t need, but the best part was finding an envelope with handwriting on it.

He took Ethan to an old wooden trunk in his bedroom. Gladys had passed on nearly ten years earlier, but Harry never changed a thing – her dresses still hung in the closet, her quilting basket still stacked on the table in the corner.

Ethan looked confused as Harry opened the trunk. Inside, there were several old shoeboxes stacked neatly. Dates were written on each box and Harry’s shaky hands reached for the one that read, January – September, 1944.

Harry opened the shoebox that was packed tightly with envelopes. His leathered fingers lifted one out the stack and he handed it to Ethan.


In the left-hand corner it read:

Sergeant Harry Withers

99th Infantry

United States Army



In the center it read:                       Mrs. Harry Withers

P.O. Box 325

Yellowpine, Idaho

Harry began to read to Ethan:

My dearest Gladys,

I am doing okay but I sure miss being home with you. They tell us that we will ship out soon, but we never know when that might be. I sure wish this war would get over.

                        It has been too long. I am …

His voice cracked as emotions overwhelmed him. It was if he had written those words yesterday. Ethan leaned in to him.

Drawing a deep breath, Harry explained how important letter writing was to soldiers and how sad it was for soldiers who didn’t have anyone at home to either write too or receive a letter from.

For some reason, Ethan understood the gravity of the moment so he and his Grandpa Harry spent the afternoon going though old photos, letters and story-after-story.

Harry reached again to turn the lamp up for better light.

Slowly, he slid the brass opener in the crease of the envelope and opened the letter. Unfolding the paper inside, Harry began to read:


Dear Granpa Harry,

This is the first time I have even written a letter than needed a stamp put on it. I wrote my name in the corner like you used to and then put your name in the center. Mom took me to the Post Office and they had a new stamp out about veterans so we chose that one. I hope you like it.

Thank you for showing me that old trunk and reading those letters you sent Grandma. I really had a good time.

Thank you.

                                                                                                                                                            With love,


Harry reached this time for a Kleenex to dab away the tear trickling down his leathered cheek. He lifted his spectacles from his nose and wiped his eyes.

Leaning back, he slowly rocked as he gazed into the fire, mesmerized by the dancing light and brimming with pride and pleasure. He had worried that he was boring Ethan that day – an old man reliving his youth to a kid that maybe just pretended to care.

He read the note again. After ninety years of life and countless trips to the end of the lane to open the box of hope, this trip was the best ever. The mailbox had no money, no promise of winning the lottery, no bargain-price shopping gimmick. Instead, it was filled with hope.

Harry remembered his Dad often saying that the best gift we could ever give God was the gift of gratitude.

It turns out, Harry thought, that the gift of gratitude is also the best gift we can give each other.









How Many Hungry People Can We Feed With This Tree?

No, I’m not going to try to feed this actual tree to hungry people. Instead,  I will create bowls, pens, wine stoppers, cutting boards, carvings and a variety of other items that, if people want them, they can make a donation to The Outreach Program to help pay for meals to feed hungry people. And Outreach meals are only .25 cents a piece so we can feed a LOT of people from our burly log!

As I stood looking at this burly log trying to figure out what to do with it, I asked myself the question that I’ve asked in every speech I’ve ever given about hunger:

How Can You Use Your Career or Hobby to Feed the Hungry?

That’s when the idea hit me:

We can feed hungry people with this burly log!

I say we because numerous people asked if they could buy a bowl or whatever I make from this. So, yes, you can. Here’s how it will work:

  • When I create something, I will post in on here and various social media outlets
  • I will put a suggested price on it (which will include the price of shipping)
  • You can make a tax-deductible donation to The Outreach Program
  • I will create and keep a count of every meal that is funded through the donations

Here’s what those beautiful burls look like on the inside!

The inside of a burl

Stay tuned for the first turning! It should show up in the next couple of weeks!

What Do You Do With a Burly Log? Part 1

I have a thing for wood. We fell in love with each when I was in high school and first caressed the fine grain of a piece of walnut.

For four decades of my life, I’ve never been too far away from wood. I’ve built  houses, worked in a sawmill in Idaho and built furniture for my family. My favorite part of my shop is the “Papa’s Shop” sign my grandkids made for me.img_6088

About a year ago, my son, Isaac, finally convinced me to learn how to use a wood lathe. I owned one years ago but after I managed to break a shop window when the wood grabbed a tool and threw it, I sold it.

I had no idea how much fun, and challenging, it would be to learn this new skill. With a type A personality, I go at most things like I’m killing snakes so I’ve gone all-in on woodturning.

Recently, I was contacted by Bruce Regier wondering I had in use for this log chocked full of burls.img_6074Bruce is a fantastic photographer and farms near Moundridge, Kansas. He asked if I’d like to have this Siberian Elm (a.k.a. Chinese Elm) tree loaded with burls.

For a woodturner, a burl is the most beautiful and mysterious piece of wood you can turn. A burl is an abnormal growth on a tree that causes the tree to grow deformed. However, the grain of the wood is the most exquisite part of woodturner’s delight.img_6075

My wife and I loaded up the trailer one evening this week and drove the hour trip to Bruce’s farm. He fired his little tractor up and it moaned and groaned lifting the log sections into my trailer.

I haven’t been able to get good night’s rest since I brought the log home. I’m more excited as a kid at Christmas because of the endless possibilities of beautiful things I can make from her. Yes, she is a she. Sensuous, mysterious, beautiful, and rare.

The hard part is deciding where to start.

Being the storyteller, I can’t help myself but write about this adventure. I walk out to the trailer, gaze at her and my imagination runs wild. So I’m staring The Burly Log Blog. Follow along and help me figure out how to unleash the beauty that lies within her.

But the first order of business is this: how do I get it out of my trailer and where do I store it?  This is a rare log so I don’t want to leave it laying on the ground.

You can follow along on this series by signing up on the upper right part of my website that says, “Subscribe to blog via email.” Each story will hit your email inbox as soon as I post it.

And I’m happy for any and all advice you have!

Stay tuned!


The Gift of Words

I wrote a poem for my first grandchild, Cailyn Joy McNary, and read it to her last night. She’s snuggled her seven-year-old body beside me on the couch and I began to read. (She the one on the right)


She came into my world one day
With skin as soft springtime air
A special gift sent from heaven above
I held close in the rocking chair.
She snuggled closer. When I finished, she threw her arms around my neck and thanked me.
Then she took my iPad and began a poem for me:
The spring time is like a diamond.
How the sunshine is beautiful too!
I was reminded of the power of words to bring life, stir creativity, give courage, shine hope and stir goodness within.
Or they can destroy.
Kind words are the best gifts.

5 Lessons I Learned With a New Hobby

My son, Isaac, told me I would really enjoy turning wood on a lathe. I told him no; I didn’t need another hobby. It turns out he knows his ol’ Pap better than his Pap knows himself.

After several months of turning him down, he arrived one day with a lathe and a set of tools.

“Let me teach you how to turn a pen,” he said. “You’ll really enjoy it.”

He set the lathe up, taught me to turn a pen and now I’m hooked. I have done woodworking for nearly forty years and can honestly say I don’t enjoy any aspect of it as much as turning wood on a lathe.

Here are five lessons I’ve learned with my new hobby:

  1. I see things differently.   Recently, I cut down a honey-locust tree because of storm damage and rot. Normally, I would have cut it up into firewood. This time, though, I cut it up into various sections to turn on my lathe.
  2. Learning new skills stimulates my intellect. I learn more by reading a book than taking a class. I read copious amounts about technique, history, wood types and artisans who create fantastic beauty from wood. Reading is always a good thing.
  3. My creativity spills into other spheres of my life. I believe everyone is a creative person even if they deny it. Creativity is essential to finding fulfillment in life. The moment we stop creating is the moment we stop living.
  4. I’ve made new friends. I joined the South Kansas Woodturners Club and am making new friends. Sharing a common interest is a great way to make friends.
  5. I’ve found a new way to bring happiness to others. A hand-made gift is one of the best ways to make another person happy.

Just to give you a sense of what I’m talking about, here’s a short photo-journey to turning a damaged tree into objects of beauty.


Honey locust tree damaged in a storm




The dark spot is rotting wood which, in the past, I would have seen as a bad thing. However, that’s called “spalting” to a woodturner, and is actually a sought-after feature.



Although the wood in this photograph is purple heart and not honey locust, I cut the wood down into this shape so I can turn the pen blanks.



This is the finished product. The dark part is the spalted wood, the red part is the true color of the wood. One of my favorite pens.

I’ve made a few pens out of this tree and, over the course of time, I’ll make bowls and a variety of other pieces of happiness.

I’m glad my son talked me into a new realm of discovery.

You just never know what you might enjoy unless you try it!