“There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell for a little cheaper; and the people who consider price only are this man’s lawful prey.”
– JOHN RUSKIN, 1819-1900
Last December my father, late into his 91st year, died in his sleep. He was a WWII veteran, and a military detail participated in his funeral. The flag which draped his coffin was presented to my mother who, later that evening, gave it to me, the eldest of their children. Thus began my search for a suitable flag case. Military flag cases are isosceles right triangular boxes with a glass front made to accommodate a properly folded 5 foot by 9½ foot American flag.
Before my internet search I had scant idea of the sheer number of companies producing flag cases. Google listed page after page after page. Prices ranged from under $40 to a little over $100. I studied the photographs on website after website. Nothing took my breath away. In frustration I typed in “most beautiful flag cases” and part way down the opening page of listings I read, “I believe my flag cases represent the ultimate in quality and craftsmanship.” I went to that website – www.beautifulwoodworks.com – and my breath was taken away. Extreme high quality has that effect on me. Beautiful Woodworks is a one man band. That man, Dale Lenz, who hand crafts his cases incorporating joinery details, achieving craftsmanship levels and using finishes not available from other producers.
I chose cherry with black walnut splines and a “grand piano” finish. In contrast to other producers, most of whom promise speedy or even overnight delivery, Dale usually has a one to two month lead time. I waited three months and paid over $400. After my visit to Dale’s web site and after my phone conversation with him, I had rather high expectations. After unpacking the case I saw that my expectations had been exceeded. So, this is how I feel about spending ten times more than I could have: the $40 cases were overpriced and the $400 plus case was a fair bargain.
Spending the first twelve years of my education in Catholic school, I have more than a casual familiarity with relics. A bone or a locket of hair from a saint is believed to have powers to protect or to heal or to make one holier. Belief in, and reverence for, relics and their close relatives – talismans – are found in most religions and cultures. A claw of a bear, a horn of a rhino or a feather of an eagle were thought to imbue the possessor with the power of that creature. For myself, I never put much stock in such things. I regarded relics and talismans as interesting superstitions.
But now, later in life, as I finally become more introspective, I have begun to realize that I do, in fact, have my own relics and talismans. The Montblanc fountain pen I’ve had for over thirty years and still regularly use, the stainless steel Rolex I purchased when I began timber framing twenty five years ago and still wear daily, The Henry Yellowboy .22 rifle I gifted myself on my last birthday – these high quality pieces function for me as relics and talismans have functioned for others. I have come to realize that my desire for quality is rooted not so much in the rational as it is in the emotional. When I look at this flag case I will remember the man who earned that flag as well as my love and devotion, but I will also think of the man who created such an extreme quality case to house that flag. I will be hoping that something from each of them transfers to me.
– Tony Zaya