The little window dressing on my truck gives the name of my business, “Art in Wood”, the website address, and my phone number. Seemed simple enough. Just maybe the biggest customer/patron I haven’t met yet will go to my website, or call me, or better yet, approach me. It’s a small business. Really small. I’ve worn out several careers, and finally get to walk across my driveway to work, and fool around with wood in my shop finally built for the purpose. It’s like I planned it that way, which I did. Wood is amazingly versatile and every tree has a story to tell – some bigger than others.
This tale is about how we chose our words, and the fact that we need to keep in mind that what we think about a word or a sentence may strike someone else in a completely different way. In order to do that, we need to humble ourselves just a little bit. Get out of the box and turn it over a few times – maybe see what someone else is thinking.
So, it’s a beautiful late summer day, and I stop at the gas station that I frequently patronized in my “last” career because it is unique and there are people there that I like. Not just any old gas station, but they call themselves a General Store. Part grocery, part clothing store, coffee stop, clean bathrooms, old pictures, Ice Cream – and a ZOO! Park my truck, and ease on in for an ice cream cone and some chatter. When I come out come out a few minutes later, there’s a very tired looking tradesman’s truck, with a very tired, bearded, tradesman half in and half out of the driver’s door. He doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. His eyes follow me and I acknowledge him with my standard “how’s your day goin’?” Blows right past my trite greeting:
“No, I’m John”
“Well, who’s Art?” He jabs his head at the sign in my truck window.
Laughing now, “No, No, that’s my business, it’s what I do – I make things out of wood and call them art.”
“Ugh” he actually looked disappointed.
He was holding a scrap of wood that looked a lot like a whuppin’ stick about an inch and a quarter thick two inches wide and two feet long. Dirty, but substantial – looked like something that had been torn out of something. Used wood always piques my interest.
“You probably know a lot about wood, then.”
“More than most, probably – I read a lot”
“Wondering if you can tell me something about this wood. Doing an addition for some city folks that want me to match the flooring in the old farm house they just bought.”
Ah, now it fits. I’m thinking these “city folk” aren’t sure of what they have here with their contractor. Guys like this always surprise me with what they are able to do, even when they bite off more than what it seems they can chew.
He hands me the wood. I take out my pocket knife and scrape off some of the crud from what was once a wonderful piece of white oak. “When was the house built, late 1800’s?” I was immediately taken back to the home of the Koeppler brothers a little more than a stone’s throw away from where we were standing. Spent a lot of time there as a kid, listening to their stories about the history of the farm and their family.
One end of the board is fresh sawn clean and square. The grain is super tight – a telltale message from the early 1800’s for oak grown in the upper Midwest and Lower Canada.
“White oak, see this grain, and how close the growth rings are? The wider the rings the better the growing season – this one went through tough times didn’t grow much in these years” I’m pointing to the growth rings. There was a mini – ice age in the 1800’s. People say that it snowed on the Fourth of July one year. Winters were super cold and summers cool enough that farmers couldn’t get crops to grow. Caused an economic depression in the 1830’s”
“How can I match it?” (spare me the history, boy)
“You can’t, but if you take it to a sawyer and tell them what you are trying to do, they can come pretty close. Saw it so the grain looks closer than it is. It’s in how they saw the log. White oak is hard to come by right now, but if you push a little, they’ll do what you want. You want some tight grained white oak that was harvested around here. Then just tell them how you want it cut. Make sure the moisture content is below 10 per cent.”
He stuck out his grimy hand, enclosed in a grimier leather driver’s glove. We shook.
“You sure know a lot about wood, Art!”
I gave him my card. Call me if you don’t find what you need. I can hook you up.
Looking at the business card he said, “I mean John – thanks a lot for taking the time!”