The Carver’s Daughter

Beth sat in her workshop opening and closing the blade of her jackknife. Over the years she had come to find solace in its imperfect perfection. The cool steel on her fingers was as familiar to her as her own reflection.

She opened and closed the blade over and over as she stared at the small statue she had carved. She remembered the countless days of her childhood that were spent in the woods with her father as he taught her how to search the forest for the perfect pieces of wood. Fall was the best time to hunt. The smell of decomposing leaves mixed with the crisp autumn air became her siren song; the heady bouquet intoxicating her as she followed her father off the well trodden paths behind their home.

As a young child she never fully understood his reverence for the wood and the knives he used to carve it. He would hold each piece lovingly in his rough hands and turn the freshly severed piece of branch around and around.

“You don’t see the tree, or even the wood,” he told her. “You see what the tree wants to give you.”

Often she would squint and stare at the wood trying to see what the trees had given them. On her ninth birthday her father asked her to pick out the day’s wood. She searched and searched as he watched. The role reversal was uncomfortable and exciting. She glanced back at her father who stood straight faced as she studied each potential branch. She finally settled on a piece of ash hoping with all her might that it was a good choice. The last thing she wanted was to disappoint him. Her father handed her the hatchet and showed her where to strike the tree.

“If you do it right, taking this branch will actually help this tree. Now it can put its energy into growing new branches instead of feeding this dying one.”

When they had returned from that day’s hunt her father gave her a jackknife of her own. She hugged him till her arms were tired. He smiled as he handed her the piece of wood she had collected earlier then told her to show him what the tree had shown her. She instinctively picked up the piece of wood and began to turn it around and around in her hands just like she had seen her father do hundreds of times before. Try as she might, she couldn’t see anything in the wood. She cried as she admitted her failing to her father.

“Leave it,” he said with a knowing smile. “It’s not ready to give up its secret yet. You’ll know when the time is right.”

Her father gave her a new piece and asked her what she thought the tree wanted to show them. She took the new piece and studied it for a few seconds before seeing the unmistakable image of a whale. She could see it there trapped beneath the wood’s layers. Years of growth rings had wrapped around its girth trapping it in a woody cell. She could see that it longed for release.

“I see a whale papa,” she said. It was more of a question than a statement. “It’s so clear. I can see what needs to be taken away before it can be free.” Her father smiled down upon her.

“I see a whale too Beth,” he said. His eyes looked misty. “In fact I saw a whale in that piece of wood almost immediately.”

He gave her back the wood with the imprisoned sea creature then turned to find his own piece. Beth set to work immediately with her new jackknife. Soon the whale would be free. By that afternoon she had a finished statuette to show her father. She hadn’t let him down after all. She finally understood her father’s love of wood. He had given her much more than a knife that day. She had discovered on her ninth birthday that in her hands her knife had power.

Over the years her talent blossomed and soon people were seeking out her work over her father’s. When the governor asked Beth to carve a statue for his wife’s birthday she wondered why he hadn’t asked her father too. Later her father told her it was the proudest day of his life, second only to the day she was born.

She thought of her very first piece of wood. Surely it was the perfect choice for such an esteemed client. It held such meaning for her and this was after all her biggest client. This carving would make or break her career. She studied the piece trying to will it into showing her what it wanted her to see. It wasn’t time. The piece of wood clung tenaciously to its secret.

Her daughter’s voice shook her from her reverie.

“Mama, does Grandpa still carve wood in heaven?”

“I think so sweetie,” she answered. She kept her gaze on the newly carved statue.

“Is that a new statue, Mama? Is it for Grandpa’s funeral?”

Beth nodded and turned to her daughter. She smiled through red brimmed eyes.

“Yes it is. Do you like it?”

“Yeah, it looks just like him.”

Beth glanced to the now empty spot on the shelf by her window. It would take a while for her to get used to seeing the shelf empty. Her very first piece of wood had stood on that shelf for forty two years. She picked up the newly carved statue of the old man hugging a little girl and smiled down upon her work, just like she had seen her father do hundreds of times before.

“You were right Papa, I just had to wait.”

Author’s Note: Today’s piece was inspired from a prompt provided by This week’s prompt:Pick and ordinary object and give it an extraordinary use. I hope you enjoyed. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

33 thoughts on “The Carver’s Daughter

  1. This is wonderful, really touched home for me. My late father worked with wood and carved things for me quite often. Thank you for this lovely story.

  2. Awesome story! Tree carving is sort of like writing, isn’t it? Waiting for the page to give up its secret. 🙂 I lived in a small Pa. town when I was little, and you brought back the smell of and feel of the woods in the Fall for me. wonderful.

  3. Chris. I’m overwhelmed. This is a lovely story, a powerful story, a piece of art. Carved, I know, from an empty page like a piece of wood that reveals to you the potential of what it contains. This is your best work that I’ve seen so far.

    I want to offer a piece of constructive advice, but you make it hard. I’ll default to what I’m “carving” out of my writing at the moment: the word “was.” “The cool steel on her fingers felt as familiar as her own reflection.” (Also deleted “to her.”) Does that seem stronger to you? Does to me.

    Keep ’em coming, my man, keep ’em coming.

    • Thank you all for the supportive feedback.
      Jeff- I sincerely appreciate all constructive feedback. Especially when it comes from a writer I so admire. I see your point and agree. My problem is this: I have been taking my prompts from Writeanything(dot)wordpress(dot)com. One of the rules of the meme is no editing. So, while I do in fact edit a little, I try to keep to the spirit of the challenge. I’m finding that harder and harder as #fridayflash expands and more writers post polished pieces.

  4. This was so good on a number of levels. The story was very moving, but I also found it evoked some of my own issues with my late father. Also I’m just starting to enjoy my writing again after a very dry time so I identified with the girl staring at the blank piece of wood.


  5. Hi, I really enjoyed this piece. Lots of detail in a short space made me identify strongly with the main character. Interesting that you’ve done little editing on this piece. It doesn’t show. There are just a couple of places where you could tighten it up, but, as you’ve said, you’ve elected not to due to the meme rules. I also enjoyed the first paragraph and appreciated the poetic quality that came with your use of ‘perfection’ and ‘reflection’. Very nicely done.

  6. Oh my. This is beautiful. It has such a good, calm pace to it. The kind of pace the carver’s daughter has as she does her own work. You pared away all that was unnecessary and left us a story with real impact.

    So very well done.

  7. I could sort of see where this was going, but it was so well constructed it still made me tear up. A really wonderful piece, Chris.

    The only other part I thought might be a slight improvement would be to eliminate the word, “too” in this, “asked her father too.” If you meant instead, then I’d just drop it. If you meant in addition to her, I would have said “also asked her father.” But that is really nit picking. It’s pretty darned fantastic the way it is.

    I like polish, though this did not need a whole lot of that. The premise for #fridayflash has always been to post your best on the theory that the cream will rise to the top. This piece is heavy with cream.

  8. Oh this was a lovely read. Got a little misty-eyed. I always enjoy your writing. Like Laura commented earlier, you never know what you’re going to find BUT you can be sure that it’s brilliance.


  9. Oh Chris, this was exquisite! It was both gentle and strong. I’ve now read several stories today, and am about to call it a night, and I love ending my Friday with this one.

    Even your postscript seems to coach us (perfect as postscript versus preface) that we can be more appreciative, so that nothing we hold is ever simply ordinary.

  10. Real change of pace and style from last week. Very tender story this. The sense of time and generations in it is nicely carried through the idea of wood and its rings too. The wood keeping its secrets until time revealed her father holding her daughter is a beautiful idea. Great work.

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  12. One thought: Using dialogue to reveal what the statue is is not as strong as letting the characters and the statue speak for themselves. If you cut this dialogue, the images have more space to resonate:

    “Is that a new statue, Mama? Is it for Grandpa’s funeral?”

    Beth nodded and turned to her daughter. She smiled through red brimmed eyes.

    “Yes it is. Do you like it?”

    “Yeah, it looks just like him.”

  13. Thanks Judy, I’ll have to give that some thought. The dialogue helped with a couple of problems. I wanted a transition into the present time and also wanted to show that the torch has been passed down from father to daughter and now to daughter. You’ve given me something to think on. I always appreciate suggestions and critiques so thank you for that. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

  14. What can I say that hasn’t been said already? Chris, this is just beautiful, and really well done. I had to grab for the tissues. You strum each and every heartstring in this story, you rotten guy. 😉


  15. Chris,

    This is a wonderful and reflective story. Look how many have already remembered their own fathers because of your story, and what an awesome gift that is. Like Shannon and others, I was thinking about how much writing is like carving wood. A job well done here. Thank you for sharing what the prompt inspired out of you.

  16. Chris, that’s a beautiful story. I love carved wooden things (anything really) and I’d love to have the talent you describe so well. I’m reading LE Modesitt’s Saga of Recluce at the moment (it’s not very good really), he describes a lot of crafting, particularly smithing but also woodcrafting, and you’ve got more of the heart and soul of it in that short piece than he’s put into umpteen books!

  17. Chris,
    I thought that this was such a beautiful piece. You really captured the daughter’s voice. The funny thing is since I had no frame of reference for YOU, I thought that this was written by a female. Then when I saw that you are indeed a man, I was even more impressed at the way you captured the father/daughter connection.

    I think that being able to write from either a male or female perspective regardless of your own gender is the mark of really good writing.

    thanks for sharing!
    Karen :0)

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