The Last Summer of a Carpenter

The man’s feet had callouses from all the walking he had done. The man’s legs had scars from all the times a two-by-four had crashed against them. The man’s hands had endured splinters. Though large, they were tender when he picked up his baby boy and held him close, whispering to the boy how special he was. The man’s arms had muscles acquired from a life time of work, and more work. The man’s beard spiraled out onto his chest. The man’s lips easily folded into a smile but said little. Only his dark eyes and the wrinkles on his brow revealed the concern and worry he had carried through the years. His long dark brown hair fell onto his shoulders with a small bald spot capped on the top of his head. This was a man who worked long hours to keep wife and son free from the wolves.

His shop on the side of a dusty road was simply supplied with the needs of his trade. There were no extras. If he needed, he made do. His neighbors brought their woodwork requests to him, and he delivered them well-made yokes for their oxen and ploughs. He was the man they came to whenever any public woodworking was needed. He carved the wood as well. So many of the locals had tables with the history of the village carved into their legs.

When his son was ready to apprentice, the boy came into the shop to work with the man he called Dad. The man showed his son how to turn a piece of wood on a lathe to make a perfect leg. He showed the boy how not to hit his finger when he drove a nail into the wood. He taught his son how to pick and choose just the right wood for the shop. How to watch out for bad splotches in the texture of the grain. How to speak to the wood so that the wood would not be afraid when his ax felled a tree.

The man knew his son had expressed dreams of other work. The man wanted a happy son so he agreed, that when the time came, the boy would pursue his dream. First he urged the boy to learn a trade. Then he would always have something to fall back on. Besides the man found great pleasure working with his son at his side. Showing him the secrets of his trade. Revealing the mysteries of the wood. Gently caressing the love out of the wood so that it would surrender to his mastery. And the boy learned well. He had a great teacher.

The man was at least thirty years older than his young wife. He married her when she had a great need for a husband. He made sure she had all the comforts of home. She was a good wife, making his house a home filled with good food, laughter and the joy of a good home. Everybody in the village said, “What a great match these two made.”

As the end of his years approached, the man made sure that his wife was provided for. He knew his son would go off and pursue his dreams. And the couple loved the dream the boy had. Not to pursue that dream would be such a something they could never allow.

On the waning days of that final summer, the man closed up shop early and walked the hills around his home. By this time, his long hair had grayed but still it was thick. He reflected on his years that had passed through his life. Of his time watching over his wife as she grew fat with child. Of his time on the road, and in exile. Of his days in the shop, giving extra special care to the woodwork he delivered to those who needed his trade. Of his time at his hearth, his wife and his son at his side, passing on the stories of those who came before him. So that his son would always have pride in who he was and treasure his people’s past. Though they were poor, they sprang from greatness.

As he walked, he came upon a spring he loved. He sat down beside it and dipped his hand into the water. The water reflected an old man, staring back at him. How did he become an old man? he wondered. Why only yesterday he was just a boy, chasing the birds through these very fields. He dropped off to sleep. The afternoon slipped into evening. The skies were sprinkled with thousands of stars.

A woman and a man came to look for him. They found the man by the side of that spring he had loved all his life. He opened his eyes one final time. His last words, “Mary, Jesus.” Then the angels carried him away.

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