My father just celebrated his 80th birthday. He spent a long time in the Navy. 32 years brought him from an enlisted man to a lieutenant commander. This time took him away from his small town farm life in beautiful but limiting northern Wisconsin and allowed him to live in Europe, see Asia and South America - and well- become cosmopolitan.
I spent a measly 3 years in Germany. It shaped my life so much that 10 years later I still talk about it all the time. Similarly, my father’s time in the Navy frames how he relates to the world. Finding a gift for this man that I can make and will relate to him is always difficult.
To celebrate his birthday, my family and I gave him two hand made objects- the first a neon portrait of the Ranger, the aircraft carrier he served on made by my friend Matt’s neon workshop.
For the second gift, I was able to get a yard of the ribbon from each of the medals that dad earned during his career. I sewed them in correct order parallel to each other on a sheet of muslin. Were I to do this again I would have used dark cloth that would have not been so visible in the spots where my sewing wasn’t as good as I’d like.
The panel became the bar code of my father’s career, as each ribbon has a specific meaning: World war two victory, Vietnam, UN involvement, and UN presidential Citation, Korean war presidential citation. For me, there is nothing like handling each commendation embodied in a codified silk moiré stripe.
The abstraction from his ribbons into large horizontal stripes is pretty extreme. As Dad unwrapped this gift, for the first 30 seconds he was looking at this with an expression that said “why is my family giving me a bunch of stripes?” Then he said, “Those are service ribbons” with a little crack in his voice.
It was framed beautifully by the fancy and worth it Mad Matter.