In my last blog, “We’re all pilgrims looking for home,” I mentioned having lived for a while at Rolling Acres Ranch when I was a boy of 12. That brought to mind a carpenter I remember now as “Old Tom” who came there for a few weeks in the fall to build a couple of camp cabins.
Old Tom – I think his last name may have been Thomson, or Thompson – was about the age I am now. (So, he wasn’t that old, eh.) He was tall and lean, rather reserved and dignified, and always impeccably dressed even in his work cloths: dark, sensible, broadcloth pants, vest, clean white shirt, and armbands that kept his sleeves safely up. I believe his background was Scottish Presbyterian, like a lot of born-and-raised people then in Egremont Township.
In the evening after dinner, he and “Dad” Brush would retire to the living room, where Old Tom always sat in the same rocking chair. Because I was the oldest of the boarding kids, but mainly I think because I did so much work down at the barn, I was allowed to take an after-dinner seat there too.
Old Tom had a routine: first, he would have his cup of hot water (for some reason, possibly for health reasons, he didn’t drink tea or coffee); then he’d play his fiddle for a while, with the Brush’s pet cocker-spaniel howling along as he played; but that never fazed him. Then, he and “Dad” Brush might talk for a while. I remember once Old Tom looked at my long, lean feet and predicted I’d grow up to be a “six-footer.” Well, I stopped about an inch short, but nobody’s perfect.
The one evening that stands out the most in my memory is when Old Tom took a notion to tell a story. I’ve often thought of it over the years. I’ve come to realize it was a piece of local, oral folk history, doubtless based on actual events that happened during and just after pioneer times in that area.
Old Tom told it better than I ever could, but I’ll do my best: Continue reading