Furnishing Eternity: A Father, A Son, A Coffin, And A Measure Of Life By Akron Author David Giffels
The editors of the New York Times recently recommended a new book written by an Akron author.
“Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life” is a funny and melancholy new book by David Giffels.
It’s about his project to build his own coffin with help from his octogenarian father. We visited the workshop where it took place.
“So this is my dad’s workshop “ David Giffels waves to the large room with tools in every corner.
He’s a former Beacon Journal columnist and now a University of Akron Professor.
“It’s filled with a lot of tools I grew up with, some stuff that was my grandfather’s stuff from his workshop. A lot of stuff that I’ve used all through my life.
His father Thomas built the room inside a one story barn behind his house in Bath Township.
“There’re pieces of wood in here that I remember from when I was a little boy. Like you start to know, they have personalities, “ he laughs, “almost like pets.”
Giffels is well-versed in the punk and new wave music that came out of Akron when he was growing up so you might think building his own coffin was just some goth exercise.
But it’s actually more Midwestern - about building things yourself and reusing old parts like wood that you’ve saved for just right the right project.
The casket idea started as a running joke with David and his wife Gina, but then he turned to his father, a retired engineer.
“I just kind of looked at my dad and I’m like ‘you know what, you and I could build a casket.’ Because we built furniture and all kinds of projects of that sort all through our lives.
You and your dad?
“Yeah, my dad and I. And he’s always game for someone who wants do a project, he’s like ‘Let’s go.’ He lit up. He’s like “that’d be pretty neat; that’s something I haven’t done yet.”
Giffel’s mother wasn’t so sanguine when he explained he would write a book about the project.
“And first thing my mom looked at me with this wry, scolding gaze and she said ‘it better be funny on the first page.’ ”
But books, like real life, rarely go according to plan.
“I thought ‘well, this will go in a certain direction.’ And just as that was taking off my mother died unexpectedly. And then a year and three days later my best friend, who was my age, dies of cancer. And so this idea of writing about the topic of mortality in an intellectual way just completely took this sharp, hair-pin turn.”
Giffels and John Puglia, had been friends since high school and college, sharing a love for music and art and humor. They dreamed of going to New York and making it big.
“I think it’s an unusual friendship just for how close and how long-lasting it was.”
Once he got cancer were you talking to him about the casket project?
“No, I actually never told him about it. It was hard to bring that up with him.”
“I thought about that. About what would happen if he were involved, which he almost certainly would have been. If John and I were making a casket we would decorate the s*** out of it. We would put a window in the lid; or maybe a mirror; or one of those eye holes from a hotel room door. We would hand paint it. We would line the inside with free verse or band stickers. We would make it play music when the lid opened. We would make it a shrine to something, who knows what. We would work our way through a lot of bad ideas.”
Giffels and his father were knocked off kilter by the losses but continued the project, which then became a kind of therapy.
“Dad and I had roughed about a plan. We had thought about dimensions and hinge configurations and the kinds of wood we would use.
For some reason he kept reverting to cedar or white oak, specifically because of its resistance to rot.
‘Um Dad, “ I’d say, “What difference does it make if I’m not resistant to rot?’
He also, for some reason, was fixated on the question of whether the lid should have a lock. I wondered why.”
The two did finish the casket, which for now is standing upright, being used as a bookshelf.
“We got done with mine, “ says Giffels “and he goes ‘Well David, we made all the mistakes on yours and now I’m going to build mine the right way.”
And he did. In a fraction of the time.