Juri’s birthday and Christmas were close together.  The first birthday extravaganza I planned for him was a hard act to follow.  However I managed to come up with a close second the next year.

When Juri came to my house he fell in love with an antique European cupboard I had in my kitchen.  He said it looked Estonian.  I could tell that he wanted one like it for his own house.

The cupboard was 6 ft. high, 3 ft. wide and 14 inches deep.  The legs were cut into the end and front side pieces.  It had a drawer across the bottom and two doors, each with four rabbet edged cut-outs for panels, but which were filled with wire mesh.  I decided to give Juri a duplicate cupboard, but with an Estonian motif.

Have I said that Juri was Estonian?  Have I said that he was REALLY Estonian?  For a period of about thirty years before the Russian invasion, Estonia had been free for the first time in history.  These newly free people had set up a democracy, and they had done a good job of it.  It was recognized world wide as being a model of good government.  Therefore his parents were extremely nationalistic: a seed that was planted and thrived in their son who only knew it through them as a paradise lost.  It was the shining beacon of hope in his fairy tale fantasy of the good life.  Anything Estonian was not only good, but RIGHT!

The traditional wood decoration of Estonia was wood burning in geometric patterns.  Wood burning was to Estonia what rosemaling was to Norway.  I decided to have raised wood panels in the panel openings instead of metal mesh, and to decorate each one, plus the front of the drawer, with a different Estonian wood burned design.  I also decided that, since Juri was such a craftsman, he would enjoy putting the cabinet together.  That way I could give him the pieces a little at a time and stretch out the gift giving.

I had a local Port Townsend cabinet maker make all the parts out of white pine, the traditional Estonian wood.  I researched Estonian designs at the library and in some of Juri’s books.  I got a wood burning set and practiced on scrap pieces of pine.  Although the geometry was often complex, all that was needed was a metal straight-edge and various lids and cans to use as templates for curves.  

For Christmas, I gave him the panels.  He was thrilled but puzzled.  He thought they were to hang on the wall.  I was secretive.  Then, for his birthday a few days later I gave him all the parts of the drawer.  Its face had a very elaborate long oval design.

Now he was even more puzzled.  I had not quite worked out what I would tell him, thinking I could stretch out giving him the pieces over a couple of years.  But it wouldn’t do.  So the next weekend after his birthday, I gave him all the pieces for the cupboard.  He was so emotional; I thought he was going to cry.

The next year, I reclaimed the pieces I had given him and had the doors and the drawer done. The drawer had dove tailing on the edges. Afterwards, I offered to have a cabinet maker near him finish the cupboard.  He was indignant.  It was almost as if he wanted the keep the pieces just as I had given them to him.

As long as I knew him, he never finished the cupboard.