Walnut Man stands a solid five inches high, when not bent at the waist. Then, he loses a good inch, just like my grandfather, the person who made him. Walnut Man’s hands and feet are flat pieces of wood with notches representing the digits of each. His arms and legs, jointed, hand-whittled dowels, allow him to sit on the chair my grandfather made from matchsticks. His named is derived from the objects of his torso and head: walnuts.
As a young girl, I watched as my grandfather precision split the two halves of one of the walnuts: the glint of his pocketknife dulled with age, not unlike the blue of Gramps’s eyes. The ca-raack signaling a clean separation made us both giddy. After scraping the brainlike nut from its shell, he divided it hemispheres and offered me one. While crunching and digging bits from his teeth with his tongue, he glued the halves together, blowing them dry with his nutty, smoky breath. He poked two round holes into the nut for eyes, smoothed out the bottom portion of the seam where the halves met, creating a nose, and etched a straight line for a mouth. His final touch, penciled eyebrows. My grandmother relieved Walnut Man of an eternal existence in his birthday suit with green pants and a shirt, now faded and dirty, that she handstitched onto his body
I sat with my grandfather while he made his Walnut people and matchstick houses and chairs. He fully wired one house, and with the push of a button the interior came to life in light. I marveled at the Walnut Family sitting around the kitchen table inside, imagining their life to be perfect. How could it not be? They had been hewn by the rough-skinned hands of love, discernment, and commitment.
Walnut Man’s face resembles my grandfather’s before he died: wrinkled, bald, brown skinned (Gramps was part Cherokee), and contemplative. He knows what my life has been since Gramps died: my parents’ divorce, my father’s shooting, the fabric of my family shredded and burned by vain, manicured hands.
Now, sitting at my kitchen table with my husband and daughter, my family, I’m certain Gramps watches through the window, through Walnut Man’s eyes. Wrapping my weather-worn hands around my mug, I hear his joyful whisper, “I always knew you could do it.”