Sunday, January 24, 2010

In Memoriam: Slaveyko Z. Miranov (1948-2009), Master Craftsman, Bookcase Maker, Friend

Farewell to a Friend

On December 12, 2009, Slaveyko Z. Miranov died in his wood shop in Hyde Park, doing the work he had done for decades. Slaveyko was a kind and loving man, a good friend, father, son, and husband. He was the local bookcase maker, whose skill was known throughout the city of Chicago, and beyond. I first got to know Slaveyko some years ago, when I first came to Chicago. I asked him to help me with a few little woodworking projects, which weren't usually part of his business, but he kindly offered to help, for little cost. In the years to come, he replaced the bases of my dining room chairs and fixed some damaged wooden toys that belonged to my children, but with such care and detail that you knew he was not just a professional, but a real master craftsman with years of experience.

The photo above is of Slaveyko, though it must be at least 20 years old. The Slaveyko I knew had salt-and-pepper hair, though more toward "salt" in recent years; he had a deep, deliberate, and at times raspy voice, which emoted the sensitivity of a kindly bearish uncle. He had great big hands, marked by hard work at a workman's bench. And he wore horn-rimmed glasses from Soviet Era Europe, which magnified his soft, yet intense eyes.

I had been at a party a few months back, sometime in January, when someone brought up Slaveyko in a conversation. "You know he died, right?" said the other person. "What!?" I responded incredulously. "Yeah--he was in his shop with his son." I heard the story and was deeply grieved by this news. Not because I thought we'd just lost the nice Bulgarian book-case maker in the neighborhood. No. It was because over the years I'd found a charming and heartwarming man in Slaveyko, a man who enjoyed sharing good conversation, waving to me on the street, or sending great big smiles to my kids; a friend.

Not too long after I discovered this, I saw Slaveyko's wife and son standing outside of their building. I went over to them and spoke to them, and found out that in the coming week there would be a Memorial Service for Slaveyko. I departed from them with my condolences and walked on into the drizzling evening.

When the day came, the service was held in Bond Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago. I walked over to the morning service, which was to be held at 10AM. Besides the family, I was one of the first visitors to show up. I went in and greeted the family, then went up to the front of the chapel and sat by myself. The sound system was on, and the sounds of a lugubrious priest and choir were bellowing the incantations of a solemn Bulgarian Orthodox mass. It saddened me more, listening to this, by myself in the softly lit chapel, alone and thinking about my dear old friend. Like the infamously short verse of John 11:35, I felt the quiet, steady rains, the low lights, the baritone priest, and the solemn reflection of my old friend wash over me.

When the service began, we learned more of our friend. A Lutheran minister presided and spoke of Slaveyko at various points of the service. The Order of Service included...

Reading of the Obituary
(by Pastor Michael Steinke)
Song: Atlas-Spi svoia sun (Sleep Well)
(by Ventzislav Marinov, Dr. Samuel
Refetoff, and Aaron Ginsberg)
Remarks (from Letters and Guests)
Closing Song: Warren Zevon-Keep Me in Your Heart

The biography of Slaveyko, as conveyed in his obituary, and which was read, follows...

"Slaveyko Marinov...was born on July 14, 1948, in Nedan, Bulgaria to Zlatyu and Jivka Atanassov. Slaveyko graduated from a vocational high schoo in Russe, Bulgaria, having been trained as a cabinetmaker. Following his two years of service in the Bulgarian Army he returned to Nedan and met and married the love of his life, Veselka Petrova. Together they moved to Pavlikeni, Bulgaria, where they built a house and raised their children Jenny and Ventzislav. In 1993 Slaveyko, Veselka, and Ventzislav immigrated to the United States and settled in Chicago, Illinois. He worked as a cabinetmaker and in 2002 started his own business, Bookcases by Slaveyko. He was a loving and devoted husband, father, and grandfather, an eternal optimist, and had a wonderful sense of humor. He will be sadly missed."

Different people spoke, including his son, a friend of the son, an old Bulgarian friend, former employees of his wood shop, and myself. My reflections, which I hadn't prepared, were (roughly) these...

"I must admit, I have a confession to make today: I never bought a book-case from Slaveyko...but this never stopped me from getting to know Slaveyko, my friend. He was a great man, with a warm heart and a sense of humor. And now that I reflect upon it, we had more in common that I realized. He was an immigrant, like my father and grandparents; and my grandfather was a carpenter and wood craftsman like Slaveyko. Perhaps that is why he and I often joked or got into discussions, either in his shop or on the street. Not long ago, around the time of the presidential election, I stopped by his shop. It was cold out, and I was running late for a meeting, but I had to ask him something about a wood project. We got into politics, somehow. He had a big Obama sticker on his little car. And he started talking about how communism in his country was misunderstood by Americans, and that it wasn't as bad as people thought. "You didn't have homeless people like here!" he would declare. I had to go, but somehow, I ended up staying for half-an-hour more! I was late to that meeting, but today I am glad; glad, because I got to spend that much more time with my friend."

After the service, we all left the chapel. I slipped out into the cold embrace of a wet January morning. I walked through the streets by myself, casting my eyes at the puddles and sound of raindrops. I went through an alley and came upon Slaveyko's old shop. I went by it again, and looked at the place. "Bookcases by Slaveyko." I had learned at the Memorial Service that Slaveyko's dad had been here already, and had brought his son to the US in 1993; but the dad had died not long after, of a heart attack. He too was in his 60s at the time. I felt sad about all this, as I walked on through the alley. In a few minutes, I'd be in the home of the family's friends, sharing stories and enjoying antipasti, quiche, and fresh strawberries. But for now, I could only think about and reflect on the legacy of this good man by myself. And be grateful that I'd known such a great and kind human being.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written. This brought tears to my eyes...