(Disclosure) This is a story that I wrote about a man I knew when I was a younger carpenter. I changed the names and colored some details so in that sense you can call it fiction. I would like to say sorry if my writing, spelling, or grammar is not the greatest, I am not a writer I’m a husband, a father, a grandfather, a story teller and a carpenter. Not a writer. I am compelled to write lately with the hopes of preserving some my stories for future grandchildren that I might never get the chance to tell in person. Thank you for reading my story and I hope you enjoy it for what it is.
I met Stump, who was a carpenter and a woodworker years go at a flea market, although he didn’t like to be called “a woodworker”. He was at an outside booth by his self in the middle of the parking lot away from the rest of the outside vender's, where he sold his furniture without the distraction of the other booths. He was an older gentleman with long straw like brown hair, streak with gray tied back in a pony tail, he wore old blue denim overalls a sleeveless T shirt and he had a tattoo on his right arm that I saw right away, it was the Army’s jump wings with the words “De Oppresso Libra LRRP Vietnam 1967” around it. I recognized the Latin motto and knew it meant to free the oppressed.
I knew aright away I wanted to talk to this man. So I waited while he was engaged with another customer. I heard him telling the lady how he finds old barns and buys the wood for all his “stuff” as he referred to it, that he makes. Then I heard him say, “That, in away makes all my stuff already antiques”, I laughed, not because I disagree with him, but by the masterful way he was shoveling the bullshit. He was smooth and had the gift of gap, and the lady she was taking it all in like she had one those, big double wheeled wheelbarrow, the high volume kind, that nobody, but the young men on a crew wants to push around a job site. The lady bought two pieces from him while I watched.
After their transaction he turned to me and asked “what can I do you out of”, and smiled. I asked him “what group did you served with”. I saw the smile leave his face and I knew in that second where his mind went. He looked at me and said the 7th how about you, I told him, and then I flipped him my coin, he looked at it, smiled and knew I was telling him the truth. In that one moments exchange of two dozen words we became friend, more than friends we were brothers in arms. We both knew, we have seen and done things that where best not talked about, and there really wasn’t any need to talk about it, because it was in the pass and we each had the devil to pay for them deeds. He handed me back my coin and said I owe you a drink, I told I would take a coke if he had one, he said “Pepsi” and I said “cool”, he handed me a can out of his cooler. My wife just looked at me dumbfounded with no clue to what just happened.
The man held out his hand and said the names Neil, “but everyone calls me Stump”. I didn’t ask why, after all there were women and children around and I could just imagine all kinds of explanations for that name, none of them wholesome. I shuck his hand and told him my name. I then ask him if he was a woodworker, or a carpenter, he gave me a wicked little smile and then loudly said for everyone to hear “hell no I ain’t no woodworker; I’m an artist, and wood is my medium” then he laughed, he had one of those laughs that when you hear it you just have to laugh with him even if you don’t know what hell you were are laughing at. Then he quietly explained to me that if he called himself an artist people seem to buy his stuff at a higher price, but if they think he’s a woodwork they just seem to want to pick his brain and steal his ideas, then go home with the intentions of building it themselves, although many would never even try.
Stump’s furniture was tight, and he was right, he was an artist. I was impressed with the quality of his pieces. You could tell at a glance he loved what he did, and put his pride on the line with every piece he builds. Like the way his shelves were all secured in a dovetail dado, or the half lapped miters joints on his doors, all well made, simple and strong. I really like the way he smooth down the rough wood but still left all the flaws and character in it, and how he sand blasted scenes in the door panels with small cut out and colored glass let in from behind. He even made all the pulls for his cabinets and hand carved little oak leaves in them. If the age of the wood didn’t make his work antiques, the construction of each piece that I saw certainly had potential to last enough years to truly be called an antique.
Stump and I talked for a good half hour about family, wood, carpentry, and tools. In that time I saw that Stump had a patina like the wood he used to build his furniture, he was sun bleached and rough with smoothness that only time and life can give someone, this man had history just like the wood, he had stories and I wanted to hear them. He gave me his card and I gave him mine, and he told me he would like to visit my shop, and said “then we can have us a proper sit down pow-wow without distractions”. I told him I’m looking forward to it and said goodbye, and he told me to “watch my six” and said “always”.
It wasn’t a week, before I would look up from applying sand sealer on some cabinets I build to see Stump, standing in the door way of my shop grinning from ear to ear watching me.