Stove by
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Take a wooden orange crate.  Add a couple of wooden slats inside to hold a thin square of wood for a rack.  Attach another piece of wood with a hinge over the long open side for the door.  Add a piece of wood for a lip on the short side and one where the door closes.  A latch for the hinged door.  A bent nail on the lip for a clock.  Bent wire hangers for burners on one end.  Scavenge the dump for real oven knobs.  Paint white.  Wrap for Christmas.

You never like that stove.  You don’t know what it meant.

Rush down on Christmas morning with six-year old glee, hoping for a train set. Tear off the paper on the big present, and say, “Oh.  A stove.” Carry on, oblivious.  You will have to be shown how clever it is by your mother sometime later, but you are not really interested.  You never like that stove. You don’t know what it meant for your mechanically-challenged father to create it for you, or how you wounded him.

Spend years in self-centered childhood and adolescent rejection of parents. Add physical and emotional separation. Then bridge the gaps piece by piece.  Create adult bonds of communication, spend time together, and learn tolerance.  Finally, assemble understanding of the love that was always there.


Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Fascinating that your dad built you a play stove (Fisher Price charges a great sum of money for these and kids love them) for Christmas one year, Khati and you still have the plans.

    It clearly wasn’t what you wanted, and you have turned the prompt on its head by “reassembling” the feelings of that time, and what telling us in your closing line, about what it took to put the feelings of understanding and love back together. Heartfelt and meaningful.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Actually, those are not the old plans—I just drew what I (still amazingly vividly)recalled and it was kind of therapeutic to imagine the process that went into making the stove—I can appreciate the effort now. I’m sorry for such a disconnect, but sometimes that’s just the way life is. My sisters and I had an extended play area for dolls, and our games “playing house” often ended up with me being written out of the story via a car crash. I was on a different track. But reconciliation is possible.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    This is a beautiful story, Khati, because obviously you and your parents were building more than a stove. We assembled a doll house for our daughters. It wasn’t as fancy as others and my husband put up wallpaper and lights while I scoured stores for furniture. They liked it well enough, but my grandkids loved it more. Gave it away to a great niece when we moved, so you never know.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thanks Laurie. So glad you have found ways to pass on the doll house—my sister has a partially-finished one, and a new granddaughter I’m sure she would love to give it to, which you can never count on. There is such joy in finding a good home for these things.

  3. Wonderful, poignant story Khati!
    You were a child so your inability to feign delight over the unwanted gift is understandable and excusable, and with maturity came your acknowledgment of the love that stove represented.

    As an adult who should have had the emotional intelligence to know better, I once hurt my own child. I was dismissive of a gift he made me of a pop-up book. Only later did I realize the thought he had given it, and the great pains he took to construct it.

    I was so very sorry I hope he forgave me but I know he didn’t forget.

  4. Jeff Gerken says:

    Great story with a happy ending.

  5. Marian says:

    Aw, how real this is, Khati, and that stove is awesome, even though your child self didn’t appreciate it at the time. Seems like everyone eventually came to comfortable terms with the gift. It is sweet to consider that your dad put in all that effort rather than simply telling you they couldn’t afford a train.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, it was incredibly sweet and heartfelt (and cheaper too—I had no clue about those things), which I appreciate so much now. Sometime in adolescence I had the presence of mind to realize that my stupid parents were not really at fault for anything, and there was little they could do to change my disaffection with them and the world—and so I should never expect better from any child of mine either. Fortunately my dogs are more forgiving. And I grew up eventually.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    What a poignant story, Khati. And the relationship between the literal meaning of the assumbly (ho hum) and its emtional impact (huge, you now realize) is beautifully, and sadly, told.

    And, indeed, this story hits close to my (emotional) home, too, as I regret having missed so many signals from my own parents of their love for me. But you have expressed this so much better than I could have. (Plus, my father never built stuff.)

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I kind of think this is a common family story, of misunderstandings and maybe rapprochement, in the process of becoming adult. Which of course is not a status we all reach literally or figuratively. One of the things I have heard mentioned as important for anyone to tell loved ones before it is too late, is that you forgive them. The longer I live, the more I get it.

  7. Suzy says:

    Khati, this is a beautiful and touching story. Writing it in the present tense is very powerful here! When you wanted a train set and got a stove, you were understandably disappointed. You were too young to recognize what a labor of love it had been. Thanks for recreating the plans to show us how he did it, that was lovely (and you are a good artist!).

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thanks Suzy. It was a bit wrenching to write it, but therapeutic too. Funny what these prompts evoke, but that is the point of retrospection—you never know what treasure or trauma (or both) you will unearth.

  8. I loved this! Great instructions on how to close the unbridgeable gap between children and parents, including a wise dose of compassion. Somehow we all turned out okay, but it was hard work, and the instructions weren’t all that easy to follow. Brava, Khati!

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