Columns | Kane County Chronicle

Holinger: We ‘only connect’ a new branch to the family

About a month ago, around our North Woods cabin, my daughter Molly collected birch branches for her wedding.

“Moll?” I asked, “What are you going to do with them?”

“Make birch branches.”

“Make birch branches out of birch branches?”

“Seven-and-a-half-inch birch branches. No more, no less. Like Iago’s pound of flesh.”

Well, she may not have said exactly that.

“What for?”

“To line flower vases.”

I tried cutting them with the only saw available in our cabin’s furnace room, a rusty crosscut saw as useful as a hummingbird feather, so I asked my wife Tia when in town to pick up a small, sharp saw. She bought one that could have been Paul Bunyan’s pocketknife. Perfect.

Seeing the new saw, Molly asked, “Want to work together?” inferring I shouldn’t cut the branches without her advice and consent. While she measured the requisite lengths outside, I worked on the furnace room’s workbench cutting perfect pieces I gave to her when she brought in the next bunch.

I had two more limbs cut when she returned holding four or five sawn branches.

“Dad, could you shave off these bottoms?”

“Of those perfectly cut ends?”

“Uh-huh. And these knobs need cutting.”

“Good thing you caught those or you’d have knobby-kneed branches. Just asking, why don’t you want the knobs?”

“They’d get in the way when the branches line up.”

I went back to perfecting more perfect branches.

What do we learn from this story? Molly’s tenacity for perfectionism? In a way, yes; a pyramid of sawdust on the floor endorses that interpretation.

Or do we learn through her choice of tree, with birchbark’s mystical radiance, something about her? A single birch, its branches spread at shoulder height, seen from a distance might be mistaken for a bride, glowing in her white wedding dress.

Or does the story portend the gift of wanting to get things right for others:

• Her friends: Supporting them, especially when they do things Molly would only do if threatened with the prospect that she could no longer drink Hoolong Blueberry Samurai Choconut chai tea.

• Her brother: Wrapping in Christmas green and red the one tech device he has not yet realized he wants.

• Her parents: Calling each day on the landline, and, if they fail to pick up because they are too slow getting out of the fridge, calling their cellphones and asking, “Where is everyone?”

• Her new husband: Keeping mum no matter how many boxes of Cheez-Its compound weekly in the kitchen pantry.

Such perfectionism is thoughtfulness, and we, her recipients, love her for it.

In E.M. Forster’s novel “Howard’s End,” a character famously says, “Only connect! ... and human love will be seen at its height.” When our new son-in-law, PJ, came into Molly’s life, Tia and I instantly felt connected.

Connected by his wit beating me to every punchline, his quip leaving his holster and firing before my cleverness clears leather; his kindness helping his parents-in-law when computer traumatized or unplugged (in every sense of the word); his knowledge of practically everything, from a Wankel engine with a triangular rotor that orbits in epitrochoidal chamber to Wittgenstein’s Logisch-Philosophische Abhandlung (whatever that means).

On the last page of “Ratner’s Star,” novelist Don Delillo writes: “Fun is the only way to survive. A marriage is doomed without it. You have to renew, renew, renew.”

For PJ and Molly, an ever-renewing renaissance of fun and love – that is what I wish for their new life together.

And, come to think of it, for all of us.

• Rick Holinger holds a Ph.D. in creative writing from UIC. His work has been accepted for publication in Chicago Quarterly Review, Chautauqua and elsewhere. His poetry book, “North of Crivitz,” and essay collection, “Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences,” are available at local bookstores, Amazon or Contact him at