Front Porch

Hey, how’ve you been? Come on up and take a load off. The wicker chair’s a little creaky, but it’s all right. How ’bout some ice tea, take that sweet? Or unsweet.

You know, so often my neighbors, co-workers and interns comment on having the best time out here on the front porch, catching a quick lunch with the hot sun filtering through the crown of the silver maple. Or a leisurely supper, then lingering past twilight, chatting up the fireflies, or delving the evening’s depth with stories, thoughtful discussion and quiet reflection. The perfect evening air, not so chilly or warm that you can even feel it, air just barely floating by. Our best words and thoughts drifting off the porch and away on the dark mid-night air, gone for good. Day is done. See ya in the morning.

Well, we had this bright idea. Now, when we think of it, right around dusk, we roll out about 20 yards of tobacco netting, from the edge of the porch right out across the lawn. Then we tell our stories all evening. First thing in the morning we get ourselves out there, roll up the netting, quick like, and take it out back to the breezeway. One of us holds the roll up by one end over a bushel basket and the others beat it silly with garden stakes. And all our words from the night before fall out into the basket. We sift out the best words and stories with an old window screen, scoop up a good measure into a blue Mason canning jar, bring it up to the office and pour all those little words into the tiny cracks between the keys of the computer keyboard.

So, now we can share some of our stories with you. Are these stories true? Mostly.

Suzanne writes in:
” Hi, Enjoy your stories. Where can I purchase large rolls of tobacco netting?”

I get this question every year, right around the first of June, so I spose you want to keep the robins out a yur strawberry patch.

I guess that proves there’s still a call for tobacco netting, surprisin some outfit or another hasn’t picked up on the market. I guess now-a-days large rolls a tobacco netting are a thing of the past, like fedoras and suspenders. I’d ask my dad, he was born a century ago and knew where to git anything, but he pass away back in the ’80s. I guess I’ll have to write a story about how to git you soma that tobacco netting. If you git some in the meantime let me know, and you can be in the story.

(bring me over a quart a them strawberries, and I’ll show you the secret google search that reveals all wonderful sources of scarce materials that are still needed in this world, no guarantee, but when yur desparate against them birds anythings worth the chance, sunday afternoon would be good since I’ve still got some rubarb out back a the barn that hasn’t bolted, and yur strawberries would be real comfortable mixed up in the last rubarb pie of the spring season, be good for supper, I’m starvin, hurry over, who knows we might find some tobacco netting up in the loft)

John

By Hammer and Hand…

“We love your “By Hammer and Hand Great Works Do Stand, by Pen and Thought Best Words are Wrought.” byline…are you the originator of it?”

It is an adaptation with a long tradition, where I have carved my own little notch. I grew up in my father’s woodworking shop and had my own bench by the time I was ten years old. Occasionally I had questions he could not answer right off. I can picture it now, as he would reach up to the bookshelf above my bench saying, “let’s just check Audels on that.”

Audel’s Carpenter’s and Builder’s Guide is a set of books that he had bought in 1923 when he was just starting in the trades. The small tool-box-sized volumes had a weighty heft that suggested the extensive woodworking information compacted on their thin pages. Gold embossed sub-titles like Cornice Work, Saw Troubles and Piazza Details, sparkled on the spines like gems–just a hint of the treasury in woodworking knowledge to be discovered within.

On the black leather cover was embossed an emblem, very subtle, barely noticeable:  a hammer floating over the sunrise. My dad would take my hand in his and guide my fingers to touch and slide over the emblem and ask, “Where do we seek knowledge?” I reply, “In the east.” He asks “What is the carpenter’s tool?” “The hammer.” –all very mysterious, I didn’t get it right away, thinking, “let’s just look up the answer, here’s the index right here.” Then he would say, “Yes, in the east, at the beginning,” as he opened Audels up to the title page. At the top of the title page was printed:

by hammer and hand all things do stand

So, every time we looked up in Audels, my dad would begin by reading the motto there, “by hammer and hand all things do stand.” Well, after a couple years I knew the ritual by heart and by the time his hand was up to the book on the shelf I could cut to the quick with: “begin in the east, by hammer and hand all things to stand.” When I was thirteen I had arrived at that place in the east where the sun begins to rise, and I began making rather realistic pencil drawings and my dad said, “anyone who can draw like that becomes the woodcarver of the shop.” I was used to doing what my dad told me to do, so I did become the woodcarver and when I was fifteen I carved a crest out of white oak for a fraternity down at the university. It was acclaimed by the client and by my dad as a “great work.” I adapted and adopted the Audels motto as my own:

By Hammer and Hand Great Works Do Stand

Since then it has been my personal motto. Later, during some scholarly research, I was cut back down a notch when I “discovered” that the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen had:

By Hammer & Hand all Arts do Stand

as their motto in the eighteenth century. In the mid-1990s I was contacted by a member of the still operating General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, who wanted to know if I had permission to use their motto. I told him my story and he gave me permission to use my version of the motto.

As writing became a way for me to share what I know about old buildings, I added (the original, I think, but who knows):

By Pen and Thought Best Words are Wrought

Do you have a motto that guides you through your work and life? If so, let us know by leaving a reply below.

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