General Fiction posted August 18, 2019

This work has reached the exceptional level
Whittling down and finding peace.


by Loren .

Protected from the Alabama sun, I sat on the porch of my granddaddy's farm watching him whittle a hickory stick down to next to nothing. I was on the top stoop, he in a painted ladder-back chair, leaning forward into his work.

I was nine years-old and easily taken by the sun's glint off the blade as Granddaddy applied its honed edge to the twig. The twig, long dried by its winter's rest in the brambles of the wood pile next to the house, carried its own memories for me. Last fall, grandma and I collected it with hundreds of others from the nearby woods to be used as kindling to help heat our home.

But now, by the patient labor of my granddaddy's hands in guiding the sweep of the blade, this one twig was being transformed. Not into so much of anything that I could see it becoming; but also into the shavings that lay white and curled at his dusty, booted feet.

A slight breeze disturbed the shavings, scattering them in gentle swirls, rattling them across the porch, pitching them out of sight beyond the edge of the porch.

"Whatcha' thinkin', Danny?" Granddaddy asks, without looking up.

"Nothin'," I reply. I like talking to granddaddy. He always seems satisfied with short answers. He seems to know that sometimes answers are not expected and it takes a while for a mind to wake up from being asked. Like a fly you'd shoo away from your dinner plate. Or, if it's a good question, a short answer would suffice after you had time to mull it over.

I stand and go into the barren dirt yard, colored and livened only by pecking hens -- mostly Rhode Island Reds as Grandma calls them. I find and collect the whittled shavings. Somehow, I felt they belonged together, or maybe Granddaddy might need them, later, to complete what he's making. Cupping as many as I could, I set them in the growing pile at his feet.

"Did you teach Daddy to whittle?"

"Did. He carved a tiny roadster with turning wheels when he was 'bout your age. Got it on my dresser, case you'd like it." My face beams and he nods. "'Course a few years later, he made himself a smokin' pipe. Somethin' your grandma wasn't too proud of and she made him toss it away."

I smiled knowingly and he continues, "Got that hid in the same dresser." He winks.

My parents were killed in a car wreck last year. My wearing a seat belt and not being thrown out a window is what saved me. I remember too much of that day.

"Teach me?" He simply nods and I don't ask when because I know he'll know when it's time. "Whatcha' makin?" I slide into his vernacular like slipping into my favorite jeans -- my lucky ones -- the ones I always wore when dad took me fishing. I know I'll outgrow them someday, but not now, not today, leastways.

"What's it look like?"


"Easy to see when you're lookin' too hard."

I try not to stare, but still bring my face closer. The glint of the blade, up and back - his measured strokes, mesmerizing. I do see nothing. Yet, I'm oddly calm in the quiet of his work.

I rest my head on the pillar that attaches the stoop to the roof and continue to watch him -- the twig diminishing, the white shavings increasing at his feet with every stroke. Even though I know it's dead, I wonder if the twig feels any pain.

"I see a lot of your daddy in you."

I fight tears, remembering.

"He'd be proud; your ma, too." A breeze kicks up, scattering the shavings again. I rise to collect them. Forgetting is hard and he is patient with me. "Let them be," he calls gently.

I sit back down. "You don't need them?" He shakes his head. "Not even for kindling?" He shakes his head again. "But the stick, it's almost gone, too and it''s..."

"Nothing," he finishes for me.

I search his face, his eyes. Suddenly I feel at peace and notice for the first time the gentle clucking of the hens beyond the porch.

A voice comes from behind us. It's Grandma's standing at the screened front door. "And what have my two men been up to?"

"Nothing," we respond together. Granddad turns, winks at me and nods.

I nod back, somehow knowing her question to be a good one. One that a short answer would suffice for now. One that I could mull later and whittle down. Like Granddad's twig and the shavings now scuttled in the wind.

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