A Question For Emma
The Spectator
founded 2004 by ron cruger
A place for intelligent writers
A place for intelligent readers
Your comments on this column are welcome. E-mail John at
by John Nippolt
2019 Spectator Ron - The Spectator All Rights Reserved
      A Sunday morning ritual had me on the road to town early, making sure I will reach the store before her copy of the New York Times is sold to somebody else. Right where it's supposed to be, my vacant parking space waited for me in front of the market. I'm pretty lucky when it comes to finding a parking place even when the population here doubles. Returning islanders who only live here for the summer months combined with the summer island population invasion make the quest for a parking space difficult, even at the store.
      The Sunday papers are stacked in a shopping cart just inside the door to the right by the flower stand. No sooner was I through the door, one of my cashier friends at her checking counter pointed me out to a young man. I didn't hear what they were talking about, but the he walked straight over to me and politely asked, "Do you carve wood? Are you a wood carver?"
      Let's not forget that it's Sunday, and on this particular Sunday I was going to rest. I'd been doing some framing and helping to finish a roof for the past month and I was sore; I needed to relax and do nothing. In fact, the only thing on my mind at this time was the delicious breakfast being prepared for me at home.
      A quick study of the twenty-something year old revealed a deep concern in his eyes that told me what he was about to ask me was very important to him and it demanded true consideration. I decided to hear him out and replied easily, "I mess with it; what's on your mind?"
      He explained that he wanted a piece of wood with a carved message, perhaps the size of a small cutting board. I told him a small cutting board could be a variety of widths, heights, and thicknesses, so I honed in on his imagery and suggested, "How about something the size of a sheet of paper, and maybe close to an inch thick?"
      He responded enthusiastically. as if I had already agreed to do it, "Yes that would be perfect."
Then he dropped the bombshell. "I need it tonight or at the latest, tomorrow morning." My gawk of exasperation didn't go unnoticed and he blurted out, "Well, preferably by tonight, but if that's not enough time, morning would probably work out…" His voice got small and I watched disappointment throw a shadow over his bright eyes. Man, like I said earlier, it was Sunday and carving something on this short notice no matter what the purpose or who it's for, doesn't fly with me. Still, I relented and asked him, "What's the message?"
      The light returned to his eyes as he whispered, "Emma, will you marry me?"
      Of course, I'm in. "Give me your phone number." I tell him, "I'll call you when it's finished. I'm gonna charge you $25 bucks an hour. You can google my name if you want references, John Nippolt. Try it with Triple Crown of Surfing awards."
      I got home and shared my now delightful story about the guy I met in the market who wants to take his girlfriend for a walk and "discover" the piece of wood with his question carved in it. Candace protects me in every way possible, and was a bit upset that I've taken this on when I was supposed to take the day off.
I remind her, "This is the stuff of life, honey. The kind of event my life has been so full of, some instances come along that can't be passed by because they are rare and good." Candace understands and knows I feed off these types of opportunities.
      I wasn't going to carve a heart or any heart related designs. Teaching middle school and high school art gave me my fill of such images, although I still admire a well done sketch, drawing, painting or representation of the real thing: the aorta. No, I had something different in mind. A piece of wood I'd been carrying around for more than 40 years.
      It had live edges on each side, its rough surfaced face was well silvered now. I started sanding that decades old wood surface, recognizing the golden sawdust spilling from it immediately. This was a rare piece of curly Hawaiian Gold wood. I had second thoughts about using that piece of wood for them after I saw how remarkable it was and in that same moment I realized this was what I had been saving it for…this perfectly beautiful little piece of wood with its golden question would be theirs forever.
      I called him late that afternoon and told him it was finished. I gave him directions to my home and told him he could come and get it. He beamed at the simple carving and was completely taken by the extraordinary beauty of the wood.
      I explained why I wouldn't make a heart design and he told me she isn't into hearts; my kind of girl. I made him promise to call me when he got his answer to let me in on it. His voicemail to me the next day, "We appreciate this so much, Emma loves it. Thank you for being a part of our happiness, I am over the moon with the whole experience. Emma said, yes!"
      This morning I walked into the market, grabbed the paper and headed to my friend's check-out counter. Her always smiling face looked up from her register, "I want to hear all about it, tell me what happened!"… "Well, I did the carving for him."
      I ended my story and showed her a photo of the finished carving. I played the young man's voicemail for her, the famous smile spreading as she listened. She thanked me for the charming tale and complimented me for the wonderful island memory I helped create for those two. She reminded me what a nice experience it must be for visitors to get a taste of what we here on San Juan Island strive for. Serendipity Sunday.