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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Concentration (07/24/08)

TITLE: Preaching a Picture
By Debra Martinez


I slipped into the already-warm metal building, headed past a rack of storm doors, and skirted rolls of fiberglass and aluminum wire used for screening. A huge standing fan stirred the air, but did nothing for the sweat already dripping from my father’s face. I could see that he had just finished cutting and connecting aluminum strips for several screens and had already placed anchoring nails into the scarred surface of his worktable. Forcing the first framework onto the nails, he reached over and pulled from the stand above his table the correct wire for this screen. Taking his box cutter, he severed the wire from its roll and reached for the rolling tool he needed next.

I stood back and watched. Over the years of my life, I had viewed this process countless times, but I was still amazed at the focused attention that my father gave to his task. It was as though each screen was a masterpiece, something that must be flawless when completed.

He picked up the rubber cord that would hold the new screen wire in place within the channels, and, using a flathead screwdriver, he pushed the end of the cord into place. Then, he used the roller to press the cord into its track, running his hands over the screen to remove wrinkles, as if preparing a fabric for ironing. His concentration was complete, a master at work. Within minutes, the finished screen was leaning against the table containing the table saw, and he was reaching for his next creation.

I took this moment to announce myself, for I knew that I would otherwise go unnoticed until the job was complete. Even at seventy-nine, four years into a fake retirement, my father never gave himself any slack. Work—quality work—was his legacy to the community, and those who had done business with him for the past forty years had never been disappointed.

“Hi, Daddy,” I began. “I came by to get another story, but I can come back when you are not so busy.” A teacher, I had spent this summer chronicling stories of my father’s life, a task that had offered me many unexpected blessings. I usually caught him early, seated in the open door of the building in a wooden rocker my sister and I had given him for his seventieth birthday, one of the times we got a gift just right. Today, I had found him deep in his task, and I hated to break his concentration.

Much to my surprise, he said, “Stay. I can talk. What do you want today?” Within moments, I was scribbling notes in my journal, which was already filled with stories of hard work and hard times on a southern farm, as he presented me with a vivid description of a sugar cane harvest when he was a boy of eight. A quick thought darted across my mind: “He is enjoying this as much as I am!” I had no more time to reflect on it, for we were in the midst of turning cane juice into syrup.

He took me into the field as neighbors helped pull strips from the cane. It was then pressed to release its juices, which were placed in large jars in the back of his papa’s wagon. Hulls had to sit between the jars to keep them from overturning as the juice was transported down the road to the mill. I could see it all through the eyes of that young boy, and I wished the tasting could be as vivid, as he described the hot syrup dripped onto cups of snow and eaten with the pleasure of accomplishment.

“You know,” Dad continued, “I can still hear the old man who ran the syrup mill as he stoked the biggest fire I had ever seen. He preached to me that day as the cane juice ran into the long metal pans and simmered over that hot fire. He told me, ‘This fire is mighty hot, son, but the fires of hell are a whole lot hotter.’” What a picture to place into a young boy’s mind!

I looked at my dad, his still-handsome face lost in long ago. He had also preached a vivid picture for the young people in his life, one of concentration and hard work, of always doing a job well.

As I tucked my journal away, I contemplated the picture I was preaching, hoping that it would also stand the test of time.

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This article has been read 447 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Mary McLeary07/31/08
A powerful message. I think we need more dads like this one.
Marlene Austin07/31/08
A lovely tribute, tenderly written. Thanks for sharing this small snapshot. :)
Rachel Stone08/02/08
Thank you for sharing the gift of your father in such a magnificent way. What a joy his stories will be! Well done! God bless you both!
Mary Hackett08/04/08
You do well to collect stories from your dad :) I'm glad that you're writing his legacy.
Patricia Turner08/06/08
Reminds me of my Dad; sob - he's gone now. But he was such a hard worker and always took time for me. A great reminder and I like the way you wrote this. :-) Thanks.
Marsha Landers08/07/08
Just perfect! So exactly like him and wonderfully told! He has finally been immortalized in print. He will love it!