First I must set the stage for my story. Two 11 year old boys who would live at the sawmill or in the logging woods if it were not for the slew foxes and the mad rabies infested mud turtles that only prowl around after dark in this part of the south. At least that is what old man Crowse would tell us when he caught us rambling around his barn after dark. Some folks said he made moonshine but I never did find any reason to believe that a seventy three year old man who never worked a day in his life shouldn’t ride a new Cadillac and live in the finest home in the “bottoms”.
I moved into the hollow when I was about seven or eight years old and that is when the transformation started. You must understand my family is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “blue collar” group of people. They are more at home at brunch or on a snooty golf course than in their own woodshop. They are the type of people who turn up there nose at any woodworking endeavor and label it as uncouth and barbaric to harm defenseless trees but will put on a fur coat or leather shoes any time there is a black tie affair. Enter my new best friend and all hell breaks loose!
The first time my father ever laid eyes on Marv it was just dusky dark and he was doing a belly crawl across our front yard in full camo and face paint on a bait gathering mission for a cat fishing trip we had planed that night. As young Marv did his best commando crawl up to my father he looked up an told us,” e’m night crawlers gots eyes good as any turkey an if’n ye ain’t real careful they’ll wind ye an run off!” Damn that boy is weird” was dear old dads reply as Marv did his best Rambo impersonation around the corner of our house never lifting his nose more than three inches from the ground. “Sometimes you can smell e’m but it ‘pends on what they’s been a eat’n.” Father just shook his head and smiled.
I can remember a time when Marv ,single handed, caused the evacuation of a three square mile area and a red alert of the Virginia Haz-Mat Team. It was a scary situation seeing the huge plume of green smoke billowing up from the vicinity of Marv’s house and knowing his parents were away on vacation and he was home alone. When Dad went to check on him he described the scene as Marv cooking God only knows in a wash tub siting in a fire pit and stirring it with a boat paddle. “I’s fixin’ to cure cancer er’ somethun’ like it with this here brew” He said. Dad looked at me and said “Damn that boy is weird”
One summer afternoon Marv suggested we swap work so we could do some woodworking that evening. For those of you from urban areas who might not know of this practice, out here in farm country we would do what was known as “swapping work”. I would help get his chores done and then he would help me get mine and we would be off to the shop that much quicker. I agreed and we had to do a little weed cutting at his place. Marv always had an old beagle or two around and for some reason they were always ill tempered. As he stepped inside the dog lot with the weed eater running and one of the “prize winnin’ rabbit hounds” as he called them ran out of the dog house and niped at his ankle. He turned and scolded the dog as it ran back into the doghouse too fast for Marv to catch him. This same scene unfolded four or five times and I could not help but laugh at him and that just pissed him of that much more. In a fit of rage he pulled out about two feet of string on the weed eater and “stuck the snout” inside of the doghouse! “I’ll break e’m sons a bichin’ dawgs from abitin’ me!” He screamed above the over revved weedeater. Now imagine ,if you can, three beagle dogs and “the snout” of a wide open weedeater in one 4’x4’ doghouse. We didn’t get any shop time in that evening because, after we doctored the prize winning dogs and nailed the tin back on the roof of the doghouse, the mood had passed.
I have learned a lot from Marv, mostly what NOT to do, but he is one of the best woodworkers and dearest friend I have ever known. If I had not met him as a child I may have followed the path of my forefathers and found enjoyment in a glass of wine at an art exhibit instead of a cold beer savored on the front porch of my shop on a hot July evening.
Marv and I decided we were going into the construction business when we got older and started learning our trade…sort of. As I said before, my parents didn’t do, well, anything. We had to learn by trial and error and the latter seemed to be the best teacher. We actually started turning out some pretty good furniture by our late teens and it’s snow balled from there. Think back, who inspired you to start butchering wood? If it hadn’t been for Marv I may have ended up in an office from nine to five every day and never even knew what a dovetail was.
Marv and I both have our own shops about two hours drive from each other and we still work together on a few bigger projects from time to time. In fact, just the other day I pulled into his driveway to pick him up for a lumber buying trip down in the Carolinas. He was on the front porch moo-ing at his pet cow, spot, and he called out “come on up here an’ drank one with me a’fore we head out.” As we sat and talked about the good ol’ days his son came running up on the porch wearing two different shoes, overalls with no shirt and a towel emblazoned “Holiday Inn” tied around his neck like a cape. He said “Paw, Do chicken breasts gots any nipples on e’m?” Marv looked at me, smiled a giant smile, and said “Damn ‘at boy’s weird”
I guess the point to all my rambling, if there even is one, is it doesn’t matter how we get to where we are in our woodworking career, as long as we enjoy it. Not only the destination but the trip as well. We would work a week for free to help build a new shed just so we could take home the scrap lumber at the end of the job. I loved every second of it and wouldn’t change a thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a long while but there were times in the beginning when I had to decide if I was using my last few dollars buying glue or going on a date. I didn’t give up then and have been blessed with enough business to make my living doing what I love since. If the time ever comes that I don’t love going into the shop, then it’s time to start looking for a job doing something else. If the passion is gone I may as well do something that pays better. I am blessed with a shop full of equipment now but I still miss those days in the back yard fighting with Marv for Pap’s jigsaw. Thank you Marv.
-- Lyall & Sons Woodsmiths...Custom handcrafted woodwork since 1989