Walls or Bridges?

I used to tell a story in my days working in libraries with kids, and its been on my mind lately. I know reading is not the same as hearing, but do your best to hear it being told…

Once upon a time there were two neighbors who were also farmers and friends. They’d been all three for almost forty years. Trading stories, tools, helping each other put up hay–all the things that farmers, neighbors, and friends do for each other.

And then one day they had a falling out. Oh, it was over something stupid, like Paul lost Joe’s favorite hay rake; or Joe called Paul a name in jest and Paul took it wrong. What they argued about doesn’t really matter because the next day Paul took his tractor and dug a big ditch between the two men’s properties. Water from the top of the hill searched out the ditch and now a decent-sized creek was the boundary line between the two farms, when before, there had been none.

There was a terrible silence between the two men for weeks.

One day Joe looked up from working in the barn to see a man standing in the doorway. He was carrying a wooden tool box that was well filled with awls, rasps, screws, and nails. He had two saws in a pack on his back. “G’mornin,” he said with an easy smile. “Got any projects you need done or things you might need fixin’?”

Joe thought a bit and then smiled back. “You’ve come at a good time. Follow me.” Joe led the carpenter down to the rushing stream. “Ya see this crick? T’wasn’t here three weeks ago. My neighbor put it in to spite me, and I’m mighty mad about the whole thing. I want you to build me a nice wall with that pile a lumber I have in the barn. And I’ll pay ya well if ya do a good job.”

The carpenter nodded. “I have just the project in mind for you. I think you’ll be pleased.”

“I have to go to town today,” Joe told the carpenter. “I can get ya more wood if you think you’ll need some.”

“I think this will be plenty,” the carpenter told him. He took his saws from his sack, spread his tools on the ground, and hurried off to haul the lumber he needed to get to work.

When Joe returned from town late in the afternoon, his jaw dropped at the sight. There across the creek was a graceful wooden bridge with sturdy railings and a deck big enough to support a tractor or a truck or a wagon. And there on the other side of the bridge was his neighbor Paul waving and smiling. He crossed the bridge and grabbed Joe’s hand, shaking it up and down with abandon. “I have to say I don’t know what possessed you to have this bridge built after these last weeks of ugliness between us, but I am so glad you did. I’ve wondered and wondered how we could ever make a bridge over what happened, and dog gone it, you went and done it. Built a bridge right over it.” He shook his head in amazement.

Joe was stunned into silence, but he had a grin smeared all over his face. “T’wasn’t me,” he finally stuttered to his friend. “It was this here carpenter gent’s work.”

They turned to look at the carpenter who was packing up his tools. Joe called to him, “Please don’t go. I got several other projects for ya — you did a fine job on this one.”

The carpenter shook his head and smiled.  He shouldered his saws, picked up his tool box, and waved at the two friends. “I can’t stay,” he told them. “I’ve got other bridges to build.” And with those last words he disappeared over the hill.

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We live in a world that builds walls, but bridge building can be done by anyone–you don’t have to be a carpenter or an engineer. What kind of bridge can you build? A footbridge? A covered bridge? Or a glorious bridge that overcomes fear and unforgiveness? Imitate the carpenter–love your neighbor and build a bridge, not a wall.

This story has been around for a long time, mostly as Author Unknown. I found it as “Old Joe and the Carpenter” in Thirty-Three Multicultural Tales to Tell by Pleasant DeSpain. Margaret Read MacDonald published a version by the same name in Peace Tales. When I searched the internet I found an original version–much longer and more colorful–as a story On the Hills and Everywhere written by Manly Wade Wellman (ca. 1956) in a book of stories called John the Balladeer.  This is my own version. 

18 for ’18

This is my 6th annual New Year’s post with additions for 2018.  I wasn’t going to do this again; six years seemed like plenty. Then I read through it and thought that this year needs a peace, love, and can’t-we-all-just-get-along? post more than any other year I’ve lived through. Except maybe 1968… (eh, was that really fifty years ago?)

So I wish you all peace, love, and a year of forgiving and forgetting.  Happy 2018 everyone — and thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing my little place in cyberspace.

There are two kinds of people in the world:

1. those who would go to Times Square for New Year’s Eve, and those who couldn’t be paid enough to go…

Sunrise from our bedroom windows

Sunrise from our bedroom windows

2. those who go out for New Year’s Eve, and those who stay home…

steak, burgundy mushrooms, asparagus

3. those who would rehab an old vacant house, and those who would look for a new one instead…

boards

4. Cat-lovers and Dog-lovers…

Cat in the Christmas tree

5. Savers and Pitchers…
pitchers

6. Dreamers and Doers…

7. those who believe and those who scoff…

Micah 6:*

8. those who stay, and those who go…

9. those who love snow, and those who don’t…

10. those who take naps, and those who feel superior to those who take naps…

Cat nap

11. those who love city streets, and those who love country roads…

12. those who look up and those who look down…

13. those who eat their fruits and vegetables, and those who eat their meat’n potatoes…

green tomato salsa

14. those whose glass is half-empty and those whose glass is half-full…

Stag's Leap winery

15. those who work for pay and those who work for love; and those who are blessed to do both at the same time…

Mr. H.C's truck

Mr. H.C’s truck

16. those who believe santa is a democrat, those who believe santa is a  republican, and those who believe santa should just start a third party for the rest of us — the Dempublicans? The Republicrats? (Surely he would get more than just my vote…)

17. Those who love to go shopping and those who would rather eat worms than go to a Walmart.

18. Flitterers and Plodders…

At different times in our lives, we can be any of these. (Well, probably not too many of us would admit to being that turtle…)
Me? I have been all these — a city lover, a country girl; a scoffer, a believer; an optimist, a pessimist; a cat-lover, a dog-lover; a dreamer, a doer; a shopper and a worm-eater…(Though I would have to be paid a lot of cash to go to Times Square on New Year’s Eve.)
Can we remember this?
Can we remember that our differences make this beautiful world what it is?
Can we let go of our prejudices, our prides, our preconceptions, our (fill in the blank here)… and just love each other?

May grace, peace, and joy be yours in abundance in 2018.

Christmas angel

Would you like burnt toast with that?

I’m cooking this week for a crowd of high school kids at the Foley Center, the headquarters for the Christian Appalachian Project, in Martin, Kentucky. Really I’m just serving and taking directions from the real cooks who are running the kitchen, and that’s just fine with me. I’m not ready to be in charge of making breakfasts, lunch, and dinner for 60 people, whether they be preschoolers, high-schoolers, or out-of-schoolers.

Yesterday I cooked the pasta; this morning I baked the biscuits, helped with the making of egg casseroles (cracked and beat 9 dozen eggs), and baked a poke cake using ingredients I wouldn’t be caught dead having in my own kitchen. But hey, I’m probably going to try some of it because a little bit of something bad once in awhile isn’t going to kill me.

Okay, so, I try to eat healthy: Buy organic, grow a lot of our own food, and scrutinize ingredients on food boxes at the grocery store. But I’m not a purist. In fact, as I’m writing this post I have a handful of gummy worms by the computer; they were sitting out on the counter in a giant bag, free for anyone. And they taste fun. But this is not going to be a food rant post.

Last night we were baking the garlic toast and getting last minute instructions on how to serve the food. The first batch of twenty-eight pieces of bread got a little, er, dark while we were talking. We had set the timer, but the convection oven cooked them faster than expected. We put them on the bottom of the server, piled the perfectly cooked pieces on top, and hoped we wouldn’t get down to those bottom well done pieces of bread.

But we did. The lady who was slopping food on plates with me jokingly began asking all the kids if they wanted the burnt toast. Of course, no one took any. So I started giving them a choice between dark or light. Suddenly we got some takers. When we called them regular or crunchy, we got more takers.

Now this was not a scientific experiment, but just a lovely lesson on how important words are.

eat your words

Because those burnt words might taste bad going down… but they taste worse when someone throws them back at you.