Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Wheel.

I miss using my hands to make things.
I wrote this last year for a writing competition.
I did not win.
Which is why I'm changing diapers and folding laundry.
But I miss using my hands to make things.
And using my brain to write things.
You don't have to read it.

My wheel sometimes makes a clicking sound when the knot in the string hits the pulleys, but I don’t think that was what was making Mr. Lucy entranced. I’m fairly certain he was mesmerized by the drive wheel and how I was making it move with my feet on the treadles. I imagined him with his head in a tractor immersed in the same kind of studying. His interest in the nature of how my spinning wheel worked implied that he tinkered with things with wheels, and pulleys, and shafts. We had a common ground somewhere on the floor of our town’s library that snowy day in November.

I was trying to sell my wares at our small town craft fair, as if I were at market and had walked there (or had my oxen pull me there) and I was using my time wisely by making more wares. I spin fiber shorn from the backs of the 11 alpacas we own. I’ve only just recently learned how to do this. That doesn’t mean I’m bad at it. It just means I’m new. But I’m not sure he could tell this about me as he stood not two feet away and studied my hands for many minutes. As far as I was concerned he thought I was a professional. And so, for his sake, I pretended. I didn’t stop my show. I just kept my feet moving as my fingers fed the twisting fiber into my spindle shaft. All around me were my skeins of wool, resting on the sides of wooden peach crates. They looked like wet wool socks draped over a drying rack in front of the woodstove. Browns, whites, and rose grey. And at my feet, too, were boxes of un-spun colored fiber that I had dyed with natural things from my land. Goldenrod. Elderberry. Black walnut. This, too, piqued his interest.

He asked questions. Simple ones. About the process. I answered. But mostly he stood and watched, with his rough, overworked hands clasped simply in front of him. On top of his head was a ball cap, weathered with sweat and sun and years of pulling up and down and on and off. The hat had a tractor brand name on it. I can’t remember if it was Case, John Deere, Ford. He had mentioned knowing a family in town who are dairy farmers. His hat and associations made me assume he had worked and reworked the land. But that story, and the one about the moose, and the one time in the woods, and the spring the sap ran so much they couldn’t…. they are all the stories I have yet to hear.

Mr. Lucy moved further away to the circulation desk, but he continued to watch me turn my wheel. He finally introduced himself to me after he bought me and my family some raffle tickets. The library was trying to raise money for its ailing walls and was raffling off an oversized handled basket of Lake Champlain chocolates. He handed me the ticket stubs and thanked me profusely for sharing my art with him. And then he reached his wrinkled hands into his trouser pockets and pulled out a few squares of dark chocolate. He shyly handed them to me and said, “these are for your children.” His smirk implied a little embarrassment at sharing his secret passion with us but I understood at that moment that his gesture of generosity and his trust with divulging his vice only implied that he liked me very much.

The following week I received something in the mail from Ken. His hand written note contained letters scribed in the most perfect penmanship I had ever seen. The D in Dear placed him back in time for me to a small school house, one in which he may have had to walk to. With every correct swirl in his capital T’s I saw his obedience and a strict school marm looking sternly over his shoulder. Every precise third hump on lower case m’s suggested attention to detail. That kind of penmanship is a lost art and it made me want to dig out my very finest paper stock to write back. He had sent me an article from Northern Woodlands magazine about dyeing fiber from wild sources in the forest. I pictured him thumbing through his back copies, piles of them on the floor next to his favorite reading chair, to find this one article he remembered reading years ago. I saw him shifting his weight to dig in his trouser pockets to find a knife, matted in color. His calloused fingers pulling the dulled blade open in order to use it to meticulously cut the article out of the magazine along its bound edge. His crooked body bending over the table to fold it into three.
I practiced my letters first in rough draft form before feeling like I could send a presentable reply. I was sure to mention my gratitude for his thoughtfulness. And that he should, please would he come, to meet our fury friends. I invited him to come for shearing day, which is always set for the first Monday in May. I told him that I liked his penmanship and he wrote back to me, 

Hi Mary,
Well it was away for the holidays. Then away again to help someone. Now it’s back to be a Vermonter.
Your letter was nice about meeting your animals. When it’s time for them to get trimmed I’ll show up. I think that would be a great thing to take in. And you mentioned meeting and touching them especially if I have some chocolate (ha ha) with me.
I’d like to pay a little in advance with this package.
Thanks again Mary for inviting me to enjoy your animal friends. And for learning about your art.

Bye for now,
Ken Lucy

With this note came more chocolate in payment for a future date. And then as life often does to us, it got away from me. I never called Mr. Lucy to make sure he ‘showed up’ at our farm to touch our animals on that warm May Monday. And even though he never came, I kept my eye out for him, as my booth sat directly in sight of the library door, this snowy November at the craft fair. I kept my feet pedaling and my fingers busy, hoping for Mr. Lucy to come and slip some chocolate from his trouser pockets. But I’m selfish. I want more than dark chocolate and hand written notes. His life’s stories are some that I would work for. I could spin by his wood stove. I could catalogue his magazines for him. Chop wood. Dust the shelves. Make dinner. Anything for love letters, fading photos, artifacts not yet buried, things to write down. Yes, I will spin for stories. I will send chocolate too. Tomorrow. As deposit.


  1. sweet (& bitter sweet) story.

    stupid writing contest judges. you should have won, and they should have cut to the chase and given you billions of bucks, and contracted Universal Studios to build an amusement attraction based on your clicky wheel.

    also, what is this 'You don't have to read it.' that's like holding an ice cream cone, with sprinkles, in front of any kid and saying 'You don't have to eat it.'