by Jim Paw-Paw Wilson
Illustrated by Jock Dempsey and Walt Sherrill
Slowly we are getting back into the rhythm of working in the shop. It has taken longer than I expected. We have been working under field conditions for so long, that we are uncomfortable in the shop. I remember when the addition was built, how much room we had. Now it seems as if we barely have room to turn around. Working outside, we had plenty of room.
Yesterday, Master John took an order for a fence. It's quite a long one, and a nice order. We have been sketching on the big shop slate. We've outlined the panels, and decided how we will do them. After we get the basic panel built, we may ask Dee to make a bunch of roses so that we can twine vines and roses around some of the pickets. I'm looking forward to building it, I think we've got an excellent design.
The fence is coming along nicely. We've finished 8 of the panels Dee is making roses and vines to add to some of the pickets.
But I'm a bit worried about Master John. He's 63 years old now, and he's slowing down a great deal. I was surprised when we got home at the amount of gray in his hair. One evening Dee and I were talking to Master and Mistress and I mentioned something about retiring. He said that he would never retire, when his time came to go to the Lord he wanted to go with his hammer in his hand.
I can understand that, but I dread the day it happens.
What a day this has been! About the middle of the morning, I heard a horse stop outside the shop. Master John went to the door and I heard him exclaim, "Well, I will be forever damned!" A voice I thought I recognized laughed and said, "Not if my big sister has anything to do with it, you won't be!"
When I went to the door, I saw Robert O'Donnell, formerly a Captain in His Royal Majesties Guards. Master John asked him, "How in the world did you find us, we thought you were dead!" Uncle Robert laughed and pointed to me. Master John rounded on me and started to sputter,
"You.. You teufel (devil). You just wait till Mistress gets hold of you!" Uncle Robert and I both roared with laughter.
Uncle Robert tied his horse to the rail, and came into the shop. Master John introduced him, and almost choked when Uncle Robert greeted Tom by name. Then he laughed and said to Tom, "You, too!"
We decided to really surprise Mistress. Master John left the shop, got her, and went to the weavers shop on some errand. We gave them time to get gone from the house, then Tom ran for Faith, while Uncle Robert and I went to my house. I introduced him to Dee, and shortly, Tom and Faith came in. Sean and Jim stayed in the shop, in case a customer came in.
Shortly, Master and Mistress came by to "talk to Dee", and you should have seen Mistress's face when she saw Uncle Robert! She started to cry and was laughing at the same time as she flew across the floor to hug him!
She asked the same question that Master John had asked, "How on earth did you find us?" Uncle Robert again pointed at me, and Mistress asked how he had met me. He told the story of how he and I had met at Yorktown and how he recognized my sword. Then she turned on me!
"You rapscallion! You have known ever since you came home and didn't say a single word to me? You see if I don't get even with you!" Then she turned on Dee, and asked "Did you know?" Dee told her, "No, Will didn't say anything to me, either. But Tom's got a guilty gleam in his eye!"
Tom tried to hide behind Faith, and Faith told him, "Don't hide behind me! I'm on Mistress's side!"
I think Tom and I are in trouble. But the surprise and joy on Mistress's face is ample repayment for any revenge she may extract!
Uncle Robert is going to stay with Master and Mistress, till he decides what he will do. He told us that he wants to stay here in the America and become a farmer. There is not much available farm land near by, so his dream may take a while to happen. He seems to have the same single mindedness that Mistress has, so though it may take a while, I think his dream will come true.
Christmas was very special this year. This was the first Christmas that I have been home with Dee Dee. And it's only the second Christmas with Willie. I made them both little cross peen hammers. They weigh about a pound each. Dee laughed when she saw them, but wrapped them carefully. When they opened them, nothing would do but that they must go to the shop behind the house and ring the anvil! I had to laugh, they were so excited. Dee said that I had outshone her, she had only made them clothes.
Some months ago, I had seen a pair of horn combs that some of the ladies in the south use in their hair. I had gotten two of them, and a matching hair brush at the same time. When we got home, I managed to keep them hidden from Dee by leaving them in the Blacksmith wagon. Then, just before Christmas, I got them out and asked Mistress to wrap them for me.
I haven't gone to the shop since Christmas. Instead, I have spent the days going to each of the families of the men that I lost in battle. Each visit tore my heart. None of the families seem to blame me. Many said that their pain was eased by the pain they could see in me.
The nights when I have been visiting them are very difficult for me. In my sleep, I dream about the men, and the battles in which they died. Frequently, Dee jumps from the bed, standing at the foot to call my name and awaken me. Then she holds me as I sometimes cry. She asks what I have been dreaming about, but all I can ever say is that I had a bad dream.
I wonder how long the dreams will last?
New Years eve and day were quiet. We spent New Years eve at home, then went to Master and Mistresses house for breakfast. Tom and Faith and little Tommy were there, the women cooked the breakfast while the men sat in the parlor and talked. Once Dee got me to lift a heavy pot, and another time Faith asked Tom to go back to their house for a special ham that she had cured. It was cured with sugar and honey, and was different from the hams that are cured around here. Very good too, and we all told her so. She was flustered at the attention, but seemed pleased as well.
Today is our anniversary. Dee and I have been married 6 years today. It hardly seems possible that it has been that long. We were talking before Mass this morning, and I said that to Dee.
She answered, "Well, due to the war, we have been apart more than we have been together, since we were married. But we are together now, and that is all that matters. The war is over, we are a new nation, and my man is home safe. I worried so much for so long that I thank the Good Lord every day that you are home." We were sitting at the table in the kitchen, holding hands across the table as we frequently do when Master John and Mistress knocked on the back door.
I called for them to come on in and when they saw us, Master John laughed and said, "Look at the newlyweds!" Dee told him the same thing she had told me.
Mistress spoke up and said that she knew how Dee felt, it had been the same for her when Master John was away during the war with the French.
We all walked to Mass together, Willie held onto my hand, and Dee Dee held onto her mother's hand. Master and Mistress were walking in front, and Master John looked over his shoulder and said that the last time the four of us had walked together this way, we didn't have the little ones.
I agreed with him, but said I liked it better this way. That got me a loving look from my lady.
What a terrible week this has been. Monday, my beloved Master John went to be with the Lord.
We were working in the shop when I heard Seano scream. I rushed into the room to find Master John laying on the floor. He had fallen back from the anvil, dropping his hammer and clutching his left shoulder with his right hand. I saw immediately that he was dying and told Seano to get Fr. O'Reilly, Jim went to get Mistress, Dee, and Faith. Tom stayed with me. The boys both ran. I sat on the floor, holding Master John's head on my knee. His eyes opened once and he whispered, "My hammer!" Tom grabbed it from where it was laying, and placed the handle in his hand. He smiled a small smile and asked for Mistress. I told him she was on her way and that I would take care of her. Then I said the words that I've thought so often when I told him that I loved him. He smiled again and said, "I love you too, Son!" Mistress came in the door then and dropped to the floor beside us. I moved so that she could take his head in her lap, while I held Dee, for she was crying. Tom was holding Faith. We all knelt around Master and Mistress.
Fr. O'Reilly arrived then, wearing his stole, with Seano leading the way with a lit candle, so we knew that he had brought the holy oils and the Viaticum for Master John. We all stepped aside for a minute as he and Master John spoke to each other in soft voices, then we all gathered around again as we said the prayers for the dying. I heard many other voices when we started to pray and realized that a goodly crowd had followed Father to the shop. Just as we were finishing, Master John smiled gently at Mistress, took a deep breath, let it out very slowly, closed his eyes, and was gone.
I have lost my father twice now and this time I lost a friend as well
We took the door from the shop to use as a bier, and carried Master to the house. Mistress, Dee, and Faith went ahead of us, and got the parlor ready. When we arrived, we placed the door between two chairs, and the ladies shooed us out of the parlor so they could prepare his body for burial. Shortly, Dee and Faith came out and said that Mistress wanted to finish alone. Dee went to their bedroom to get his good suit, took it into the kitchen and she and Faith brushed it and ironed one of his good shirts. When Mistress was ready, they helped her to dress his body.
Rob and Reb came in then, they had just heard the news. Rob measured Master John's body and told us that he would start a coffin as soon as he got back to the carpenter's shop. But before he left, he knelt to say a prayer for Master John. As we were carrying Master John to the house, one of the boys, Seano or Jim, I'm not sure which, had run to the church to borrow a kneeler so we could have one in the room with Master John.
For three days, Mistress rarely left his side. There was food aplenty, folks had brought food from all over town. She barely touched a bite, although she would drink a cup of tea if someone brought it to her.
On the morning after he died, I suddenly realized that we had left the shop with the door off and the fires lit. I got Tom and we went to the shop, only to find that the fires had been put out and the shop was being guarded by one of the men from the Home Guard. He told us that Seano and Jim had come back to the shop, put out the fires, cleaned up, and asked the Executive officer of the Home Guard if they would guard the shop till we came back to work. The men have divided the work between them and the shop will not be left alone until we return. All I could do was thank them.
Rob brought the coffin on the evening of the second day, he must have worked day and night on it. It was a dark wood, walnut I think, simple in it's style, but very well made. There was a small brass plate set into the top, with Master John's name and his dates of birth and death engraved into it. Rob had installed three handles on each side, so it would be easy to carry. When I asked him how much it cost, he looked at me sternly and said, "Will, I shall NEVER charge a fee for a casket for my friends!" I apologized and he smiled and said not to worry, he knew that I was upset.
As indeed I was and still am.
Yesterday afternoon, I, Tom, Seano, Jim, Uncle Robert, and Col. Callahan carried Master John to the church. We placed his coffin at the front of the church, and Father covered it with the Pall. The funeral candles were put in their places ready to light, and then we left. Seano and Jim had asked if they could remain with the body until the funeral Friday morning, and Tom had said that he wanted to do that also. Mistress looked to me and I said that we would be pleased to have them do so. They took turns so that each could get some sleep. Then the rest of us went home, with Mistress walking between Dee and I. Uncle Robert followed close behind.
The Mass of Christian Burial was this morning. Dee and I escorted Mistress to our pew, then I went to the front pew to sit with the other pall bearers. After Mass, we carried Master John to his final resting place. At the door of the church, the pall was replaced with our American Flag. Master John did not fight in our Revolutionary War, but he fought in the French and Indian War and commanded the Home Guard during the Revolution. I talked to Col. Callahan and he agreed that Master John had also served the flag and was worthy of being covered by it. As we carried Master to the cemetery, the bell tolled mournfully behind us. One stroke for each year of his life.
Then we laid him to rest. His grave was watered with more than a few tears. A squad of the Home Guard was there, commanded by the Executive Officer, to render military honors. They folded the Flag before we lowered him into the ground. The Executive Officer started to give the Flag to Mistress, but she motioned for him to give it to me.
When we got to the house, Mistress went into her bed room, and came out with Master John's hammer in her hand. She gave it to me and told me, "Years ago, Master John told me that if you stayed with us, he wanted you to have his hammer when he was gone, for he knew that you carried the same pride in your workmanship that he did."
I cried all the way home. There I gently placed his hammer in my tool chest.
We will go back to work next Monday, for there are orders to fill and work to finish. I will sign the panels of the fence that Master John worked on with his touchmark, then I will deface it so that it can never be used again. Then I think I will put it in my tool chest with his hammer as a remembrance.
This morning when we got to the shop, I rang Master John's anvil three times. Tom, Seano and Jim came to me right away. Without saying anything, I inspected each of the panels for the fence. All but the last five were signed. I motioned for the boys to build a fire in Master John's forge, and when it was well alight, I began to heat one of the panels. When it was red where I wanted to sign it, I took Master John's touchmark from it's place on his anvil and picked up his straight peen hammer. Tom saw what I was doing and placed the panel on the anvil so I could sign it. Then we set it aside and I placed the second panel in the fire. As the second panel was heating, I gave the touch mark and hammer to Tom. His eyes got big and filled with tears but he jutted out his chin, squared his shoulders and nodded that he understood. When it was hot, Seano and Jim moved the panel to the anvil and Tom signed it. The boys set the panel aside, while I put the third panel in the fire. I looked at Tom and nodded to Seano, and Tom passed him the touchmark and hammer. Seano looked awed, then squared his shoulders as Tom had and nodded. He signed the third panel, and the fourth went to the fire. I nodded for Seano to give the touchmark and hammer to Jim and he did so. Jim signed the fourth panel, and placed the fifth panel in the fire. I took the hammer and touchmark from Jim and signed the fifth and last piece. There are still two panels to make, but Tom and I will sign those.
When all five panels were signed, I placed Master John's touchmark in a set of tongs and began to heat it. The others looked a bit puzzled till I clamped the glowing touchmark in the vise and used a hot cut to carve an X into the face of it. Now it cannot be used by anyone else to make his mark. Finally, I cooled it in the slack tub and placed it in my pocket. Then I got his die plate from his tool box, heated it and carved an X in it as well. I cooled it and put it in my pocket also. I think that later I will give it to Tom, so he has something special too.
Still using Master John's hammer, I began tolling his anvil. I rang it fifteen times, then handed the hammer to Tom. Each of us rang his anvil 15 times, then I rang the last three strokes.
When I had finished, I handed Master John's straight peen hammer to Tom and said, "Tom, this is yours now. Use it with the pride that Master John had in your workmanship." Taking two of Master John's ball peen hammers from his rack, I gave one to each of the boys, telling them the same thing. All of them had tears in their eyes as they took their hammers.
I had the boys move my anvil to the stump where Master John had always worked, and move Tom's anvil to the spot where my anvil had been. Master John's anvil I will move to the shop behind the house this evening, the small anvil that Dee uses I will put in my tool chest. It's the one Tom and I used for the Regiment's work.
To be Continued: