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Dreary Day at Holly Hill

November 2, 2013

Despite the brisk October temps, and the bright blue fall sky, and the amazing light bouncing off the Atlantic, it was a dreary day down at the farm. When I pulled in I asked my Aunt Jean how things were going and she told me, not well. The goat, Kate, (after a week of doing better) was very sick and she was calling the vet to have her put down. They weren’t sure what was wrong, but none of the possibilities was anything they could do anything about. So she needed to dig a grave. I offered to help and we began to dig a hole for poor Kate. We found a bit of space at the bottom of the turn-around, where the big wagons used to turn around when they were still haying on the farm. Now it is the graveyard for old farm equipment and the occasional deceased farm animal.
Digging in the cold New England ground, I couldn’t help but reflect on the centuries of grave digging that have gone on before. We were lucky. We had found a small circle of earth that was not too rocky and not too full of roots. And if we were really lucky, we would not find Kate’s companion, Jasper, who had been buried earlier this fall. Jasper had succumbed to some other mysterious illness, which the vet had feared might be rabies. To test this, they had to autopsy his brain, which meant he was buried headless. Macabre as it may be, a headless goat is easier to bury, given that the horns get in the way otherwise. But Kate would be buried whole, and we had to make sure that hole would accommodate her. And so we dug, and did not run into Jasper the headless goat. It took between a half hour and an hour. We each were alone with our thoughts as we chopped away at the heavy earth. Unfortunately, by the time the hole was dug the farm stand had opened. And we had not yet buried her. Many folks bring their children to the farm and we did not wish to explain to them what we were doing, so we left Kate under a tarp behind the shed that borders her pen until the evening, when my cousin Charlie helped deposit Kate into her final resting place.
When I was done grave digging, I tried a little blacksmithing. I was making small brackets for some coat racks I made a while ago, as well as some hardware for a bench I finished this summer. I was making the small brackets out of nails. I got the idea from an article I saw on DIY snipe hinges in Fine Woodworking. I have to say, it is fun to use my little forge, and I have moved the anvil up from my grandfather’s blacksmith shop so I have a good one. But there are problems. First, blacksmithing is better done indoors where you can more easily see the subtle changes in the color of the metal, but I can’t use the forge inside the oxbarn without a chimney. In fact, after a morning of using it, even outside, I feel pretty headachy and as though I have inhaled much more coal smoke than I’d like. Secondly, working outdoors means wind and it was breezy. Breezy means little embers blowing around and that is a pretty scary thought around all the dry leaves and barns.
While I was working, someone mentioned that my grandfather would be pleased to see me carrying on the tradition. He might, though he might also be too aware of how unskillful I was to be truly pleased. However I was thinking more of my grandmother. My grandmother was a big one for sayings. She had a saying for just about any occasion. When someone mentioned how good looking someone was, she would say, “Handsome is as handsome does.” She was always saying, “Waste not want not.” If we asked what was for dessert, she’d tell us, “Patience pudding with wait-and-see sauce.” And if we wished we could do this or that, she’s say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” So as I labored away, struggling with tongs that were too large and a forge that was too smoky, etc. I could hear her saying, “It’s a poor workman who complains of his tools.” I suspect, that in her day she heard a lot of complaining about tools.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 3, 2013 10:22 am

    Loved this, Malcolm. Keep it up — both the doings and the writings. Think I have a spare set of tongs around here somewhere, but suspect they are no smaller than what you have.

    • November 3, 2013 1:41 pm

      Thanks, but i think, since i am doing fairly small work, i may just go with a propane torch. I can still bang the anvil, but without the fumes and fire danger. And then i can get away with using pliers. Thanks as always for the comments.

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