Sometimes angels come when you really need them. They’re not always in the form you might expect, nor does their form always remain constant. Yet I have seen them recently, a brilliant smile that says I’m here if you need me, a flash of hope for young futures full of promise. The shedding of unplanned tears when a damn bursts, complete and generous patience from a stranger – now new friend – who feels your pain.

There were joyful noises emerging from the workshop this weekend at Perry Road. They were not without a few tears of grief. But the spirit of Keith was so strong it was like he was in the room, providing pointers, guidance, and not least a bit of wise-ass humor. While two of Keith’s closest woodturning buddies took on the task of dismantling the giant 1870s-era band saw, a crescent moon hung over the sky as the sun set deep on the horizon. The cheshire grin hung brightly over the shop and the hillside, reflecting off the ponds below. It seemed that silly grin shining through the bare trees, witnessed the laughter and goodnatured ribbing going on inside as the guys tried to break down the 2000 lb machine into smaller less dangerous pieces.

Yet every now and then, as it seemed like they were about to push the limits of safety, and shorten their AARP memberships, it felt like there was a virtual tap on my shoulder and I would feel compelled to suggest a safer approach. Maybe take off the 20 ft blade? How about removing the 2 giant wheels? Yes, that 8-blade dado attached to the same massive motor probably could come off, too. Piece by piece, the beast was carefully disassembled and its parts laid out where they could be recovered again for the trip to Tawas.

All the while that this was going on, there seemed to be energetic angels in the form of two of my students who had cheerfully volunteered to assist in this endeavor. One young lady, one young man, they each drew from a fountain of youthful strength and goodnatured attitudes that kept up with the joyful noises emerging from around the workshop. Loading all of the woodturning lumber into the 14-ft U-Haul, this was a thankless task as the lumber was in odd shaped chunks that only nature could endure. And every now and then, but especially at the end, they would stop and help with the big cast iron beast that the old guys were trying to move.

It wasn’t easy. But it took all four of them to finally manage to move the giant iron horse-shoe that was left after the rest of the pieces were removed, and shimmy it over to the tailgate of the U-Haul before tipping it into the truck. Before long, it was wedged in tight and packed around with all the lumber, ready to make its trip up north for refurbishing and reassembly. We all sighed in collective relief and shared a few more laughs as I reinforced that it could not be returned and all pieces attached to that beast must go with it!

The week had not been so good up until then. I’m not entirely sure I can put my finger on it. But it began early in the week. Maybe the fact that it was the week before Thanksgiving, a holiday that Keith always seemed to look forward to, getting the chance to show off how he could deep fry a turkey. That was a somewhat new tradition from only the past few years. But it had worked out so I could have the oven for other things, and it tasted good, too! But this year obviously things would be different.

Maybe it was my suffering lack of sleep. I haven’t yet found a way to get to sleep much before 2 am, and in the last few weeks, it has slipped to 3 or even 4 am at which point I know my day will be less than productive.

Or, maybe it was the combination of dealing with the mid-term stresses of students, or being reminded of how fragile life is by the absence of another student due to her mom’s brain cancer. Or, dealing with the banks on matters related to Keith’s accounts. Or reminiscing during a meeting with one of Keith’s best clients, an interior designer who came to the house upon my request to talk about remodeling bathrooms and the kitchen so that I could enjoy them, but also be ready if I ever want to sell the house. Or even the unnerving apprehension about the visit by Keith’s woodturning buddies. This was to be the first real sale of any of Keith’s personal effects and at one point I almost chickened out before they had even arrived. I wasn’t sure I’d be ready to deal with it, or them.

As it turns out, they were as nervous as I was. So was the interior designer. It seems that they were all mourning, too, and to come here, to Keith’s house, or Keith’s shop was hard for them, too. More than once, I could hear the crack of an unsteady voice that wasn’t mine, or see the reflection of tears barely being held back. It was comforting, in a way, to know that I shared Keith with so many others who cared for him very deeply. And here they were, moving through their own pain, to revisit these memories, and be so supportive at the same time.

Thursday I called in sick. I could feel the jitters of nerves too close to the surface. So I tried to rest and regroup. By early afternoon I finally ventured out to visit a church turned into an Art Gallery. How ironic? But as I sat there and attempted to start talking to the artist about my ideas for a memorial piece for Keith, I suddenly couldn’t speak and instead broke down crying. Here was a complete stranger and she was so very sweet and genuine in her support.

Once I recovered, we went on to talk about my ideas and also how Keith had always admired what she’d done to the building he once wanted to buy, but couldn’t afford at the time. While Perry Road was truly the dream shop for him, he had often driven by this church on the hill and expressed how if it ever came up for sale, it would make a great gallery. Sure enough, it did. The artist sitting across from me said that now she felt the pressure to do well by the project more than ever knowing how Keith had admired and even envied her having that building. She’d done a beautiful job renovating it and it felt very much like a beautiful and spiritual homage to creative work. Keith would have approved.

So when I woke up this morning after yet another late night, I no longer felt as stressed as I’d been all week. The woodturning lumber and giant bandsaw were on their way to Tawas, the memorial art piece was well-planned, some designs for the Jerome Lane house have been measured for, and even Sweet Pea, my Russian Wolfhound, has a new hairdo after being completely shaved of her matted and neglected fur, and groomed to a new sleeker look. I did a full set of yoga this morning and pursued getting work done for my doctoral class and later writing a lecture on Fiji Art for an Art Survey course I was subbing for Monday. By mid-day, I thought it best if I stopped to plan and then shop for Thanksgiving.

It was a productive day in spite of the fact that I write this after 3 am. The new normal is becoming fixed.

I still talk to Keith. There’s a new photo I printed where I’d cropped out the rest of the scene on the Beachouse cafe’s deck, where he was sitting looking back at the camera over his shoulder, a bit of a smirk on his face. He’s looking straight at the camera and I cannot help but think that he is still there… on the other side… ready to send new angels when I need them most.


The photo above shows the gang moving the 1870s-era band saw, stripped down to its last 1000 lbs of cast iron. A crescent moon hangs in the branches of the trees, smiling its cheshire grin, as if Keith was adding his own smile of approval to the joyful noises that emerged from the hillside workshop.