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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Wow! (03/11/10)

TITLE: Paring Down
By Loren T. Lowery


Protected from the Alabama sun, I sat on the porch of my granddaddy’s farm watching him whittle a hickory stick down to next to nothing. I was on the top stoop, he in a painted ladder back chair, leaning forward into his work.

I was ten years-old and easily taken by the sun’s glint off the blade as granddaddy applied its honed edge to the twig. The twig long dried by its winter’s rest in the brambles of the wood pile next to the house carried with it memories. Last fall grandma and I collected it with hundreds of other from the nearby woods to be used as kindling to help heat our home.

But now, by the patient labor of my granddaddy’s hands in guiding the sweep of the blade, this one twig was being transformed. Not into so much of anything that I could see it becoming; but also into the shavings that lay white and curled at his dusty, booted feet.

A slight breeze disturbed the shavings, scattering them in gentle swirls, rattling them across the porch, pitching them out of sight beyond the edge of the porch.

“Whatcha’ thinkin’, Danny?” Granddaddy asks, without looking up.

“Nothin’,” I reply. I like talking to granddaddy. He always seems satisfied with short answers. He seems to know that sometimes answers are not expected and it takes a while for a mind to wake up from being asked.

He doesn’t always expect an answer either, knowing some questions are more a nuisance then anything else, like a fly you’d shoo away from your dinner plate. Or, if it’s a good question, a short answer would suffice until you had time to mull it over.

I stand and go into the barren dirt yard, colored and livened only by pecking hens – mostly Rhode Island Reds as Grandma calls them. I find and collect the whittled shavings. Somehow feeling they belong together, or maybe granddaddy might need them, later, to complete what he’s making. Cupping as many as I could, I set them in the growing pile at his feet.

“Did you teach Daddy to whittle?”

“Did. He carved a tiny roadster with turning wheels when he was ‘bout your age. Got it on my dresser, case you’d like it.” My face beams and he nods. “‘Course a few years later, he made himself a smokin’ pipe. Somethin’ your grandma wasn’t too proud of and made him toss it away.”

I smiled knowingly and he continues, “Got that hid in the same dresser.” He winks.

My parents were killed in a car wreck last year. My wearing a seat belt and not being thrown out a window is what saved me and mostly accounts why I’m living here with my grandparents.

“Teach me?” He simply nods and I don’t ask when because I know he’ll know when it’s time. “Whatcha’ makin?” I slide into his vernacular like slipping into my favorite jeans – the ones my parents had given me last Christmas. I know I’ll outgrow them someday, but not now, not today. Maybe never.

“What’s it look like?”


“Easy to do when you’re lookin’ too hard.”

I try not to stare, but still bring my face closer. The glint of the blade, up and back - his measured strokes, mesmerizing. I do see nothing. Yet, I’m oddly calm in the quiet of his work.

I rest my head on the pillar that attaches the stoop to the roof and continue to watch him – the twig diminishing, the white shavings increasing at his feet with every stroke. Even though I know it’s dead, I wonder if the twig feels any pain.

“I see a lot of your daddy in you.”

I fight tears and he is patient with me.

“He’d be proud; your ma, too.” A breeze kicks up, scattering the shavings again. I rise to collect them. “Let them be,” he calls gently.

I sit back down. “You don’t need them?” He shakes his head. “Not even for kindling?” He shakes his head again. “But the stick, it’s almost gone, too and it’s…it’s…”

“Nothing,” he finishes for me.

I search his face, his eyes. Suddenly I feel a peace I’d never thought possible.

A voice comes from behind us. Its grandma’s standing at the screened front door. “And what have my two men been up to?”

“Nothing,” we respond together, knowing her question to be a good one; and that a short answer would suffice until I, at least, had time to mull it over

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This article has been read 751 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Robyn Burke03/18/10
OOOOOh-- I like this!! Really like this! The gentle tempo, the wisdom, the feelings it evokes-- all so lovely. You paint such a clear picture, not just of the surroundings but the emotions as well. Wow!
Donna Wolther03/18/10
I agree. Lines like this feel so comforting:
I slide into his vernacular like slipping into my favorite jeans –
Francy Judge 03/21/10
A beautiful, engaging story. Loved it.
william price03/22/10
I always used to worry with a parent/grandparent having a switch in hand, but your tone was gentle to go there. I really liked this. Very tender, real, honest. It also reminded me maybe I spend too much time running after the shavings. Thank you. God bless.
AnneRene' Capp03/22/10
This was a warm fuzzie read :) Reminds me of spending quiet time with the Lord.
Ann Grover03/22/10
Gentle and rich with meaning. I enjoyed this very much... the warm sun, the deep relationship...

(Just a few tense changes to tidy up.)
Eliza Evans 03/22/10
Dreamy, deliciously good.

This slowed me right down. I savored it.
I could HEAR the grandfather's voice, SEE him...oh, man, pitch-perfect.

Simple, yet so rich. YUM!
Virgil Youngblood 03/22/10
This evokes good memories of visits to my grandpas. Both were porch setters, and men of few words. But what that said and how they said it, were treasure to hold for a lifetime.
Beth LaBuff 03/22/10
You have an amazing way with words and thoughts! Sometimes you don't need to have something to show for your time, it's enough that you were together. …Love the granddaddy--grandson moment!
Rachel Phelps03/24/10
Wonderful! Oh, it made me want to jump in my car and head to my grandparents' farm right now. Excellent!
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/24/10
Your beautifully written tender moment has so much between the lines that you reader ponders a long time after reading it.
Sarah Elisabeth 03/24/10
What a precious, calm story. I loved the subtleness felt throughout.

The tense switches were a little distracting, but overall, this was a nicely done piece!
Sara Harricharan 03/24/10
Ah, a grandfather story. I like it! I really like Danny too, the way he rambles through his thoughts and even though he has known the sorrow, it doesn't overtake the story, it just sort of spills in a few dribbles here and there, then we learn of the stick. Beautifully written--I enjoyed this. One of my favorites of yours.
Carol Penhorwood 04/20/10
So much said in so few words. You've painted a picture with words that move the heart. Beautiful!