Good as Old
Why, thought Darrel as he closed the door of the kiln, do people buy such tacky stuff, especially at Christmas time? Fused glass trees speckled with red and blue dots, snowmen with ebony eyes and noses, effervescent green triangles dusted with multicolored specks, iridescent icicles, snowflakes, candy canes. His eyes rested on the portrait of Louis Comfort Tiffany on the rear wall. ‘When,’ the Master wanted to know, ‘are you going to get beyond these trifles and trinkets and do some real work?’ Pictures of his creations surrounded him: lamps, jewelry, ceramics, metal work, as well as stained glass windows, including two of Darrel’s favorites, John the Baptist and Nicodemus Came to Him by Night.
Three years ago, he and his wife hung their new sign:
Stained Glass Windows & Lamps
New Construction, Restoration, Repair
Darrel & Jeanette Thompson
If Jeannette were alive, she would agree with Mr. Tiffany.
Darrel glanced at the back window. Several inches of snow on the wooden sill, the parking lot next to the building obscured by swirling flakes. He touched the kiln. I’ll fire tomorrow, he thought, first thing. Always a chance of a power failure during a storm. No reason to risk a shut-down in mid-cycle.
The outside door in the adjacent sales room whooshed open, slammed shut, then hushed voices, sounds of feet scuffing the mat. Darrel took a last look at Mr. Tiffany, plodded toward the noises. Serious ornament buyers, no doubt. Before Jeanette died, she waited on customers and he worked in the studio. That was then.
The woman was young, held a boy who looked about a year old. The man, likely her husband, clutched a leaded glass window to his chest. Their eyes wandered the shop: in front, two large Victorian-era windows, blues, reds, greens, ambers, rows of jewels gathered early morning light from outside; an artificial tree in the corner laden with his fused glass ornaments; the showcase filled with hobbyist supplies, cutters, grozing pliers, soldering irons, bottles of flux and patina, rolls of solder and copper foil. Behind the counter, color posters of stained glass windows.
The woman pointed to a poster.
“That’s from Tiffany Studios, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Aurora, Woman by the Fountain. Roman Goddess of the Dawn.”
The young man, slim, shoulders hunched, laid the window down. He pulled a zipper lock bag out of his coat pocket. Inside were two hooks, several strips of lead.
The woman looked down at the window. “Can it be fixed?”
No ‘hello,’ or ‘good morning.’ Her lips were tight, pupils dark, intense. Her husband fidgeted, cracked his knuckles, eyes flitted back and forth. Theirs was one of two cars in the lot, a rusted, two-door Chevrolet, desperate for a paint job. Students, no doubt.
Darrel held the window up to the light. “Diamond-paned. Very old.”
“What?” she asked.
“Diamond paned, or diamonds on point.”
He pointed to the individual glass diamonds, surrounded by flat strips of lead. Each piece of glass was about five inches high and three inches wide. Some were clear, others tinged rose or amber. All were riddled with bubbles, bumps, and creases.
“Antique dealers call it ‘wavy glass.’ See how it distorts?” He shifted the window back and forth; objects behind rippled and quivered. He laid it down. “Since the 1950's, window glass is clear, flat, blemish free.”
“Dee-Dee.” The boy pointed to a white and black cat curled up on a blue towel in the corner. “Dee-Dee.”
Darrel glanced at the boy. “That’s Flash. He’s on break now.”
He ran his fingers around the window. Chisel marks on the perimeter lead. It had been pulled out of the sash, likely in a hurry. The marks were deep, had bent the soft lead. And, someone had tried to glue a pair of hooks along the top. Maybe just a few days ago. It might have hung for a while, like a picture. Then the hooks failed and it fell, breaking three glass diamonds.
Darrel introduced himself. They shook hands. Tyler and Lisa Maynard.
“And this is Ricky,” said Lisa. “He had his first birthday last week. He knows two words: Mama and Dee-Dee: kitty. We have a tabby at home.”
“Where are you from?”
“North of Traverse City.”
An hour away, depending on roads.
“Northwestern Michigan College? Off for Christmas break?”
Darrel pointed to their window. “This could be more than a hundred years old.”
Lisa nodded. “It’s from my Grandmother’s house.”
Darrel spotted a small crack in one of the diamonds on the top row. He touched it, then scratched the adjacent lead with his fingernail. Soot.
“Dee-Dee,” said the child, pointing to the cat. “Dee-Dee.”
Darrel strode over, picked up Flash, set him in front of Ricky.
“A very old cat; his mousing and carousing days are over. Like his owner.”
The boy smiled, dug his fingers into fur. Flash rubbed his nose against the little hand.
Lisa said, “The man in Traverse City told us they didn’t make this kind of glass anymore. Couldn’t fix it.”
Darrel carried Flash back to the towel. The cat curled up tight, tucked his nose under black fore paws.
“Maybe this fella can’t neither,” Tyler said.
Darrel looked at the couple over the rim of his glasses. They were dressed simply, jeans, sweatshirts, shabby jackets. She had on a pair of faded tennis shoes. He wore a pair of brown work boots that needed a polish. No gloves.
“Henry’s Glass and Lamp. You talked to Henry. Did he send you here?”
“After we asked three times if there was somewhere else to take it.”
Darrel turned, disappeared into the studio. He returned with a large piece of glass in one hand and a wooden box in the other. He held up the glass. “Look like what’s in your window?”
Tyler nodded. “That’ll work,” he said.
Darrel shook his head. “It will, but doesn’t have to. This is restoration glass. Made to look like antique glass.”
He pulled several small pieces out of the box, held them up to the light. “These were salvaged from antique windows. The real thing.”
Lisa laid her hand on the counter. “You can fix it?”
“How much will it cost?” said Tyler.
Lisa glared at him. “That doesn’t matter. We need to have it fixed.” Her eyes moistened, lips trembled. “Could it be…is there any way we could get it this afternoon? Is that possible?”
Darrel pulled off his glasses, slipped them into his shirt pocket. They think me old, he thought. But when you’re twenty, everyone’s old. He ran his finger over the diamonds, strips of lead, tipped his head to one side as though listening to the window.
“This was taken from a house that burned.”
Not a question, but a statement.
His fingers rested on a chisel mark. Late 19th century. The owner, or someone, salvaged what he could after a fire. He looked at Lisa. “Someone’s coming tonight.” Her expression softened. He continued, “Your visitor—will expect to see this.”
She shifted Ricky to the other hip. “My grandmother.”
“To see granddaughter. And husband, and great-grandson.”
“And,” he raised his eyebrows, pointed to the window.
“Tell me about it.”
She’s told this story before, Darrel thought. Told friends about it, many times.
“The fire was at Grandmother’s house. It started on the roof—a chimney fire. They set up a bucket brigade from the pump with neighbors and the kids. But the pump handle broke. So, they decided to take everything out before the house burned: furniture, pictures, clothes, dishes, pots and pans, books. They took doors off hinges…” She paused, cleared her throat. “Grandfather chiseled out this window, and my grandmother—his daughter—was beside him. She was ten years old at the time.”
Flames inside, people shouting, crying. Saving what they could. No firetruck. Only neighbors. The good old days.
“It was saved, but not repaired, never installed in another house.”
She nodded. “Grandmother kept it. I saw it in her attic. Asked if I could have it.” She glanced at Tyler. “When she decided to visit he…we… thought we’d hang it up.”
Broken a second time. Darrel started to speak, then stopped. A snowplow, first a low hum in the distance, grew louder, louder. They were silent while it passed, then he continued, “The recent damage can be repaired. Repaired today. But…” he touched the old crack, “What about this, made by great-grandfather and the chisel? Will grandmother expect to see that?”
The question made her uneasy. This had been discussed.
“I don’t know…what she would say.”
“It’s your window now,” said Tyler. “Repair the whole thing.”
Darrel imagined a phone call to grandmother: ‘We’re at the glass shop right now. With the window that you and your father saved from the fire—and we broke three more diamonds. We’re getting it fixed, but what about that little cracked piece? You know, when your father…’
“No.” She stopped, then, “I don’t know.” She touched the broken diamond. “When my grandmother gave it to me, she ran her fingers over that crack. Over it, again and again.”
Grandmother had caressed it, like a person, like a lover. This window, the memory, were special.
The shop door opened and an older man, slightly stooped, fur hat with ear flaps down, pushed in, stamped his feet. The blast of cold air woke the cat. Ears back, eyes wide, Flash stared at the old man as he stamped snow from his boots.
“Coffee time?” The man spoke without looking. Then, “Oh—sorry.”
“Hi, Sergio. Coffee’s on. Go on back.”
“I’ve got some homemade scones. Granddaughter’s visiting.”
Sergio trudged into the studio. Flash stretched and yawned, closed his eyes.
Darrel glanced at the couple. “I’ll replace the three broken pieces, use heavier lead for the perimeter, solder on better hooks. Also, clean and regrout it.”
Tyler cracked his knuckles. “I thought you weren’t supposed to restore old things like this…”
“As in: Antiques Roadshow?”
“Some things, photographs, paintings drawings, books—have to be restored or they’ll end up worthless. Sistine Chapel frescos have been reworked many times. Old windows need repair, restoration.”
Silence. The three stared at the window. Lisa spoke first. “Do it.”
“And the piece cracked by Great-grandfather?” He glanced at Tyler. Don’t answer that, he thought.
Lisa said, “Leave it alone. Don’t touch it.” She drummed her fingers on the counter. “Can we get it this afternoon?”
Her eyes rested on the Christmas ornaments.
“Do you usually…repair old windows?”
“You mean, would I rather be making Christmas ornaments?”
He waved his hand toward the table of fused glass pieces. “This time of year, I make trees, stars, angels, candy canes, fruitcakes, snowflakes, peace symbols, even cat faces. Flash’s face is hanging on Christmas trees all over northern Michigan. I repair glass race cars, F-16 jets, Micky Mouse faces, you name it.”
The snowplow roared past from the other direction.
“Your piece will be ready at three.”
Darrel carried the window into the studio and laid it on a table. Sergio sat on a worn couch in the corner, near an electric heater.
“Too busy for coffee?”
“No. Be right there.”
He washed his hands, sat in a chair opposite the couch.
“What’s with the young folks?”
Darrel picked up a scone, gave a quick summary of the situation and the broken window.
“Did you avert a domestic crisis?”
“Appears so. They’d just been to Henry’s Lamp and Glass. He must have told them they were wasting their money. Probably tried to sell them a stained-glass cow.”
He bit into the scone. “Jeannette and I figured to do a lot of repair and restoration.” He sighed. “The days of holding on to something—and restoring—a family heirloom or whatever, are gone.”
“Maybe you should go back to teaching.”
“I thought about that after Jeannette died.” He shook his head. “I just can’t face all those blank stares.”
“You only remember the bad parts.” Sergio poured coffee. “Glass snowmen and icicles don’t get you in the Christmas sprit?”
Darrel motioned toward the work table. “Woman comes in, tears in her eyes, wants to repair a family heirloom...”
Darrel shrugged, said nothing. They split a second scone, finished their coffee. Sergio squinted at the clock. “I’m off to the Post Office. Keep the rest of the scones.”
Darrel ran his hand over the window. The glass was cold, rough, bumpy, the recent cracks, jagged and sharp, snagged his skin. The lead was soft, pliable, almost warm, covered with a skein of gray-white oxidation. Maybe built in a shop without electricity. Craftsmen would have heated soldering irons over an open flame or hot coals. He thought about Lisa’s story. Did great grandfather know the craftsman? Why was in never reinstalled in another house?
He cut off the perimeter lead, teased out the broken diamonds, left the one damaged by great grandfather in place. Darrel selected pieces of old glass from the box, cut them to fit. The replacement glass was covered with bumps, creases, bubbles. He’d scrape oxidation off the old joints then solder. After lunch, he’d clean and grout it. He glanced over at Mr. Tiffany.
‘Finally, repair and restoration of something with value,’ said the bearded image. ‘Too bad it’s such a small piece.’
Darrel was in the salesroom when the door opened and the couple entered, kicked ice off their shoes. Smiling, cheeks red from the cold, snow on their clothes and hair. Tyler carried Ricky. They greeted him, called him by name.
“Have a good day?”
Lisa spoke up. “Yep, sure did. Ate a big meal with relatives, listened to stories, pulled Ricky around on the sled.” She pointed at the Victorian windows. “Did you build those?”
“They’re restorations. Got them from a church after a fire.”
“Are they for sale?”
He shook his head.
Ricky pointed a finger at the ceiling. “Dee-Dee,” he said, “Dee-Dee.”
“Flash is in back. Tired of working in sales.” Darrel held out his arms. “Let’s go see.”
The boy squeezed in close to his father; his lower lip quivered. Darrel didn’t move; stood with arms outstretched, waited. After a nod from his mother, Ricky began to extend his arms. Darrel took him, beckoned to the couple. “Come on back.”
Flash lay on a towel in a cardboard box next to the heater, nose pointed toward the ceiling, legs outstretched. The boy squatted next to him, stroked his fur. Flash began to purr, rolled on his back.
Lisa pulled a photograph out of her coat pocket. “Got something for you.” She handed it to Darrel. “Is it a…?”
“Tiffany?” He held it at arm’s length. “No, but nice. Victorian design, wonderful color choices, lots of jewels, even glass chunks in the borders. Very, very nice. But, some damage.”
“Could it be fixed?”
He set the photo on the table.
“How big is it?”
“Seventy-two inches by forty. The lead’s shot and some glass is broken.”
“It’s worth fixing. Definitely.” Darrel rubbed his chin. He thought, make several rubbings on tracing paper to capture the design. Take it completely apart, clean each piece, find proper replacement glass. Reassemble with new lead.
“Your relatives want it repaired?”
“They’ve got no place to hang it.”
“Where did they get it?”
“Their church, years ago. The congregation wanted to fix them and put them back in. But a new pastor took over and he wasn’t interested.”
“More than one window?” She had said ‘them.’
Tyler interrupted. “Where’s ours? Is it finished?”
Lisa continued, “Three more. Like this one, but different designs. All in bad shape. They’re in my Aunt’s garage. She might just give them to you, wants them in a good home.”
Darrel flipped the photo over, saw a name and telephone number on the back. He slid it into his shirt pocket, glanced at the portrait of Tiffany, pointed toward the sales room. “Your window is out front.”
It hung next to the two Victorian pieces. Darrel lifted it off the hooks, held it overhead. Diamonds were bright and clear, sparkled in the light. The matrix lead was a deep, rich, dark gray. Darrel had soldered a pair of stout hooks to the top.
Lisa leaned forward, sniffed. “Linseed oil?”
“Yes, it’s in the grout.” He raised his eyebrows. “Will grandmother approve?”
“Yes. And, so do I. Very much.”
“Good as new,” said Tyler.
Darrel shook his head. “No. Good as old.” His eyes met Lisa’s. “Good as old as Lisa wanted it to be.” He handed the invoice to her. “You can hang it when you get home, but lay it flat when you travel.” He handed hooks to Tyler. “Screw these in to something substantial. After Grandmother leaves, take it down, lay it flat for two weeks, flip it once after seven days. Then it’s ready.”
Lisa looked at the invoice. “I thought this would be more…”
He shrugged. “Small job.” Jeannette used to say, ‘I can tell when they come in the door if you’ll undercharge them.’
Lisa looked up at him. “You’ll call my aunt about the windows?”
He patted the photograph in his shirt pocket. “Absolutely.”
Darrel could tell that Tyler was ready to go. He was thinking, good deal, let’s grab the window, hit the road, pick up the old lady before the airport shuts down.
Lisa handed a check to him. Darrel dropped it in the drawer. He watched Tyler pick up the window. He turned to Lisa.
“Your window talked to me, told me its story.”
About the Author: Andrew Miller recently retired from a career that included university teaching and research in endangered species and aquatic habitat restoration. He has published in Literally Stories, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Temptation Magazine, The Fair Observer, and The Legendary.