The room was small and smelled of aged wood, old books, and worn handmade quilts. It felt like comfort, warmth, and home. I asked the old man his name, he smiled, most folks call me Deacon, Deacon Watts. You rest and get some sleep, tomorrow we have work to do and your journey in this place starts at daybreak when you hear the rooster crow and the train whistleblowing. I slept without dreams a deep healing sleep that I rarely felt. Even before the morning light reached my window, I could smell Cajun shrimp and grits with spicy bacon sizzling, and best of all I could smell freshly brewed coffee.
After coffee and some small talk Deacon walked me out the back door of the church toward what was a very old tobacco barn. He took out a ring of keys and opened the massive oak door and lit several lanterns. The room was alive with the smells of a carpenter shop, oak, pine, cypress, and maple. My daddy was a carpenter by trade, and I was no stranger to a woodwork shop, but this was beyond anything I had ever seen. Scattered around the shop were church pews in different stages of completion. Deacon said this is your tithe, giving back to a community in need, an apprenticeship to learn the way of being just like your daddy before you. I asked him how long it would take for me to learn this. He said it takes as long as you take, perhaps a lifetime.
The Urn Carver
In a small room off to the side, his son was already there working. Deacon took me over and said this is my son Ted Watts and he will finish the things I can’t get done. Ted has a special gift, and he can build tables and chairs, carve birds, build two-man boats and carve riverscapes onto a table or hearth. This is a poor church and when the congregation has a need Ted can carve an urn for them. He does it from his love, his kindness and he never will take money. This is what you must learn before you walk back down that lonesome dirt road again.
They say that you can never go back again, yet if you can write a story, if you can reach back and touch those long-ago memories you can go back again. I can stand by Deacon and Ted putting a last coat of varnish on the finished pew or sand the curves of an urn to give to someone in need, an act of love, and kindness. That is what I learned from my friend Ted Watts.