The dental supply box sat undisturbed on a garage shelf for nearly 21 years. Bing had hand-carried it on the airplane back to Palo Alto after graduating dental school, moving it with him into his Loma Linda residency apartment, into the condo on Del Mar when we married, and then finally here to this Howard Street house.
One afternoon during a feeble attempt to organize the garage, I asked him what he was going to do with that box, or rather, the contents of it. “You can go ahead and throw it out,” he said. “I don’t know what I was thinking, taking a stained glass window class while in school. I realize now that my design is far too difficult for a beginner project, but I put so much work into the drawing, and thought and good money into selecting the glass, I hate to think about not finishing it. I can’t throw it out, but I know I won’t finish it. You can throw it out for me.”
After a speech like that, there was no way I was going to be the one to throw it out. So on the shelf the box stayed, labeled “Bing’s stained glass window” in my hand writing.
Then on an October 2009 business trip to Orlando, Florida, I visited The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park containing the world’s most comprehensive collection of Tiffany glass. Standing before a sketch by Tiffany displayed with the finished window pane, I was struck, truly struck, by the thought that I should find someone to finish Bing’s project. After I came home, I asked around to come up with recommendations, and got the name of a stained glass window shop nearby in Eagle Rock.
Life intervened; the post-it note with the shop name and address sat on my desk and the box sat on that shelf. This June while feeling “life is short” in between chemo treatments, I made it a high priority one Saturday morning to get myself to that shop, box in hand. Within ten minutes of arriving at the shop, I was telling this story to the shop’s stained glass window instructor as she admired Bing’s design and his glass selection. In near tears she said she would love to finish his window. Leaving the store, I knew he knew.
I remember Bing said he based his design on a Japanese silk screen of peonies he loved at the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian, but the postcard he bought had gotten lost along the way. The instructor was able to follow his design, but she still wondered if there was some way I could find that silk screen so she could see the basis of his inspiration. I went online with the Freer collection, and within ten minutes, knew I had found his silk screen by Hasegawa Tonin, “Peonies and Willows,” from the Edo Period, early 17th century. Another sign that this was meant to be.
Three weeks later when I went to pick up the finished window, I could not get over how beautiful it was. I could not stop staring at it. I don’t know if this is how he imagined it would turn out – I couldn’t have imagined it myself – but I was just so glad that between us, we didn’t throw out that box, that I had time for that tour to Winter Park, that the instructor was so accommodating and skilled. I decided that this would be the special 21st birthday gift for Akemi and resolved to keep it a birthday secret for the time being.
Since she doesn’t come home for her Thanksgiving time birthday, I decided to tell her about it and show the window to her at the end of the summer, before she returned to Boston. She appreciated it as much as I hoped she would.
Since the day that Akemi unwrapped it, the window has been in our kitchen window where I admire it constantly. As Thanksgiving and Akemi’s birthday draws closer, I feel the window has become more and more hers – that it was my stewardship to complete it and now to keep it safe for her until she has her own home.
That dental supply box still contains his colored-pencil designs and the left-over glass. I thought Akemi might like to have the designs, and the instructor advised keeping the glass in case something broke. But truth be told, even though the window has taken on its own reality, I can’t imagine that garage shelf without that box still sitting there.