The wooden blocks lay stacked in the dark of the toy-maker’s basement. It was a dreary place, full of dust and spiders and nibbling rats, but the blocks hardly noticed, being chock full of that sublime excitement only a wooden block can be full of. Every time the old man would begin a new toy he would fling open the door, golden light would pour into the basement and the blocks would get a breathtaking glimpse of the glorious things their brothers and sisters had become: Toy boats and airplanes, dolls and soldiers that stood erect as pine trees, elephants, castles, cars and baseball bats. They hummed with excitement, were filled with happiness and imagined for themselves what they would become. The old man would pick up a block from the top of the pile and hold it in his wonderfully rough, wrinkled and overwhelmingly large hands. Hickory, ash, pine; he never distinguished, just picked up the first block his fingertips brushed and went back to the workshop, always saying: “I’ll be back for the rest of you, never fear. Stay strong, stay happy; remember you once were trees.” And the blocks would shiver with happiness and love for the old man; they would become silent, settling back to thinking of what they were to become.
One day in winter, when the blocks huddled together for warmth, the old man walked down into the basement and picked up a block of wood. The block, an old piece of beech-wood, nearly cried out with joy, for he had waited in the basement for more years than most. The dust he had collected never did frighten him; he knew the toy maker would come for him, but the anticipation of being chosen only ever grows in a wooden block, and he was nearly bursting with excitement. All the time in the dark he had whispered, “A toy-sword! A toy-sword!” to himself, wanting to be one more than anything else in the world. A sword was noble, a sword was strong and fearless, a toy sword would teach children to be brave and valiant and…oh, how he was excited! The old man brought him into the dazzling light and set him down onto a table full of sawdust and shavings. The block positively quivered with anticipation. The old man chuckled.
“Well, you’re happy to be here, aren’t you my child?” he said, rubbing his chin under his beard and smiling lovingly at the block. “Are you ready?”
The block didn’t know what to say. All his life he had waited for this moment, and it was too wonderful, altogether too bright and peaceful for him to speak with any sort of sense. The old man hummed quietly to himself and picked up a whittling knife. But just before he cut into wood the block cried out, “Toy Sword!” The old man stopped humming.
“You want to be a toy sword?”
“Are you sure?”
The old man gave a small sigh, put down his knife, got up, picked up a small device and began shaving layers off the block, slowly making him long and thin.
The process took two days, in which the block felt he was the happiest he could ever possibly be. He was cut, shaped, sanded, painted and given a glossy coat, a price tag and a place on the shelf that circled around the shop, high in the air with his old friends. The sword, for he truly was one now, glowed with pride and contentment, and whenever the door to the basement was opened he would try to shine his brightest for the others. Then he was sold.
He was bought as a Christmas gift for a small child; a boy who played with him every day of the week. He was very happy, until the boy outgrew him and he was left in a closet as dark and dusty as the basement.
The next block the old man picked up was a solid hickory block that had been pressed against the wall of the basement. The other blocks were filled with longing as they watched him being carried up, and after the old man called on them to “never fear”, and closed the door – reducing that marvelous, golden light to a sliver under the door – they murmured to themselves in anticipation.
The block almost burst into tears when he first surveyed the toy-maker’s shop. It was so beautiful! After years in the dark, the very air of the shopped seemed bathed in honey; everything radiated, everything hummed with joy. Wise, old wooden elephants winked at him kindly, airplanes sang and spun slowly on their strings, and a bright-painted ball rocked back and forth in greeting. The old man was whistling a little tune to himself as he selected instruments and tools from the shelves, a melody that cheered the little block to no end. So cheered, in fact, that he barely noticed the man setting him down onto the table, measuring him and making little marks with a pencil. It wasn’t until the man’s hand picked up a small, silver saw that the block remembered his wish, to be a toy boat.
So he cried it out, staying the toymaker’s hand.
The old man stopped whistling.
“What did you say, my child?”
“Make me a toy boat, please.” Oh yes, a toy boat! Toy boat’s were more than just ordinary toys. They could become flying boats, they could float in bathtubs or sail along the waves of sheets and blankets at night. A child would love him as a toy boat, without a shadow of doubt.