Saturday, January 9, 2010

BRAD

Some mothers can say that they have a son-in-law they would have liked to have married, but most of the time when females get together to talk about family, I hear a story that includes a lot of sour notes about their daughters’ lifemates. With regard to my eldest daughter’s choice of a spouse, not so! This tall, handsome man of Spanish-Italian lineage happens to be one of those accommodating guys who not only responds to but initiates “honey-do” projects around his home and yard… and mine as well.

Before the recent big freeze, my daughter called and said “Brad is coming over to put shields on all of your faucets,” and hung up. I was still in my pajamas when he showed up, sock cap on his head and several Styrofoam sheaths in hand, looking as pleased as if he had just received $2500 for the latest miniature armoire he recently built. For the one faucet he couldn’t sheath, he went home and returned with a towel to wrap and tape the pipe. Yesterday evening, my daughter called and said, “it rained today, mama, and I know you didn’t realize that the wrapping is wet on that pipe, so Brad is coming to rewrap your faucet.” All this occurred without any beckoning on my part.

“What would we do without Brad?” my daughter often says ruefully. Indeed, what would I do? Two years ago, a few nights before a wedding in which I had to serve as deacon, one of the arms to my only pair of eyeglasses suddenly detached from the frame. In panic, I dialed my daughter’s house. “I won’t have time to get the glasses fixed before the wedding,” I wailed. “Not to worry, Brad is coming over,” she said and hung up. Five minutes later, Brad appeared with at least three kinds of tape and began to experiment with one that would disguise the broken limb and wouldn’t advertise me as an aging street woman wearing one-armed eyeglasses who happened in on the wedding. No one at the wedding noticed the patched arm.

Another time, after a plumber came and cracked the tile behind my shower so that half the wall came down, I again sent out an SOS to Brad who said, “You can either put in a new wall or rig it. For economy’s sake, I think you should rig it.” The broken half of the wall went home with Brad to file down the jagged edges, and a few days later, he appeared with it and a tube of some kind of glue. The crack is almost invisible, and after seven years it’s still intact.

Brad owns “Restorit,” a furniture restoration business of which he is the sole manager and craftsman, and he turns out exquisitely, meticulously-restored antique furniture. He often rebuilds not-so-valuable pieces of furniture in a large shop where broken chairs hang from the ceiling, and long boards of cypress, pine, oak, walnut, and Philippine mahogany are stacked on the floors. It’s a huge metal building filled with vats, a full complement of carpenter tools, and pieces of furniture that look like they’re remnants of a garage sale – until he begins to work them over. One antique desk that belonged to my great-grandmother Dora Greenlaw came to me in pieces, and I felt that it would never resemble a refined piece of furniture again. I gave it to Brad to resurrect, and the photo below speaks louder than any of my brags about Brad’s restoration of this valued piece.

If you show Brad a picture of a piece of furniture you covet and ask him to build it, he takes the picture to his shop and a few months later, he appears with a beautiful facsimile under a tarp in the back of his truck. For Christmas, I gave him a coffee table book about old homes along the River Road near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, mostly because it showcased antique furniture. He sat entranced with it after Christmas brunch. To date, Brad has built for me an antique television cabinet, a coffee table, a facsimile of a Creole side table, an Empire side table, and a jewelry box. He has refinished the seats of century-old dining chairs, painted the yellow table I described in a previous blog, repaired dragging doors, put in towel racks, and revived my car many times when the battery died. When we moved to Sewanee, he gave me an oak bureau and an oak bedroom end table he had restored, and accompanied me to a second-hand furniture store to find a dining room table and chairs. He followed behind me as we searched for antique pieces, and his way of vetoing the wrong choices was to lower his voice, saying, “Just leave that piece right where it is.” We went through a lot of “left behinds” before we found the appropriate furniture. While we were in one store, and I was wandering around on my own, he suddenly appeared behind me and said, “Let me show you something.” He led me to a corner where a forlorn-looking, faded red velvet chair stood and bent down to show me the intricate design on the rosewood bordering the seat of the chair. “If I had a way to take this back to Louisiana, I would,” he said. I bought the chair.

Brad is self-taught and in addition to his ability to build and restore furniture, he plays a guitar for his own amusement. He has also restored the cases of several violins that hang on a wall of his den. At one time, Brad played with a rock group for almost a year in Tampa, Florida, working during the day and playing at night, before he decided that he would return to Cajun Country “to Stephanie and to get a life.” Guitars, however, are still in his blood. Last summer when Brad and Stephanie came up to visit, we spent some time in Nashville, taking in the Grand Ole Opry and visiting guitar outlets. We went in the Gibson guitar outlet, and Brad came out with a guitar. We also visited the famous Gruhn shop in downtown Nashville, but we came out sans guitar because the prices resonated with sour notes for the pocketbook of a restoration artist.

Most of the time you see Brad, he’s wearing a baseball cap and blue jeans that have seen much wear from the work he does at Restorit, so he felt some trepidation when he had to dress up for the wedding of my grandson Martin about this time last year. He confessed he was nervous until he put on the handsome new suit my daughter had selected for him to wear. “That was a magic suit,” he says. “The minute I put on the coat to it, my tension just melted away. I was a new man.” He’s a modest man, so he’d never believe that he’s handsome even in his faded blue jeans. Ask all the elderly women in New Iberia who appreciate his talents, as well as his good looks and charm!

My grandson Joel has called Brad “Bread,” since he was two years old, and when “Bread” arrives during the Christmas visit, Joel walks past Stephanie, his seemingly invisible aunt, and throws his arms around his uncle. Children gravitate toward Brad, somehow sensing that he’ll give them the same kind of care as he shows his furniture, home, and wife… for my house, yard, broken eyeglasses, and, I like to think, me. “No problem,” he says when I gush gratitude, “and no, I don’t want a beer. You ask me that every time.” Brad’s only refusal: “I don’t do plumbing!”
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