THE FATHER BUILT THE baby coffin and painted the outside black and the inside dark red before stenciling a black stork flying with a sack on the lid’s underside.
Doctor’s orders some time during the early 1900s drove the then-young couple to prepare for their baby’s death.
The mother tended to the sick child.
The father constructed the boxy coffin with brass hinges and studs along the seams.
But shortly after the black paint dried, the man built something else – a compartmentalized tray to fit snugly inside.
The baby survived.
And for the next many decades, that father used the box for tools before emptying it to sell to the couple I met this summer.
Their 57 years of marriage turned up all sorts of gold nuggets – including their story about a California whiskey company hiring them in the 1970s to walk bulls across a red hotel carpet as part of a Denver marketing launch.
The farm couple wondered aloud if the executives in neck ties understood that their bulls –although halter-broke – were not potty trained.
But the real story, for me, unfolded after the interview, when they invited me to tour their property.
The items included glass milk jars from defunct local dairies, oxen harness fittings, cracked wooden toys, rusty tools and things so bygone that no one remembered the objects’ purpose. One crank-driven device with miniature push-broom brushes over a large, wooden barrel fit that category.
But the baby coffin, purchased years ago at an estate sale from the elderly carpenter and his elderly wife in rural Nebraska, never became obsolete.
Hardly – and for the best of reasons.
The coffin-turned-toolbox later looked like a treasure chest for how it prompted me to mull afresh over my third child – a son with special needs related to Down syndrome, a chromosomal disorder characterized by intellectual disability.