Barnes & Noble (Knoxville)
June 2002 -- Celtic Cat Publishing will publish Ebbing & Flowing Springs by Jeff Daniel Marion.Excerpt from Ebbing & Flowing Springs
LOOKING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD
My mother loved to tell the story of when I stood at the grave of Daniel Marion, my great-grandfather, and asked, "Mama, is that my grave?" I couldn't have been more than six or seven at the time and I wish that I could tell you I remember precisely what I was thinking. But I can't—what I have is that little story, an often-repeated fragment of my past told by an observer intent on shaping, molding, and nurturing my life. What I can tell you now from the vantagepoint of having lived more than half a century since that day is that this story still haunts me, continues to startle with its truth.
Could it be that in some deeply intuitive way far beyond the rational powers of a six-year-old, I felt a connection with this man, this ancestor dead some twenty-five years before my birth? Of course, I bore his name, simple reason enough to feel connected, to believe our fates were intertwined, maybe even one and the same.
The first Daniel Marion was a cobbler and cabinetmaker, a skilled craftsman, someone we would call “good with his hands.” He made things to last, a fact I can attest to because I have the cupboard he made from cherry and walnut. I have studied his craftsmanship, noted the wooden pegs carefully carved and fitted to join planed and hand-oiled boards. Smooth and gleaming, tight, durable, and sound-this piece of furniture has endured into the fourth generation, serviceable but also beautiful. To the eye of an appraising antique dealer, the piece would probably be worth hundreds of dollars. But its value to me lies in another realm-call it a spiritual presence, an eloquent voice from the past. The truth it speaks is of the profoundly human need to create, not only what is functional and useful, but also something whose form adds grace, a pleasing harmony of line and color.
The cupboard’s very existence is also eloquent testimony of the man who created it, who chose the wood, split and sawed it, cured it, then painstakingly shaped it piece by piece, plank and dowel, shelf and drawer, dovetail joints all by hand. All this for necessity, yes, but also for love-of a woman, the care of family, and a thing well made.
This summer as I prepared to move my great-grandfather’s cupboard from my uncle’s house to my kitchen, I removed the wooden peg handle from its slot, being careful with the doors and their wavy panes of glass. What startled me was the newness of the wood on that peg handle, as though it had been tightly fitted into its slot only days ago by a skilled hand who probably whittled it to fit with his pocket knife. I felt its smoothness and smelled the wood, its aroma still fresh. The handle had perhaps never been removed from its slot since the day my great-grandfather first fitted it into the door. And now here it was in my hands. What rushed back to me in that moment was the memory of a day several years ago when my father, my son, and I stood at my great-grandfather’s grave, a late summer’s day visit to the old homeplace off Slate Hill Road in Mooresburg. We stood silently looking down at the simple lettering of his tombstone: Daniel Marion. These three-Jeff Daniel Marion, Jeff Daniel Marion, Jr., and Stephen Daniel Marion-studying what’s in a name, each deep in his own thoughts, borne on the currents of time, washed ceaselessly back and forth.
I have a photograph of Daniel Marion, the great-grandfather whom I never met but whose work I so admire. And, yes, with his white beard, expressive eyes, and wrinkled brow, we bear a striking resemblance. Even though several family members have commented on the physical similarities, it is in another realm that I feel most deeply my kinship with him: I too aspire to make a worthy and durable thing out of the wards I choose and pare, whittling details to their essence, seeking the grace of a harmonious line, the curve where thought and feeling merge. Indeed, my work grows out of necessity, the need to create, to say and shape my life, the need to work at a craft that can give lasting body to the love I feel for my world fast fading and too soon gone. The grave marker ever reminds me to live fully, love deeply, and work hard, for the night is coming.
As a worker in words whose gift comes partly from that long-ago worker in wood, I offer these writings, testimonies to a place and time deep in the heart’s core. And surely it would not be surprising if this great-grandson of a worker in wood told you that, long before he ever saw his great-grandfather’s cupboard, the first word he learned to spell-taught to him through the tedium of a summer’s day by his Grandmother Marion-was the word cupboard.