Do you ever look at gravestones and think about the life contained between the two dates inscribed on stone? This is my whimsical way of weaving a story about the adventures in the dash.
The first Monday of every month, I’ll feature a gravestone (or two) along with a fictional story depicting what a piece of their lives might have looked like. It may or may not be a complete story. The idea is simply to give a glimpse at a part of a history we will never know.
In the interest of privacy, I’ll give only first or last names, not both. I hope you enjoy this fanciful peek into what might have been.
Previous stories can be found on the Graveyard Tales Archive
A Bit of Woodwork
Name: Charles: 1933 – 2004
Background: The most interesting thing I saw on this gravestone was that, although labeled as a loving father, grandfather, and brother, it said nothing about a husband on it, nor was it next to another gravestone with a woman’s name. Which means he either had kids out of wedlock or it was a pretty nasty divorce. Additional items of notice were the symbols of a carpenter trade and the Ruritan National community service organization. I immediately decided he did carpentry work for the organization, though I have nothing to back that up.
I thought initially that Charles’ story would be either about his divorce or working for the community story, but that wasn’t what came to mind when I started writing. I had laughed when I saw his nickname was on the stone: “Shorty”. I’m sure that at least one point in his life, he did not appreciate such a nickname, though he must have grown accustomed to it for it to have ended up immortalized. And that is what inspired this month’s story.
Inspired Fictional Story:
“Shorty Chorty! Shorty Chorty!”
Charlie ignored the taunts behind him as he concentrated on his project. He was used to it by now, though the occasional tightening in his stomach and chest forgot he didn’t mind. But if he pushed away the chants and focused instead on the feel of the wood easing away with his chisel, the knots eased with it and he was able to avoid yet another day of fights.
“Here, now! You kids get away from here unless you want to be put to work helping us clean out the shop!”
Charlie didn’t let the relief show on his face when his older brother went marching out to confront them. They promptly scattered. Unlike Charlie, James had been 5’9 by the time he was thirteen, so he had no issues scaring the bullies. As his brother reentered the shop, muttering something about useless hooligans, Charlie glanced up at him, grateful, but unwilling to show it.
“They ain’t hurting nothin’. I don’t care if they call me names.”
James frowned down at him, but Charles detected the light of amusement in his brother’s eye and looked back down at his work. “Anyway, I can take care of myself.”
“Yeah, the last thing we need is Ma worrying about another black eye, Shorty.”
Charlie grimaced, but couldn’t object after he had just said he didn’t care.
“What are you working on?”
His grimace turned to a grin as he held up the wood block to show off the partially carved head. “A whistle shaped like a bird.”
“Say, that’s pretty good.” James took it from him and examined it thoroughly. Charlie stood to his full 4 foot 7 inch height and waited for his appraisal. His seventeen-year old brother had taken over Dad’s business after he died in the war, and if he said it was good enough to sell, then Charlie got to keep all the money it made except the cost of the wood.
He waited while James tested out the quality of the wood, ran his fingers along the edges, and finally handed it back with a nod. “If it turns out as good as it looks like it will, I’ll put it right on the counter.”
Charlie grinned. While most of James’ work was custom, he kept little hand carved knick knacks for purchase as gifts on a counter in the corner to help money come in when people either didn’t have the money for custom furniture, or didn’t trust someone so young to conduct the work. It was not uncommon for customers to come by and bargain with him to obtain affordable gifts for loved ones.
“Are you ready to tell me what you are saving for?” James asked as he went back to putting veneer on the cabinet he was finishing.
Charlie shrugged as he went back to carving. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust James. He just didn’t want to sound like a momma’s boy. Then again, maybe his brother would be able to help. He looked up, but James was concentrated on his project, as dutifully as if Dad was still standing over him, critiquing his every move. It was what made lots of Dad’s former customers still come back—that and the pity for him. The rest of his customers found other carpenters, only returning to purchase the knick knacks as they told James he was too young to be running the shop. But James didn’t ever let either pity or snide remarks distract him. He just smiled and then later would remind Charlie that if he let what people thought control his life, he’d never get anywhere in life. Someday, Charlie thought, he’d be just like James.
“What are you staring for? Get bored of your whistle already?”
Charlie shook his head and ducked back over the bird’s head. “I just thought…well, if I can sell enough, maybe I can get Ma a new hat for her birthday.”
The sound of James’ tools ceased, and Charlie was too embarrassed to look up and see what his brother’s expression was. He waited until the sound of the tools restarted and then added, “You know—like Dad always promised he would when the war ended.”
“I know.” James’ voice was quiet, and Charlie risked a glance, wondering if he sounded like a pathetic wimp for wanting to get something so girly with his money.
But James was staring down at his work so intently that for a minute, Charlie thought he was blinking hard because he was keeping his eyes open too long. It took a minute to realize that his brave, older brother was blinking back tears.
“No need to be a baby about it.” Charlie half regretted the words once they were out, but the tears only embarrassed him more than he was already.
He was surprised when James looked over at him, and smiled, making no further attempt to hide the moisture in his eyes. “Shorty, you are going to be a great man.”
“Well, when that happens, I’m going to pummel you for calling me names.” Charlie shook his head, grateful when James laughed, and went back to carving his whistle.