Preface: The “Little Art” series was originally written as part of a weekly Sunday School paper for the Junior’s Class at CBC Scottsville, Va. I was the pastor there at the time and was teaching the Jr class to give a break to the adult class that had to put up with me for many years.
Introduction: The Forth Dimension of Homesickness
The “Seat Belt” sign went out. Art opened his carry on and took out an old diary. Art had been given the diary at the same time his sisters had been given theirs. It was mostly so he would not feel left out. Art intending to record something every day as his older sisters seemed to do. In fact it contained only periodic notations of experiences and events that occurred or were recalled at the moment that the diary and the mood were in proximity of one another. In other words not much was written down about his growing up years in Maine.
He had rediscovered this forgotten piece of personal history while he and his wife Barbara were helping his mother move after his father’s death. Art had almost thrown it away but at the last second curbed the impulse. Now flying back to Guatemala with 5 hours yet to kill he pulled it out of his carry on and opened it to view his childish thoughts recorded in his childish hand. And as he did a sliver of ivory fell out into his lap. In that instant he was transported to a sunny spot in the then neighbor’s field south-east of his house. A spot guarded by two steep banks, the steep slopes made this area impractical to use for any agricultural purpose, so it had become an infrequently used dumping spot. In fact the only evidence that had even been used for that was an upright piano, with its bench, and a well bleached set of bones that had belonged to a work horse.
It was a place that was at first somehow disturbing. Partly because it was so different from the surrounding land and the suddenness with which it came completely in view below you. There was also the incongruity of the piano sitting there as if waiting for someone to play it, perhaps to prove that it was discarded prematurely. There in the same mental snapshot were the decaying bones of a horse making a sort of bone garden, lying as it did in a bed of green moss with Indian Peace Pipe, red and orange Paint Brush, and buttercups growing up through it and around it. The whole appearance, suggesting some sort of ancient crime scene where the last one to play the piano had been the horse.
It was for the two or three of us who frequented that spot a tiny amphitheater for strange concerts of mystery and joy. A laboratory for the leisurely study of certain wild flowers. And to name them for yourself.
A warm bed from which to watch the armies of the sky march overhead. A place to learn acoustics and weather. And in the spring on the right day looking south-east, a place from which to watch the ice go out of lake Maranacook. An event that marked the change from winter to spring more tangibly than a date on the calendar.
This sheltered and south-facing space was the first to lose its winter snow and the first place to have wild flowers bloom. It was a great place to play in the early spring and late fall because it was significantly warmer than the rest of the property. And for the same reason it was avoided in summer.
The stewardess came by and asked, “Would you like something to drink?”. At the sound of her voice, Art was brought back to his seat in the airplane some 6 miles above the ocean. And replied, “Yes some water please.” Looked at his wife to see if she wanted something but saw she was still asleep. Sleep she really needed, she had worked so hard getting his mother settled into her new situation. Art decided not to disturb her. He sipped his water and turned the yellowed ivory in his fingers with memories of a place and time that now only existed in his memory, it seemed that there was so few left that remembered the country in which he grew up. He was a little homesick for a place and time which no longer existed. That is the third dimension of homesickness, time, it is time that makes it impossible to visit except in memory. Aloneness is the fourth dimension of homesickness, no one but you knows your place in the time before.
Art glanced back at his sleeping wife then past her and out the window at the seemingly endless field of clouds below the airplane and then looked down at the ivory in his hand. A tangible reminder of that field, that piano, and his childhood. Art’s mind slid effortlessly back to a spot in memory to a time before, he mused, yes that is it a time before, before so many things. His memory like Fiber McGee’s closet once opened allowed things tumbled out in no particular order. Memories caroming off one another from a time before.
Episode 1 Little Art’s Gift For Mom
Art’s father was away for the day and it was the ideal time to build the shelf for his mother, it would be a surprise to everyone.
As Art selected a fine clear grained pine board and measured out the size of the shelf, he thought how much he enjoyed the things his father had taught him about wood-working. Even though he was only ten he had, under his father’s watchful eye, made several useful items for the farm. Art was certain he could make the shelf by himself, and he wanted it to be a special surprise for his mother. A copy of one he had seen in the window of the furniture store.
Quickly he measured and marked the lumber. Soon he was ready to make his first cut. He took the handsaw down from its place on the shop wall and prepared to cut the board. As he positioned the saw, he thought how much faster his project would go if he could use the power table saw. The saw was almost new and he had seen how quickly and smoothly his father was able to cut with it.
Art paused for a moment; art remembering his father’s instructions and warnings about using the power tools in his shop. But Art was sure his father would not know and that his mother would be so very proud of him when he gave her the shelf he intended to make for her as a birthday present. Art laid down the handsaw and stepped toward the electric saw.
A Good Thing In A Wrong Way
He paused to look over all the controls and placing his lumber on the saw table. Art grabbed the knob that adjusts the height o the saw blade, turning first left and right watched as the gleaming blade rise out of the table. He thought I could get my shelf made twice as fast if I could use this, it is for mother, I can do this. Art adjusted the saw blade up so it was well above the thickness of his lumber. He was excited to get the job done, and having now decided to disobey his father he was all the more eager to get it over with.
He was so excited he had not properly marked his work and was not really ready to make a cut. He nervously fumbled for the switch, his fingers found it as he bent near the machine. Art pressed down he was suddenly aware of many things seeming to happen all at once. The was a brief hum, a mechanical growl, and high-pitched whirring sound, so loud and so quickly that Art jumped away then quickly back to shut the saw off.
His heart was pounding in fear and excitement and welcomed the quiet of the slowing saw. Wow he thought that is a lot louder than I remembered it when dad was using it. He paused again momentarily, thinking of his father’s warning and now sensing some danger. But he was excited to get the project under way and did not want to give in to the vague fear he sensed in himself. He stepped back to the saw and turned on the saw the same sequence of sounds now familiar did not startle him this time.
Art knew the blood flying off the blade was his but at that moment he did not know where it was coming from. Instinctively he recoiled from the saw and as he did the spinning blade kicked the board through the shop window. The saw that had only moments ago, been Art’s friend and silent ally in his disobedience had turned on him; mocking and howling like a vengeful animal. Almost without wanting to he discovered the source of the blood, it was coming straight out the stump of his amputated right index finger.
He no longer felt grown up or wiser than his dad. He grabbed his right hand in his left and began to babble out over the still running saw, “Oh I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” As if somehow he could undue what now had happened. As the pain and reality was beginning to take hold, Art headed for the house. With each beat of his heart there was a squirt of blood out of the wounded finger. He was in full panic by the time he reached the kitchen door. His mother alerted by his cries met him at the door. Opening the door she exclaimed, “What have you done?” Her eyes searching for the sources of the blood. At the sound of his mother’s voice , Art cried louder and with more abandon, all pretences of bravery gone. Choking out the words around his sobs, “I cut my finger off, I cut my finger off, fix it mommy, fix it.” He was now just a little boy who had disobeyed his father and hurt himself and damaged his father’s property. He was filled with remorse, fear, and pain. He had disappointed himself and he knew his father would not be pleased. Art began to wail, part pain and part fear. His mother quickly wrapped Art’s hand in a towel, and tried to slow the bleeding. , She dialed the phone number of a neighbor. Art’s mother tried to hold her voice calm as she explained to her neighbor what had happened, but her anxiousness was evident in her tone. She hung up the phone, and dashed to the kitchen for another towel, as blood had soaked through the first and was dripping on the floor. She re-wrapped his hand and led him out the door to await the neighbor. She hoped he would be along quickly because Art was looking very pale.