The Bird Carver’s Daughter (Part 4: The Summer of Pies)
Guest post by Kari Jo Spear, Photographer, Novelist, and Daughter of Bob Spear
One summer day when I was in my early teens, my father greeted me in the doorway of his shop with two aluminum pie pans in his hands. He was looking really excited. Since the pie pans were empty, I got a feeling that this had something to do with The Birds in Their Habitats thing that he had going.
As soon as I got inside, he asked, “Want to make some leaves?”
He sounded exactly the same way he’d sounded when he’d asked me a few months ago if I wanted to paint some mud. Here we go again, I thought. I was a teenager, and I had, quite frankly, a lot more important things on my mind than birds. Like the novel I was writing, and my friends, and well, boys. But I knew that “No,” would not be the right answer.
“Okay,” I said as non-enthusiastically as I could. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on a stool beside him at his workbench. He handed me a cutting board covered with a thin piece of black rubber. What that had to do with leaves, I had no idea. Then I noticed a pile of silvery, oblong shapes on the bench between us. Each one was slightly different, but in general, they were about three inches long and maybe half an inch across. One end of each was pointed, and the other end was rounded. They reminded me of long fake fingernails, except they had delicately jagged edges.
“Watch,” my father said. He laid down the rubber-covered board, put a fingernail on it, then picked up a long, narrow tool like an oversized pencil with a very sharp tip. He pressed the tip gently to one end of the fingernail and drew a fine line all the way up the middle to the other end. Then he drew in a lot of little lines running from the center line out to the jagged edges. And when he held it up, the fingernail looked like a pretty, silver leaf.
“I’ll paint it green,” he said, as though that would explain everything.
I just looked at him. The word “habitat” formed in my mind. This had to do with habitats, I knew it!
“I’ve got some more nests,” he said, “and the limbs they were built on. But the leaves have all dried up and fallen off, and besides, they have to look like spring, if I’m going to carve eggs to go in the nests.”
I guess that made sense. “But how are you going to get the leaves to stick onto the branch?”
“Glue,” he said, as though he’d already got it all figured out. Then he added, “But it’s all got to look real, so I’ll make some more branches out of wire and wrap them with cotton and coat them with glue, too, and paint them to look like bark, and then glue on more leaves.”
I think I might have been staring at him.
“I’ll cut the leaves out,” he went on as though I was really thrilled about this, “and you can press in the veins. Here.” He handed me the sharp tool and pushed the pile of fingernails toward me. There were maybe three dozen there.
“That’s a lot,” I said.
He was busy picking up the pie pans and pretended he hadn’t heard me the way that people who are hard of hearing are really good at doing. In a minute, he was carefully cutting out more leaves from the bottom of the pan.
I gave into peer pressure and got to work. My first center vein came out a little crooked, but hey, nature’s not perfect. After my fifth leaf, I had the technique down. I was creating some pretty awesome looking leaves that any nest with wooden eggs ought to be proud of.
The problem was that my father was cutting out more leaves faster than I could press veins into them, so my pile was getting bigger, not smaller. And then he bent down and pulled out a couple more empty pans from beneath the bench.
“Hey, where’d you get all those?” I asked.
He smiled. “Gale’s been buying one of every brand she can find. Some pans are a lot better than others. They don’t have so much writing and stuff on the bottom, so I’ve got more space to cut. I think we’ve got it figured out now.”
I just stared at him. Most people bought pies based on how luscious they looked. Gale was buying pies based on what the bottom of the pan looked like?
Then he grinned. “There’s a blueberry pie we’ve got to eat up for lunch.”
The day suddenly got a whole lot better.
“Hold on,” he said as I was about to jump up. “We’ve got to get another dozen leaves done first. But then there’s a cherry pie for dinner.”
I gaped at him.
“And maybe you’d like to have some of your friends come up next weekend? I’ve got plenty of sharp tools. Tell them there’ll be lots of pie.”
I decided that leaves might be okay after all.
The days became a blur of eating pies and making leaves with my friends and eating more pies. Soon pairs of warblers began to perch proudly around their nests surrounded by lush green habitats, and I got to buy new clothes because none of my old ones fit any longer.
The glorious summer of pies ended very abruptly one day when the UPS truck pulled up in front of the shop, and a delivery man staggered in. In his arms was the end of an era — a roll of aluminum sheeting the same thickness as what pie pans were made from. It was all shiny and pristine, unmarked with any lettering. It looked like it was five feet long and weighed a couple hundred pounds.
“I found it in a catalogue and Gale made me order it,” my father said very glumly.
I could tell that even he could never make enough leaves to use it all up.
“Oh, well,” he said. “There’s still a few pies left in the house. Can’t let them go to waste, can we?”
We laughed, and then went back to that day’s quota of leaves before lunch.
I had no idea that we were getting closer and closer to having a museum in the family.
Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: The Early Years
Part 2: The Pre-teen Years (or, Why I’m Not a Carver)
Part 3: Something’s Going On Here