There’s a black spot in the middle of the dining room floor.

It stays.

The burn mark embedded in the number 2 common oak hardwood floor is part of family lore now.  It’s not a dramatic story; the details don’t really warm the heart.  

Still, the memories have been woven into our history now.  

We’re keeping the history.  And the memories.

It was close to fifteen years ago that the Lovely Lady’s mom said goodbye to her sweetie as she rode away with her sister for a women’s meeting early one morning.

Her sweetie, the white-haired man who taught me all he knew of operating a music store, sat at the table in the kitchen with a cup of instant coffee between his gnarled hands.  It was a morning like any other.  

Only it wasn’t.

A couple of hours later, my mother-in-law and her sister pulled back into the driveway, almost immediately noticing that smoke was wafting out around the front door.  My mother-in-law suffered with crippling rheumatoid arthritis, so her sister rushed into the house.  A moment later, she came out coughing and sputtering with my father-in-law in tow.

Always the frugal pair, my in-laws had a wood stove in the living room to supplement the central heating unit.  The stove put out enough heat to allow them to turn the thermostat down a few degrees and save a significant amount on their utility bills.

The old man had been tending the fire when an ember fell to the hardwood floor just beside the fire-resistant mat under the stove.  For some reason, instead of picking it up with the tongs, he simply allowed it to sit there and ignite the floor into flame.  When the Lovely Lady’s aunt burst in the front door, he was sitting in a chair right beside the fire, oblivious to the danger he was in.

I said it wasn’t a spectacular story.  I even said it wasn’t one to warm the heart.  It is certainly neither of those.

The little campfire on the floor was the beginning of a long goodbye for his family (myself included) and the man we loved. Within months, even though he lived a few more years, he was gone, locked in his own world—oblivious to ours.  

Today, we look at the black spot lying there and we always laugh as we recall the event.  Then a funny thing happens.  The room falls silent, each of us lost in memories.  

They are different for every one of us, I’m sure.  Fun.  Sad.  Happy.  Serious.  All of them momentarily bringing to life once again the character—the father—the grandfather.

I only bring up the burned spot because we’re in the process of refinishing the old hardwood floor.  Now would be the time to sand down that black stain in the middle of the expanse of oak.  My brother-in-law asked me the other day about it.  I told him the same thing I wrote at the beginning of this little essay.

It stays.

I want to remember the character who was my father-in-law.  But somehow, the longer I write, the more I realize there is something else about that floor that reminds me more of who he was than the black mark marring it.

Number two common oak.  It’s not a choice most folks would make for their living/dining room floor.  

Clear oak is what you want.  With straight, even grain in long boards several feet in length, the consistency of color and appearance is superior.  Each piece looks like the one next to it and takes the stain and finish uniformly.

Number two common oak, on the other hand, comes in planks about two feet in length and in varying grains and colors, as well as having a few knot holes and even a worm hole or two.  Dark planks sit side by side with white ones.  You might find a few with clear, straight grain, but it’s more likely you’ll see the whirl of tight knots here and a filled hole over there.

Over hundreds of square feet, not one board is like another there.

The catalogs suggest you might want a number two common oak floor if you want the floor to demonstrate character.

Oh, this floor is filled with characters!

Somehow, in my mind’s eye, I see God laying the floor of His Church.

What a sight to behold!  It’s not, as some would have you believe, all of one color and consistency.  Not at all.

God’s Church—not a building, but a people—is full of character, and full of characters.  Exactly as He designed it to be, the colors and personalities as different as can be.  Idiosyncrasies are the rule rather than the exception.

What a beautiful sight!  The colors blend and complement each other, the grains and imperfections showing the grace and mercy of their Creator.

Side by side, interlocked together,  our strength and character evident to all, we work toward a common goal.  All of humankind should have the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful mosaic.

Side by side, interlocked together, we work toward a common goal. Click To Tweet 

The Savior Himself said it so clearly:  They’ll know you are my followers by your love for each other.  (John 13:35)

And yet, it doesn’t seem to be working like that, does it?  

Scraped and scuffed, with water spills hither and yon, the old floor doesn’t present such a beautiful picture to a world that looks on.

You know, the process I’m going through with the old floor in this house is one of the most violent and disturbing tasks I have done while remodeling.  The sander beats the old varnish off, whump, whump, whump, as I shove it back and forth across the floor, shaking the whole room.  Again and again, changing from the roughest, open grit to the fine, polishing surface, the old machine does violence to the wood beneath.

It seems as if the process would destroy any beauty—even any usefulness remaining in the old wood.  

And yet, the day will come when the new stain is applied and then the new finish, the liquid soothing away all memory of the hurt.  The floor will once again be made beautiful, its usefulness guaranteed for another generation or more.

I wonder if we complain overmuch at the touch of our Maker’s tools, the cleansing of the dirt and filth.  His heavy-handedness is only for our good, His short-lived discipline—for the long-term joy in His service.

Number two common.

I’m satisfied with the title.  I rather like some of the characters around me.  They don’t all look like me, don’t all talk like me, and certainly don’t all think like me.

It’s beautiful.  Even that big black spot over there, a reminder of former foolishness and loved ones, now absent.  




To all who mourn in Israel,
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
    festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
(Isaiah 61:3 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. All rights reserved.) 


The Almighty must have loved the common people; He made so many of them.
(attributed to Abraham Lincoln ~ U.S. President ~ 1809-1865)








© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

3 thoughts on “Characters

  1. Sweet story. Thank you. Remodeling. Floors. We bump into memories. You have some touching ones. God’s blessings on you, Paul, as you share with us. I like how you connect it with God’s people, His love, His plan. Our stories, all connected to the Father.

  2. Touching story of how those characters in our lives remain. How they are constant, and the memories of them still fresh when we take a moment or two to reflect. Maybe on a darkened portion of a wood floor. Maybe on a tiny wooden jewelry box that resembles a dresser. The items don’t matter, they just serve as a reminder for those we miss. For those we’d love to see again. And we will. We just have to wait.

    Thank you for such a sentimental story. You show us how every single thing we see is somehow tied into what matters. I appreciate that about you. Keep writing.

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