I sat down at the bar at Hunter Gather alone. It’s warm and dark, the kind of place strangers talk. A few other farmers, craftsmen, tradesmen types were always there at 4 p.m. One time I was telling some guy a story. I’d explained how my farm is an hour out of town and that we grow special lilies there. He stopped me mid-story and said, “You’re that guy who gets up at 4:30 makes gardens all day, then eats lentils and goes to bed.”
How do you respond to that? It’s mostly true, the lentils, the gardens, and the getting up early. But seriously, 4:30 am? No. And there’s more to my life than that. And it’s weird for a stranger to know intimate details about your diet and sleep patterns.
He went on, “My buddy Jay is doing some work for you down there. He’s really proud of it but yeah, no offense. That’s exactly how he described you.”
Ok. But now I’m more confused because Jay is my buddy. Not his. I knew Jay had a city life but I didn’t know much about it. Jay practically moved in with me when he was 22 or so. Lost, fallen head over heels in love with my stunning housemate. One of the benefits of having beautiful, talented young women live with you is that they attract beautiful, talented young men. We all drove trucks, like getting dirty and like creating beautiful things.
That’s a long intro to tell you that this tall, skinny, hard-drinking man was an absolute artist with stone. Beyond compare. Seriously. And trust me, I can’t make stone but I’ve traveled to gardens around the world and I’ve seen some spectacular garden stonework. Jay got stone. I could say, “Jay, let’s make a patio that swirls around like this” and swirl my arms. I swirl my arms a lot. Or I could say”Let’s make it like a patio with a river running through it like this” and sketch a flowing line on the ground.
Contemplative old Jay would look down at the ground. I knew he was gathering his thoughts and words to tell me something I didn’t want to hear. “You know it’s hard to make rectangular bricks and geometrical stone swirl. You know, there’s some stuff stone just doesn’t seem like it wants to do. You know the terms, stone-cold, stone-hard….”
Then, he’d have a beer or two or twelve, he’d start thinking and talking. He’d go on and on about some patio he’d seen in Spain where the bricks swirled and there was a book he’d look for that might have something like that. He’d go on until I was worn out and I said ‘Just think about it. It’d be pretty if it was all swirly and Good Night” .
I’d eat my lentils and the next morning when I woke up, there’d be a little drawing and a plan for how to make it happen on the table. And sometimes, old Jay, during his nighttime drawing and scheming and planning would write a little poem and leave it out for me too. A poem. I saved them. He’d be embarrassed.
So I’d try to say something really nice and sweet and personal. The kind of things guys don’t usually say to each other on the job site. I knew he appreciated an intimate word. He knew I was sincere, but also pushing him a little. Jay would look at the ground. He’d say something sweet too, but brief, kinda like oh shucks. Then, “I just think a lot of you man and I want to make your stone dreams come true.”
And we did that. Over and over and we made the most beautiful gardens. And one day, one hot day when summer was coming on so all the plants looked a little silvery and dry, we worked all day digging an 1,800-foot trench, three feet deep. Sam, Tom, Jay and I. And he was sitting on this couch, this very couch that is now in the back of my truck when I said Good Night. But that night, I added, ‘Call me if you need me, I’m just right upstairs, ” cause I knew he wasn’t right. And that night, I did get up at 4:30 a.m.. And I knew when I walked into the room that wasn’t a drunk slump. I knew I’d miss him more than anybody, in every way, in every aspect of my life; driving, cooking, arguing, singing, writing, garden making, singing, reading, especially reading, he introduced me to so much great literature. Fuck I can’t stop listing ways I miss him and I can’t write some of them cause when you’re that close with somebody, things just sound weird.
Y’all know what I mean. Y’all know things that you’ll never share again.
Tomorrow, when we pick up that couch with its new upholstery I’m going to be really happy that we got it recovered in a fabric that is the color of Tennessee Crab Orchard stone. That was his favorite. We even went to Crab Orchard one time. I don’t know how many years ago; a stone road trip.
I don’t know how many years later, a fabric road. Everything. Softer. I just know I’m going to cry.