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SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR MY FRIEND.
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(8/17/01 6:22:37 am)
Reply SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR MY FRIEND.
SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR MY FRIEND
In the beginning, the project that came to have so much joy and meaning attached to it was not anymore than
a statement or a wish. Upon completion, that project would come to be one of almost spiritual significance---it
would involve myself, both of my sons, an old man I had never met, and I think that it also involved God,
though I had never met him either.
During the mid-80’s, I had begun to work with wood from a small work shop in my back yard. Toys and
childrens rocking chairs, some very rustic and Shaker style furniture, lots of basic-basic book shelves---well you
understand, nothing real ‘Ethan Allen’ looking.
Sometime in l994 my son Tim procurred a goodly amount of American black walnut wood for me to work
with---beautiful wood, black walnut. He had found it out in the west valley so he purchased the entire offering
and brought it home for me to supplement the pine and the plywood I was used to working with. The wood
had been laying around for such a long time that it was thoroughly cured and aged as wood should be---that is so
it does’nt warp or bend---in fact it had been around so long, the seller gave Tim this one old beat-up peice just to
get rid of it. Well let me tell you that this one old hunk of wood was to contain inside all the grace and beauty
that the finest Louis XIV furniture ever made, would never possess. The old board or I should say ancient old
plank, as it was that thick and wide, looked like a peice of driftwood, all mud covered and split badly. The
discarded and rejected old plank laid outside under the apricot tree while I used the prime wood for pen bases
and letter holders and jewel boxes---things of awe and magnificance flowed from my humble workshop---things
to be coveted and praised by the recipients....The river mud on the old plank was washed off by the spring rains
as it lay there, unused, in the stiffling Arizona sun.
This day my son John stopped by for a short visit---I had made him a microwave oven cabinet which I helped
him load onto his truck to take to his apartment over in Phoenix. John had worked the early morning shift at
the Moon Valley Country Club, so the heat of that early afternoon was oppressing and depressing for both of us.
A while later as John and I sat at the kitchen table drinking a glass of iced tea, we visited for a few minutes.
John was energetic and bouncy, though he had been loosing a lot of wieght. I teased him that he better start
eating as it would’nt speak well of the healthy fare they served at the morning grill--truth in advertising thing you
Suddenly the mood got serious as John declared to me rather spontaneously ‘Dad’ he said ‘you know Mr.
Solheim, my Boss at the Club, Karsten Solheim, the man who owns PING golf clubs and all that stuff?’ It had
been such a change in mood and conversation that it cought me by surprise but I told John that I’d read of Mr.
Solheim in the newspaper, and added rather lightly, that every time I saw the old fellows picture that it reminded
me of Colonel Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.
He agreed with a troubled smile and the seriousness continued in the statement that was to follow. ‘Dad, you
know I’ve been over there for a couple years now---at the Club--and you know Mr. Solheim owns that and so
much more---hell Dad,’ John continued forcefully “the man is a millionaire many times over, and when him and
Mrs. Solheim comes in for lunch of just to visit, they always ask for me to come over---sure Dad to serve
them---that’s my job’ John declared matter-of-factly ‘but if the place is’nt busy, they invite me to sit with them
and we visit and laugh--I just love those old folks’.
As John spoke, a distant look appeared in his eyes and then he continued ‘I want to do something for the old
man, Dad---don’t know what ----- he can have anything he wants, anything money can buy, but I’d just like to
give him something, a kind of ‘one-of-a-kind-thing’-----you know what I mean , Dad’ John mused, now looking
right into my face? ‘One of a kind’, John repeated.
It was almost a hurtful look that I saw on John’s handsome features---a thin looking face now, compared to
the robust, movie-star looks of a few months back. Eyes as clear and bright as an eagles---- but eyes that were
troubled---questing---wanting to be understood. Like he was picking my mind--touching my heart.
‘Dad’, the oldest of my two sons stated emphatically ’what I’d like to have you do for me, for Mr. Solheim
that is, and not ever for anyone else , is to make him something so different that it can never be made for anyone
else’! I was quite litterly taken aback by my son John’s declaration of intent. That could be quite a large task,
after all it would come to pass later in the decade that they could ‘clone’ almost anything that they put their mind
to. We sat silently for a few moments, looking into each others faces, and even into each other souls...
‘Well dad, I gotta go-- got a dozen things do do and errands to run’, as John bounced to his feet,
energetically, as John had a tendancy to do---full of nervous energy--that was what the experts would call it. As
I followed John out to his truck, I admired the tan he always seemed to have---- like George Hamilton’s tan I
used to tease him. ‘Damn John, how can you go without socks’, I continued to ‘prod’ him, as he climbed into the
little truck cab, turned and winked at me, accompanied with that Pepsodent smile --- ‘See you Dad’, he chirrped
happily and sped off down Sunnyslope Lane.
Some would call it unbridled passion, others would say it is dogged determination, but for me to have that
kind of a challenge thrown out---well, I can tell you I got to get on top of it----- ‘like a duck on a June-bug’!
Almost as if it were a pre-disposed plan,I went immediately behind my workshop and to the old plank of
walnut---like it was waiting for the Master’s Hand. No, not at all-- never would I call myself master of anything,
let alone my labors with the woodworking... Intuition, obsession, spiritual guidance---call it what you will for as
soon as I had that decrepit old plank of wood in my hands, I almost shouted ‘this is it---this will give John what
he wants for Mr. Solheim’.
The split and age tattered end to the old plank had to be removed so I sawed off that peice----as the split was
sawn, the two peices separated and there between the chunks were fossilized walnuts---ages before when the tree
was growing, it had been split with a bolt of lightning and it had continued to live and grow. The walnuts
growing on the upper branches had fallen into the crevice of the tree and there they had remained for all this
time---as trees grow so slowly, maybe staying there for centuries. The growing tree and the tree bark had grown
around the walnuts and there for all that time had made implanted impressions that could never be duplicated or
copied by man or his machines---how true now the words from Joyce Kilmer’s poem ‘and only God can make a
So soon following my son John’s declaration that he wanted something special for Mr. Solheim, that there
was the raw material for the effort. Where the fresh saw marks were on the wood, though rough in texture, was
the brilliant, chocolate brown color of
the American black walnut---like another blessing for the rough beauty already showing, there had been a
wood-knot---briarwood and knurled looking like a cake when chocolate is stirred into vanilla batter---the
swoops and swirls, looking that way only once-----.
I could barely contain my excitment as I rushed into the house to show the boys Mother----I could tell she was
excited too for she muttered softly ‘that’s nice’, and went back to her sewing Raggedy Dolls.
I cannot say that in the days or weeks to follow that a thing of unparrelled beauty and magnificance
evolved---no, I will not say that, for in the matter of hours, I had fashioned this inantimate bit of wood, that, for
all purposes, been thrown away, into a true ‘one-of-a-kind’ offering that son John wanted me to craft for him. A
gift from a stranger to my son Tim, and now a gift fashioned for my son John to give to his friend, Mr. Solheim.
Even working with the woods all the time like I did, I was at a loss to describe it’s beauty. The cake batter
looking colors blended with the knots and knurls of the black walnut, which was actually a brown, but just as
breathtaking. I had buffed and polished the wood to a high luster---it could be compared to the sheen and quality
of rich Corrinithian leather....a masterpeice that it seemed I could not claim as being of my own doing---as if it
had the Master’s Hand involved.
Though it existed now as a thing of rare beauty, it must be something functional---it could not become a
paperwieght or a nut cracker---it must be more useful than that so again, as if someone else was making the
decisions for me, I knew that it must become a declaration unto itself---to give permission, to lend authority, to
wield power, to grant wishes, to be a ‘one-of-a-kind’ gift.
Mr. Solheim, at the helm of a major corporation, did all these things in his work, so I decided that words be
an insturment or extension of the mans endevours and his success. Words that Ben Franklin had uttered years
before when he declared ‘THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD’, sealed my decision for John’s gift.
A very beautiful and golden Shaffer’s pen accentuated the wooden base---but not finished still. I called my
friend Bud Corbin who does incomparable engraving work and ordered the plaque for Mr. Solheim’s gift. Bud
had it ready that same day for me.
John was so very pleased when I called and told him that I had Mr. Solheim’s gift finished----he was so
anxious and forcefully demanded to know what it was, but I would’nt tell him. I did suggest he stop by at a
Hallmark store and use the new technology of doing your own greeting cards, you know in your own words and
phrases. John agreeed but he still was demanding as I hung the phone up.
It would be late the next day before John would come by---he’d been playing racquet ball and though he was
tanned, his face appeared rosey and flushed---like when he was a little boy.
I did not have a box for the gift, though John’s Mother had left out some white box lining paper before she
went to work. Mr. Solheim’s gift was sitting on the kitchen table on top of the snow-white paper.
It still brings a tug to the heart and a tear to the eye to recall the events of the day. A gasp from John as he
dropped the paper bag from Hallmark that he was carrying, and wide eyed, tenderly picked up the gift. I don’t
think John could have been more pleased---I know I had all the pleasure I could survive, as the silence
Words did’nt seen necessary or even fitting, even if they could have been formed and uttered. So very
‘He’ll sure like that Dad’, John quaked, sounding all choked up; ‘and the brass engraving Dad, is just what I
would have said’.
The engraving on the pen base read TO MY FRIEND KARSTEN SOLHEIM FROM JOHN WILBORN
with a line underneath that read, ‘ONE OF A KIND’.
John opened the Hallmark bag and removed a flower adorned greeting card and handed it to me. I opened
the card front and read
TO MY FRIEND KARSTEN SOLHEIM FROM JOHN WILBORN and on the next line were the
words ‘ONE OF A KIND’.
LATER FOOTNOTES: When this story was written Johnny knew he had AIDS. Over the remaining months of
his life he stayed active and enjoyed life to the fullest. In September 1995 he treated his Mother and I to a
vacation in Cancun, Mexico. He bought himself a Jeep Wrangler in April 1996 and drove one final time to the
state he was born and loved so dearly, California. He no longer worked but visited with Mr. and Mrs. Soliem
often in their Paradise Valley home. In July 1996 Johnny succumbed to the ravages of that horrible disease.
Shortly before Christmas 1999 I went for a haircut. John Lewis who has been my barber for almost 20 years
told me he goes out to Mr. Solheim’s home and cuts the old fellows hair. John said he was in poor health and
very senile. Everytime I see the PING logo and hear the advertising I think of the grand old man---he has left a
legacy for us all in the sporting goods he invented and developed. Additionally I think of how kind he was to my
son John. Life goes on----.
Early spring 2000 Mr. Solheim passed away. One of the photos the Arizona Republic showed was of Mr. and
Mrs. Solheim having breakfast at the Moon Valley Country Club and I pondered if it may have been Johnny who
had served them that day.