This account has been transcribed Dec. 22th, 2019 from my sketchbook journal of 1978.
I came down from Pennsylvania in the pick-up and arrive around nine in the morning. Lem was feeling low; been sick a week. I found him in the shop. He was agitated. He was looking at a full-size eagle he was carving planted on a large chopping block in the center of the room. The block was huge and heavy. The eagle seemed too big for a man in his poor condition to be carving.
“Give up,” he said abruptly on my entering the room. “I’m too old to be doing a full-size eagle and I know it. Been fooling around though.”
He hands me a crude feather he’d carved with glue caked on one side where he’d attempted to glued it to see how it’d look, only to tear it off in disgust.
I didn’t know what to say. I just turned the feather over and over in my hand waiting for the right thing to say to pop into my mind. We wandered away from the conversation for a while and then he comes back to the subject of the eagle.
“My only reason for finishing it is so Ida (his daughter) can have something.”
I take that to mean he wants to do a really fine piece and sell it so Ida can have something to live on when he’s gone. Lem tells me he has had a premonition he would not see his 82nd birthday on Sept. 19th. (He lived for another five years.) He said that and I winced. The eagle came to mind. It just did not seem right that that eagle would go unfinished, so I suggested Lem paint it as a ‘smoothy’ without raised wings and forget trying to detail every feather as he wanted to do.
“No, no, no,” complained Lem. “I can’t do that. Eagles, of all birds, got to have them big wings a-sticking out there.”
So, I said, “Well instead of inserting each feather individually, why not make one big insert of the whole wing out of this two-inch board stock?” I held up a plank I found leaning against a wall.
“Can’t,” he said, “too much work for me.”
“OK, Lem,” I replied, and began thinking about the situation. I am beginning to see that if the eagle is to be done, I’m going to have to help him with these wings, and suggest that to him. He mulls it over in his mind and after a while agrees.
We went in the house for coffee and sat down at the kitchen table. Ida had the kettle ready on the stove. Ida brings coffee to the table. Lem in one gulp downs his coffee before Ida and I could even finish adding sugar and milk to ours. He gets up and ambles off to his easy chair in the adjoining room and plops down.
Out of the blue Lem says, “Yes sir, ain’t no man been so lucky as I’ve been to have had a good woman in my life. I had the greatest wife a man could ask for and I don’t believe there is another daughter as fine as mine.”
Adjusting his hat which he wears inside and out of the house, he stares off out the front window at some kids heading for the Jenkin’s Creek store.
Ida says, “Why thank you honey. I wish I could say the same myself.”
We all howled with laughter.
Lem’s a cripple and a burdensome and he knows it, yet in spite of the work he is for Ida, Ida attends to him lovingly and constantly.
I go out to the shop to work on the wings while Lem rests in his chair and Ida watches the morning soap operas. When she’s watching the soaps, you learn to let her be.
Out in the shop, I faced the confusion of the place; nothing had a place. Things were everywhere and only Lem knew where. Steve Ward had died two years earlier. His trusty hatchet was stuck in his chopping block as if he’d be back shortly.
“Steve,” I said to the ethers, feeling it was appropriate. “I need you help.”
Of course, I was talking to his spirit. I felt certain he could hear me. In that way we began working together. I pulled Steve’s hatchet from the chopping block and the wings took shape. It was as sharp as a razor. I was amazed how fast it could shape a form. I worked the rest of the day and after supper into the night, until 11:30 p.m.
In the night, outside in the woods and marsh behind the Ward shop, owls hooted, a distant dog barked, a Downnecker in his hot rod roared in the distance and mosquitos buzzed at the window. To these sounds the chopping hatchet supplied the beat. There was a thrill about being in that shop, helping out ole Lem. This is how it’s supposed to be; student helping the Master. What a gift!
The next day I arrived to find Lem already at work in the shop. It was just another day, but he was happy.