Split green vases

HIS given name was Warren. He was folding his tent and moving on to greener pastures, he told Bob, and: ``A person who transfers jobs the way I do can't be trailing too many belongings.'' So he asked Bob if we could use another bookcase. He didn't want to sell it - how could he put a price on something he'd made himself, with care and love and uncounted hours of pure pleasure? So we invited him to a farewell dinner and Warren borrowed a truck to deliver the bookcase. He hadn't intended it to contain just books, he explained, though that would be our sole objective. If was five feet wide and three tall, with doors at either end featuring hand-turned knobs. The entire top shelf was free, but the two beneath it were curtailed, necessarily, by the shelves within those doors. It is still in Bob's den after some 20 years, filled with books and papers and other paraphernalia peculiar to an artist's bailiwick.

But Warren brought something else when he came to dinner. Shyly he presented a green vase, triangular in shape - yes, it had three sharply defined sides to it. Toward the bottom was a colorful mallard duck, with purple-tinged wings spread as in flight - one tip presenting a precarious breakoff point. Amber cattails, raised on the surface, provided a background for the bird. (The potential was realized, one wing tip has been twice repaired.)

The vase, our friend said, was one of a pair. He meant to keep the mate in memory of Bob's kindness to him when he first came to work at the engineering plant. Wherever he traveled in the future, he would take his vase along. And he hoped we would treasure ours, remembering him whenever we used it. It might have been a maudlin moment, but it wasn't. Warren was a no-nonsense person, and Bob and I filled in the span with sincere admiration.

Down the ensuing years we made ultimate use of Warren's bookcase. But the lovely ceramic vase, with its flying mallard drake, wasn't something to use every day. (After Bob mended the tip I was more careful, using the vase less frequently.) I preferred glass vases that showed the interesting stems of flowers. And Warren's vase really was a bit largish - over a foot tall, and the duck's wingspread inches beyond the base.

Eventually, the green container was relegated to a small cabinet over the refrigerator, where seldom-used treasures were stored; it was practically inaccessible to me unless I stood on something. Even then it was all I could do to reach across and into that shelf. Dust, which has never been on my list of priorities, was gathering up there. However, when Bob retrieved the crystal bowl in which I always put Christmas beads, he also knew. And promised to help me clean the cabinet.

So out came Warren's vase again, in need of a washing, as were all the other rarely used items up there. When the pale green gleamed and the mallard seemed eager to fly once more, I didn't have the heart to consign it to the rear of that remote shelf so soon again. So I went out and trimmed the yew (which was growing into a tree instead of a bush, anyway). I placed half a dozen long whips in Warren's vase on one side of the hearth, and when it came to trimming the house for Christmas, decorated them with tiny angels.

Long after the tree came down and all the other holiday artifacts were put away, the vase with its dark, living branches remained in place. Whenever I thought it really must be time to dispose of them, I was checked by their dark vivacity. And then, one January day, when the snow lay a foot deep over the whole world outside, the branches began to display light green tips. They were actually sprouting. By February they were still full of promise, and by April those stiff branches had long white roots. They were drinking up water at a great clip - and the chartreuse sprouts had extended with a vengeance.

So when the season seemed more appropriate, I dug a hole in the backyard and planted one more yew - putting all the branches in together. Finally, I washed the vase and put it away. Not on that high, inaccessible shelf over the refrigerator this time, but in one of those side-cabinets of Warren's bookcase. The repaired tip had come off, and Bob had restored it again - so the vase isn't perfect. But then, neither are we.

And Warren - wherever he is - may still have his matching vase, and maybe he still uses it on occasion, and remembers us when he does.

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