A Story (Part 1)
A Man arrived at an old barn in his faded jeans and flannel shirt. His kind eyes were piercing. His smile, quick to surface. He had a purposeful gait, but was not in a hurry. As he stepped into the barn, he waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light. The Owner caught up to him, as he perused the junk within.
“May I help you find something, sir?” asked The Owner.
“No, thanks. I will know it when I see it,” replied The Man.
He continued his quest, stopping to look at each piece as if it were the only one. He slid his hands across desks to feel the grain of the wood. He pulled the drawers of dressers out to see if they were stuck. Wardrobes were opened and closed and opened again. His eyes scoured the wood for imperfections, but also for character. He made mental note of scratches and chips as well as the richness of the grain.
The Owner of the barn grew uncomfortable with The Man’s attention to detail. It was obvious he knew furniture, and even more so that he was familiar with each type of wood. The Man rubbed an old trunk with a cloth he had in his pocket, as if to polish it, when The Owner spoke up with a sneer.
“Sir, I must insist that you not do that. It makes the old furniture look new and folks come here for antiques. Now, what can I help you find?”
“I am merely looking at the potential of each piece by removing the grime and dirt,” answered The Man.
“Ah, so you refinish furniture then? I have just the piece for you, sir. What about this old dresser here? Isn’t she a beaut? Of course, being in a barn with the humidity the drawers are stuck closed, but they would do better if it were inside,” said The Owner.
The Man gazed at the piece. He noted the wood and the sticky drawers. The hardware was missing, so there was no way to get into them. He smiled at the smooth talking Owner.
“Not refinishing exactly, I prefer to think of it as repurposing…taking an old beat up piece and giving it a new purpose,” then he continued, “It would take more than moving this inside to get the drawers to open. This is quite a project.”
“Is it beyond your ability, sir? I am sorry. I have some easier items to deal with which do not require such work. I pegged you as a carpenter with great skill by the way you were looking at each piece.” Moving deeper into the barn, The Owner pointed out a bookshelf against the back wall. Brushing the cobwebs from it, he told The Man, “This requires a simple sanding and a coat of paint.”
“How would you know? You do not repurpose furniture; you merely sit it in here to decay. And why would I paint that beautiful wood?” asked The Man.
“Well, sir that just shows what you know,” The irritated Owner said. “This shelf has scrapes and scratches in it which need to be covered over. Paint is the way to make it look like new. You can see I am right by the layers already on it. Obviously, I am not the only one who paints to improve a piece.”
The Man just shook his head, refusing to argue with The Owner. Instead he replied, “No. This is not the piece I am looking for today.”
His eyes caught a glimpse of a shadow in the corner of the barn, but as he moved towards it, The Owner jumped in front of him and said, “Sir, allow me to show you another piece.”
Undeterred, The Man continued to move towards the shadow, his piercing eyes fixed upon it. The Owner chattered incessantly, trying every technique to dissuade him from his path. Once standing in the shadow, The Man saw the item was covered with a tarp.
“What is under this tarp?” he asked.
“Nothing sir. I have many more items for you to look at. A man such as yourself cannot be bothered with a project such as that. It is too much for you,” The Owner stated.
“I beg to differ, there is no project that is too much for me,” said The Man. As he pulled back the tarp, dust flew in a million directions. “This is the piece I have been seeking. It is perfect for what I need.”
Incredulous, The Owner replied, “Sir, how can that be? It is just a pile of wood. It is completely undone. Nothing much to look at, and even less useful.”
“In its present condition it is true. But I see beyond the mess. This is exactly what I am looking for. I’ll take it!” proclaimed The Man.
“But wouldn’t you like something better suited for you? This is so much work. It will take all of your efforts to repurpose this one,” whined The Owner.
“I determine what I am willing to give, not you! I will do whatever is necessary to complete this project.” The Man picked up the shabby pieces of wood. He headed towards the door, but The Owner blocked his way.
“Sir, I cannot let you have that piece.”
“Step aside. This piece belongs to me. I do not care the condition, or the amount of work required. I will be taking it with me. It is already paid for, as is every piece in this barn. Do not stand in my way, or you will regret it,” The Man said, with fire in his eyes.
Swallowing hard, The Owner stepped aside as The Man carried the wood into the blinding light of the day. He dared not step out into the light, instead he stepped back into the dim barn, sliding the door closed with a bang.
When The Man got the piece to his workshop he opened the doors and windows to let in the fresh air and sunshine. He began to look over each section of wood. It was true that the piece was a mess. The dust alone was enough to make the shafts of light dance, as it floated down to the floor. Pulling each plank of lumber into his hands, the man carefully examined it for blemishes. He was not intimidated by what he found. He took a washcloth with warm water and began rubbing. When the water in the bucket got too dirty, he simply refilled it with fresh and continued bathing. Once he finished, he stood back to determine just how to proceed. The wood had layers and layers of paint that was chipped and scratched. It was in rough shape.
“It’s going to have to come off,” he said to no one in particular. He knew to pull out the true beauty of the wood he would have to strip it all the way down until it was completely unfinished. He began the work of stripping all the old layers off. It was an arduous process which took days to complete, but he was not once discouraged. He even hummed as he worked, because he knew what it would look like in the end. The scraping created a bigger mess than it was the beginning. Each layer seemed to cling to the wood, refusing to let go. Each time, he used force to scrape away the dross. His hands blistered, but he continued in his pursuit.
Once the layers were gone, he smiled and whispered, “That’s much better. Now you can breathe again.”
“Talking to your wood, again?” asked a voice.
“Ha ha, yes, Father, you caught me talking to the wood, again,” said The Man.
“This piece has kept you busy, but I think it is going to be worth the effort, don’t you agree?” asked The Father.
“Yes, I do believe it will be worth it, in the end,” smiled The Man.
The father gazed at his son and looked deeply into his eyes. “You’re sure you want to finish it?”
“I have never been more sure, Father,” stated The Man.
“Good. Let’s get on with it then. Let the sanding begin!”
The two of them began, The Man using everything The Father had taught him. The Father was happy to be working together on this project. The rough paper created dust as it scratched and ground the wood into powder. The two worked together side by side, for hours on this piece. The Man ignored the splinters which found their way into his hands. He continued to work into the night, refusing sleep. The Father smiled gently as he left The Man to finish his work.
Each board was handled separately three or more times, from rough to fine, until it was smooth as silk. Another bath to wash off the dust, and it was ready for the next step. The first coat of stain was wiped on with great care. Lovingly even. Each piece was checked and rechecked for complete coverage. Even though The Man was exhausted from his work, he still paid very close attention to details, while humming a slow haunting tune to himself.
As he reassembled the piece carefully, his hands were bleeding. Each plank was like the piece of a puzzle and had to be put in a particular place. Each nail was pounded in a specific way. Drops of sweat covered his face while he worked. It was a grueling process, and a stranger might have wondered if the pounding was ruining the work. However, there was no stranger watching; The Man was all alone. He knew, without the nails the whole thing would fall apart. No, the pounding of the nails was essential to the finished work. Finally, when it was ready for the final coat of stain he stood back, smiled, and cut off the light.
In the morning, The Father came into the workshop. Alone. He carried a bucket of stain with him. He opened the workshop door with a solemn look upon his face. He gently rubbed his hand over the work of his son and a soft smile curled his lips slightly.
“That boy. He sure knew what he was doing. This is going to be spectacular. His best work yet.” he said to no one in particular.
The Father dipped a cloth into the stain, and allowed it to become saturated. He placed it on the piece, and the crimson tint soaked into the wood like a sponge. Each dip into the bucket brought a deeper red color which he rubbed into each board. As he worked, The Father grew more and more sorrowful. Before long, his tears were mixing with the stain as he cried. The circular rubbing motion spread the tear-filled red tinge to every grain in the wood, it covered every pound mark and every nick. Everyplace he put his hand was filled with crimson, and he continued to work until the entire piece was completely covered and the bucket was empty. Poured out. The Father stood back and wept. The beauty was unsurpassed. The Man was a master craftsman who had created a masterpiece. The Father was in awe. At dusk, he opened the doors and windows wide so The Wind could come in and seal the stain.
When darkness fell, it was finished.