My father came to the U.S. from Turkey as a young man never dreaming his life would end up quite the way it did! He started off very humbly, busking with his violin, rescuing old furniture people left in alleyways, and picking up a plethora of low wage jobs. Learning bits and pieces of different crafts, especially upholstery and carpentry, my dad slowly worked his way to becoming respected in his field of traditional upholstery eventually working primarily with restoring historical furniture from the Baltimore Museum of Art, The Maryland Historical Society, the White House, and beyond. You would never have known it from talking to him, though. Always modest, kind, and so funny. He was the most handy and creative person I’ve ever known, and I grew up watching him work in his upholstery shop on Howard Street. He could make or fix anything and nothing went to waste in his shop. Old laundry detergent bottles became the handles for wooden swords he would make for me and my friends, every container was saved and reused to hold nails, plastic bags were stuffed in every crevice available and pulled out when he had something for me to take home. He made small furniture for me, his own sailboat, the balcony on his beloved house where he lived for almost 50 years of his life.
As for me, I surprised everyone when I arrived in the world 2 weeks early on April Fool’s Day to my mother somehow still so skinny that no one believed she could be pregnant. And my final surprise was being born on the bathroom floor, her midwife running upstairs in the nick of time to excitedly inform her that it was actually the baby making her feel like she had to use the bathroom. When it was time to go back to her job as the first female sheet metal worker in Baltimore, my mom was ready and I spent those precious early times with my dad, from early golden mornings until the afternoon when she picked me up. My dad taught me how to sew, cook, use tools, and always nurtured my imagination even letting me draw all over the walls as he worked. We sewed clothes for my dolls or I’d grab his hot glue gun to make some elaborate toy or fort. And when I got a little older, sometimes he’d set me to work for an afternoon making matching buttons for a sofa or hand stitching pillows. When I wasn’t creating some complex toy hotel out of cardboard at my dad’s, I was running around the neighborhood at my mom’s putting on long detailed plays with the neighborhood kids or trying out my latest entrepreneurial escapade, like selling mini english muffin pizzas with weird toppings like pickles with pepperoni from our front porch.
By the time I went to college, I had so many different experiences creating things and wanted to keep going. I eventually declared a major in Photography which I had completed a 2 year independent study for, a really amazing opportunity I’m still so happy I was encouraged to pursue in highschool. I studied bookbinding in college along with the history of craft, all things that I didn’t even realize would set me on the course I’m on today. I was always trying to teach classes on the side and sell my photo prints, later getting into more photo shoots and restoration work with clients. I have so much pride in regularly hearing the feedback that clients really enjoy working with me. In particular women I have worked with really appreciate my low pressure style and the natural photos that are the result of working more relaxed. Unfortunately, my photography never quite took off to the point where I could make it a full time career but it led me down a different path that I hadn’t expected.
Pottery was always something I was interested in but didn’t take classes in until I was several years out of college. I had never fully learned how to sew on a sewing machine either and eventually took a sewing class that totally opened my eyes to something. It was at this time in my life that I found myself working in a really unfulfilling field that was totally wrong for me and it was making me feel a lack of control about the direction my life was going and very unfocused. Those on and off classes truly sustained me when I was really struggling to find a meaningful life for myself. Diving back into my creative origins started to break down some mental blocks, helping me realize that I needed to find my way back to the creative life I had so desired and had grown up cultivating. I began to make and sell my wares, making up for some of the slowness I had experienced with my photography.
Fast forward to 2019 and I was back in another unfulfilling job and slipping a little with my plans to take back my life. I started 2020 with specific plans to reach some of my goals including going part time so I could ramp up more of the work I was doing on the side. Like many people, the pandemic completely slammed the brakes on my plans but for me it wasn’t just because of COVID. My father went into heart failure after suffering a heart attack several years before. The medications which had helped him maintain his heart function after the attack stopped being effective. He was on home hospice and my brain refused to acknowledge what was happening right before my eyes. He passed away just a few months after COVID hit us in the States. To say I was shocked was an understatement. To this day, I truly don’t know how to describe how it feels to lose someone so close to you.
After he passed, my husband and I decided to keep his house which is not only one of my childhood homes but also was still his workshop. About a month or so before he died, he had done a small upholstery project. His hands had expertly worked the fabric to expertly and lovingly re-cover the piece. The day of his funeral, my mom brought me to his house to pick up his tea kettle so I could brew Turkish tea for the guests after the burial. His tools he’d used on that project were still out where he had left them, all in a state of readiness as if he had only stepped away for a short break. I took a moment to feel the weight but also lightness of his presence there. It was like all the dust in the shop, swirling there gently. His perfume of smells greeted and comforted me, as they always had when I stepped into his house: a blend of his Turkish lemon cologne, the food he cooked that week, his homemade pastirma hanging to dry, a touch of wood varnish, a light floral soapy aroma. A family member called me and I sat down to take the call. They questioned me about what I was going to do with his things, his house, there was worry about who would take care of his sister… I was only half listening. I looked around his shop, and settled into the familiar feeling of peace and calm I always had experienced when I was in that house. And in that moment there wasn’t even a question of what I would do… in that moment, I realized the house was mine and I was going to live there.
Most of my days now are slightly easier, lighter then that first year after he passed. I‘ll be honest, I still slip into the darkness sometimes but slowly the better days are starting to outnumber the difficult ones. His workshop, one of his final gifts to me, is mine now where I have all the space I could possibly need for sewing, pottery, bookbinding, photography, all of it. I took a long awaited, long overdue trip to Turkey and it felt like meeting part of my father for the first time… and part of myself.
I won’t ever be able to understand everything; life and death still remain enigmas. None of us will be able to answer all of the questions which inevitably appear once a loved one dies, the questions you never even think about until they’re gone and it’s too late to ask. All we can do is try to find the life we’re meant to lead for ourselves. For me, that’s back to basics… back to using my hands. And remembering to listen to my heart.
Leave a comment