Grandpap passed on his dilly dally artistic ways to Daddy. Daddy ain’t passed ’em all on to me, not yet, but time’ll tell. Them two would spend hours come evenin’, in the shed back of the barn at the workbench or sittin’ on ol’ sawhorses underneath the gnarly oaks, lanterns and bare bulbs tucked willynilly in the branches for workin’ light, teeny little tools making magic in their hands. And ever now and then, growin’ up, they’d give me my own sawhorse and some leather to braid or some holes to punch. I’d got right good at them parts I did, seldom ever did they ever have to redo my efforts. And nowadays, I was durned good, takin’ a good deal of the ever day hohum work off their hands. I didn’t mind. I was learnin’ the craft along the way. Felt good to be part of the process, however I got it.
But them two. They was the masters. I’ll not deny it. A slice of leather here, a sparkle of silver there, and come a week or two, a saddle or harness came to bein’, decorated and punched and molded, fit for a king. Or a rodeo rider. Folks from all ’round heard tell of their skills, and truth be told, I longed to be jest like them, makin’ beauty from scraps. Why, some days, they’d turn out belts and buckles by the bushel basket, meant for some parade or show down to the auction barn.
Afternoons when I was sure they was out tending cattle or doin’ chores, I’d sidle into that shed back of the barn, just to breathe in the soft and soothin’ aroma of fresh cut leather, runnin’ my fingertips across the delicately carved decorations. These pieces was plumb beautiful, like I said, works of art. When they was done, shore, but even before them hanks o’ leather even knew what they was goin’ to be. Like the sun risin’ up come Saturday. You’d just know somehow, feelin’ the creamy light gettin’ stronger, something special was bound to come your way. I’d long purtended these half done saddles and whatnot was for me, sittin’ pretty whist bustin’ broncs, wrasslin’ calves, or jest wavin’ at the pretty girls along the Main Street drag in town.
But that sort of glory went to my two bigger brothers. They was rodeo riders, celebrity bound. Workin’ the farm was left to me. Home bound. I knew my place in the family scheme. Still, a sigh escaped me ever once in a while.
Round about, hangin’ from rusty nails, there was stained leather buckets filled with findin’s, silver bits and bobs and such. Folks’d gather them up from old pieces they’d come across, deliverin’ them like an offerin’ at church. Respectful and neighborly, true, but skeptic I am, I sometime’s figured they was hopin’ for special consideration come time they needed some piece done up right. There was tin cans holdin’ all sorts of shiny tools, some Grandpap’s grandpap’d passed on down the line. Pride would pop my chest, these just might be comin’ my way one of these days. Nobody’d said as much, but like other things in my life, what was unsaid out loud was often shouted in the silence.
I’d give my eye teeth to be an artisan, do this kind o’work sun up to sundown. I learned quick, Granpap and Daddy both said so, lettin’ me hover over their shoulders from when I was just a speck. Now, nearly a man , close to thirteen years, it was pertin’near time I struck out on my own project. I just knew I had it in me.
Trouble was, this weren’t the way it worked with Grandpap and Daddy. See, while they was truly masters of their art…
… and while true, they was teachin’ me, frustratin’ly slow and sure….
…while them things were for surely true, what they wasn’t was businessmen. Not by a long shot. Even I know, at my tender manhood years, these was masterpieces they was turnin’ out. The love and time and skill and sweat and caressin’ and polishin’ and creatin’ what went into each piece made them worth their weight in riches and gold and then some.
What they often got in return was a sad barter of a couple bags of groceries or some scrawny chickens we had to pay to feed and fatten. Why once, Grandpap even sent me with the old bays to fetch a beat up pickup truck with no engine and only three bald tires he’d gotten for a silver-laden saddle what took three months to ease into elegant perfection. Nearly bustin’ his buttons, he was so proud, I hadn’t the heart to question his settlement. Least not so’s anybody could hear. I was right good at mumblin’ under the covers, though.
And that’s where the skeptic in stepped in, with righteous indignation for whatever slick Willie took Grandpap fer all he was worth. Daddy was no better, though a furrowed brow often accompanied his latest trade. I vowed each time I’d made it right somehow, one of these days.
I’m still workin’ on that.
But I’m workin’ harder on learnin’ the art, makin’ my own pieces of perfection, usin’ my own hands to make a thing then usin’ my head to make folks want it so bad Mama didn’t have to repair the holey floor with tin can lids. (Them things’ the dickens on barefooted feet.) I wanted folks to pay me so much we youngins never got rousted durin’ the late night hours to quick pack our things and hustle out, leavin’ behind unpaid rent. I vowed to pour so much care and effort into my craft folks would pay and arm and a leg and I could buy my sisters new shoes ‘stead of them passin’ down them things till the youngest had barely a cardboard ‘tween her and the gravel.
Determination wadn’t all it would take, I’d no doubt it’d take some ingenuity to get Grandpap and Daddy to ‘low me to set off, but time was tickin’ and I was feelin’ the itch. My turn was comin’ and I promised my tumblin’insides I’d move this family ahead one day. Them older brothers of mine, for all the glory they was gleenin’ come rodeo time, they was all about their ownselves. Proved that over and over, when whatever paltry winnin’s they boasted was busted and gone by the time they reached home sometime the next day or two.
I knew my place in the family order. That was a fact.
I knew what needed doin’.
I knew I was the one who’d do it.