Synopsis: A battered old cabinet made generations ago sparks Amy Cyphers to delve into her family’s history.
Not long ago, I was watching my father, Michael Eubanks, restore an old, battered cabinet. Maybe it’s a byproduct of growing up in a woodworking family, but I believe one can tell when a piece of furniture has been made with love. And this cabinet? I knew it was special. As I watched my father work, I wanted to know more.
As it turns out, the cabinet was a long-forgotten family heirloom that had sat in a shed for decades. As my father’s hands slowly uncovered the beauty of the piece, I looked into the story behind it. I’d always found genealogy interesting but never had the time to dive deeply into my family history. But this broken, battered, and beautiful cabinet sent me on a journey of discovery.
My great-great grandfather, William Glenn, created the quartersawn oak cabinet 119 years ago. Like my father, William was a cabinetmaker. But he didn’t use the modern tools of today. The hand tools he used required precision, muscle, and sweat over the many hours it took to build the piece.
William grew up in Holton, Kansas, the fifth of six children. Of course, there were no tablets or televisions at the time, so William spent his childhood playing and working outdoors. Eventually he married, had five children, and, after years of farming, made a career change to become a carpenter and homebuilder.
My dad, Michael Eubanks—son of Paul Eubanks, grandson of Alice Glenn, great-grandson of William Glenn—was born in the same small Kansas town, with the same heart for wood grain and sawdust and the same knack for working with his hands. He met and married my mother, Brenda Cooper, and settled in the town of his birth, where he would raise me and my three siblings, and where I now raise my own three children. At age 22, Mike took a risk and quit farming to become a full-time cabinetmaker. He opened Eubanks Custom Woodworks in the heart of Holton. He has been in business for 40 years, and is known for the high-quality cabinets and furniture he makes. Renowned sculptor and furniture maker the late Wendell Castle, another Holton native, used to stop by sometimes to see what my dad was up to.
Mike taught all four of his kids woodworking. Now, he teaches his grandchildren—William’s great-great-great grandchildren—to embrace our family’s proud woodworking tradition.
Recently, my daughter Charlotte made a bedside table with the help of her grandpa. They worked long hours to form the rough walnut, taken from the beams of an old mill in Holton. Like the cabinet, Charlotte’s table will one day be an heirloom she can pass down to her family. As she created the details of her table, her young fingers curled around the handle of the same Stanley 45 combination plane that her great-great-great grandfather had used. Charlotte’s craftsmanship won her the grand-champion prize at the 4-H County Fair. I know William was looking down from heaven as she was awarded the ribbon for her hard work, just as proud as my dad and I were.
And what happened to the old cabinet William made all those years ago? My dad carefully finished it and gave it a place of honor in his home. Resurrected from the shed, it brings joy and beauty to a new generation. The cabinet had a story to tell, and now, thanks to my dad, its tale will have many new chapters.
Amy Cyphers is a photographer and writer in Holton, Kan. To share your woodworking story, email it to us at [email protected]
Photos: Amy Cyphers
From Fine Woodworking #279