Brian’s E-Journal “The Soldier”

*Author’s Note: For those who are new to this site, this entry is a repost.  I first wrote this  story 4 years ago and have never done another because I don’t think I could surpass its message.  For it shares the gratitude many of us have for those who’ve served and made the ultimate sacrifice.  It reminds all of us at home that serving one’s country can come at a price which should never be forgotten or taken for granted.  So to all who’ve worn a uniform and lost everything for all of us, to you and yours we say “Thank you, and God bless and keep you all.”*

     The Soldier appeared again this year, just as he has over almost a hundred and fifty years.  The first reports of him showing up here in Pointer date back to 1868 when the first Decoration Day (now called Memorial Day) was held.  At the time most people assumed he was merely a veteran but when he moved there was no sound,  and when he spoke everyone felt compelled to listen.  It was as if an enchantment had been cast over all.  He spoke of each soldier from the town who had fallen during the war between the states, telling tales of bravery and humanity.  Then, once he finished, the figure marched back the way he came only to be swallowed by a mist that seemed to come from nowhere.

     This happened again the following year, and every year after that.  At first most people just assumed him to be a magician who had served alongside those who had died.  Yet, none of those who had come home recognized the fellow.  In fact, no one could even really describe his features even if he had been standing next to them.  They could distinctly remember his uniform which had clearly belonged to the West Virginia 7th Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  He had all the bearing of a soldier, but even if they looked up into his face all they could remember was that he was young, with a kind face, which had born witness to the horrors of the battlefield.  But none of them could actually describe his face in detail.

Naturally the idea that the fellow was a ghost began to spread among the children and a handful of adults.  But after thirty years passed and those children who had seen him close up could honestly say he had not aged in that time, that others began to believe the tale.

     Throughout the decades, he has always appeared, never once missing a Decoration Day.  And with each visit, he shared new stories about those who had served and fell in the Civil War.  But it wasn’t until the end of the Great War that this began to change.  In 1919, one year after World War I ended, a new monument was erected in the town square with the names of those who had left Pointer to fight overseas.  On that occasion the soldier appeared and shared several stories about those who had been lost on the battlefields of Europe.

     From that day on he continued to appear on Remembrance Day (now called Veteran’s Day) as well as on Memorial Day.

      By this time few, if any, doubted the Soldier’s existence.  In fact many began to welcome his strange visits, but not all.  Those who were too traumatized by their loss, could not bear to see him come.  In particular there had been Violet Parker, who had been engaged to James Moore who fell at the Battle of Belleau Wood in France in 1918.  When the Soldier appeared again on Remembrance Day in 1920, she rushed at him brandishing a pistol from her father’s collection and shot him point blank.  The Soldier did not flinch, nor did he fall.  Instead, he gently took the weapon from her shaking hands, and  pulled her close.  She resisted at first, but then began to calm down.  Those who dared approach them could hear his voice speaking gently to her in sympathy.  Soon Violet slipped her arms around him and held him tightly.  Then she kissed him on the cheek and walked back to where her father stood.  For the rest of her long life, she was happier than anyone could remember, and strongly rebuked anyone who spoke ill of the Soldier or of anyone who served their country.

     The addition of new names and stories of those who served that the Soldier spoke of continued with  each passing year.  Whether they were lost in peacetime or during America’s entry into World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq and of course Afghanistan, he made sure no one forgot them or their service.  And today was no exception.  He spoke of the town’s most recent losses with such feeling, one was convinced he had personally known, or had watched each one of them grow into fine young men and women.

     Of course, I and a number of others know this happens to be the truth.  There are at least a dozen families here in Pointer that know of Uncle Nate.  And they preserve his secret with fierce loyalty, just as mine does.  It is a loyalty based on love and respect.  Whether he’s the ‘Soldier’ or just the family friend or godfather, he has been there for all of us over the decades.  Our dark guardian, the soldier who even when he does not wear the uniform, is always on duty.  Ready to defend and protect all of us and our town, just has he did the day he marched off to war at the age of 16, back in 1862.

     God bless him and all the men and women who have served, and will serve.

The Artist – August 2009 Part IX

 I/we made our way over to the plastic covered figure and carefully unwrapped it. Somewhere behind us Brian took in a deep breath, followed by the words, “Oh my God… it’s… it’s going to be one of your best pieces.”

I felt/heard Nathan share the same sentiments inside our shared head. “Agreed.”

“But there’s still so much to do,” I told them both, glancing over at the wall next to the sculpture. There was a bulletin board with several photos of my grandfather, at least one of them in uniform. The rest were a couple of him even younger, as well as several of him later in life. I had gathered them to try and help me capture the spark of determination in his eye, the set of his jaw, as well as the… the spirit of the man who would come out of not just one but two great wars. I wanted to capture the man he was and would become all in one shot.

But now I hesitated and looked down at my/our hands. I knew they could work the clay, but would they have ‘my’ touch?

“Of course they will,” Nathan assured me. “This is where I take a backseat. You’re in charge. Just think of your grandfather and go for it.”

As soon as I heard those words in my head, I saw my grandfather in my mind as clear as day. Clearer than I’d ever been able to remember him. Honestly, I could see every detail in his face that I wanted to capture and just knew what needed to be done. 

What happened over the next twelve hours will remain with me forever. Never had the clay felt so soothing and yielding to my touch. It and I were in harmony like never before. Had Brian not fallen asleep, letting out the occasional snore, I would never have realized how much time was passing. Nathan and I only paused briefly to allow him to take over and drink what our body needed, before going back to work. 

Every now and again, I’d start to wonder if he wasn’t helping guide my hands, but I knew better. I could sense his wonder at what his hands were helping create under my direction.  Finally, we took step back and into Brian who had been fast asleep on the couch nearby. I’d it in the studio from day one, knowing there’d be times when I would need to stay overnight from time to time. I admit it, when I get going I don’t like to let up some days.

“What the… huh?” Brian muttered then his eyes fell on the sculpt. “Oh my God! It’s… it’s perfect!” he breathed.

“You’re telling me,” Nathan murmured out of our shared mouth. I could actually feel his sense of awe which only added to my delight in this moment. I’d succeeded! But there was still more work to be done.

Walking over to the shelves I pulled out a long thin wire with wooden handles tied to each end. Then I headed back over to the piece and started stretching the wire from the head of the piece down to its base. 

“Um… what are we doing?” Nathan asked aloud. I realized this was for Brian’s sake, as he was looking as puzzled as Nathan was feeling.

“This,” I replied and pulled on the handles of the wire, which slowly sank into the clay, neatly severing the sculpture into two sections. 

“OH MY GOD! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?” Nathan cried, making us take a step back. But I quickly took over and brought us back just in time to catch the back half of the piece before it fell onto the table. 

Before I could explain, Brian cut in saying, “Oh… that’s so you can remove the armature inside the statue.”

Inside our head, I heard Nathan spluttering, “The who… what… where? Wait, this was supposed to happen?”

Patiently, I explained, “You don’t get two feet of clay to stay upright all on it’s own. Take a closer look. See, there’s metal rod attached to the base that runs inside the entire sculpt.”

“Okay, yeah I see that,” Nathan responded, still sounding a bit shocked.

“Well, that has to come out before I put the piece in the kiln for one thing. For another, I have to start hollowing out the entire piece.”

“Hollowing it out?”Nathan repeated, this time aloud for Brian’s benefit.

“That’s right, like this,” I gently held the one half that had come off the main piece into one hand, while I grabbed a tool from nearby in the other. From there I proceeded to scrape out some of the interior of the piece I was holding. 

Remembering to speak out loud, I continued, “Now, I’m going to remove just enough clay so that the remaining shell is just under an inch thick all around. Then I’m going to do the same to the other half that’s still on the armature. This it to keep it from cracking when it goes into the kiln. I’m also going to poke a bunch of 1/2 in deep holes to also prevent cracking.”

Naturally, I did as I promised, allowing both Nathan and Brian to see what I meant. Then I did the same to the other half. When both were nicely hollowed out and pricked, I began scouring the edges of both halves where the wire had cut them, and then brushed the edges with a water. “Since this is a water-based clay, this will allow me to put them back together,” I explained.

“But what about the seams where the two halves meet?” came Nathan’s voice out of our mouth.

“I was wondering the same thing,” added Brian, who had been watching the entire process intently.


I’ll add more clay and smooth it all out, and then rework it into the rest of the design,” I told them. 

An hour later, the piece was whole again, without the slightest hint that it had been cleaved in two. 

“So now you put it in the kiln?” Nathan asked out loud.

“Yes, but we’re going to use a low heat to dry it out. The process is called ‘candling’. Then once the clay is really good and dry, we’ll start the firing schedule,” I replied.

“The what?” Nathan asked out loud again.

I winced inwardly. Obviously, neither of them had any clue how long this was going to take. Plus, I was starting to get worried about my physical form back at the hospital. The three of us really needed to talk things out before anything else could happen.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Artist – August 2009 Part II

The piece in question was a full-bodied statue of my mom’s father who had passed away the year before at the age of 107. And believe me the man had led an impressive life having served not only in WWI but also WWII. Now some of you who know me might be thinking ‘Wait, I know you’re like only 29. So just how old was he when your mom was born?’ Well my mom was from his second marriage in 1948. My grandmother was younger than him and gave birth to my mom seven years later.

Now, getting back to the sculpture, when I say full-bodied I don’t mean it was man-sized. It was only  between 18″ and 24″ inches in height. I had thought about doing a bust, but she had always been proud of the fact that he had served in both world wars. But it was his service in World War I that she had always impressed her the most. Seeing photos of him in his uniform back then, so young and full of hope and purpose, had really made her see him in a different light. 

I know he saw a lot back in the Great War, as they originally called it, but what always impressed me the most about him was the fact that he enlisted again when the Second World War began. He once told us that part of the reason he did was because he knew a lot of young men who weren’t prepared for what they might face. He himself had barely been sixteen when he’d enlisted, lying about his age to be accepted at the recruiting office. And as I said, he saw a lot. He was wounded more than once too and was involved in some of the more famous and fiercest battles including the Hundred Day Offensive.

Looking back, I think that may have actually been the real reason why I chose to put him in his first uniform. Seeing photos of that fresh-faced innocent who would face horrors time and again, and still be willing to help others face new ones, really helped me understand the man I knew and loved.

Anyway, having a specific image in mind I got work in my studio and began the project.

I was well into the sculpt, having already gotten the shape and pose just right, when a prominent gallery wanted to showcase my work. The timing could not have been better. The date set for the opening would be just perfect to unveil my grandfather’s likeness before my mother, our friends, and so many others. Needless to say I went back to the piece with even more enthusiasm. I was calling upon every technique I could think of get everything just right and it was paying off.

Hour by hour, I could see my grandfather’s spirit taking shape in the piece. I was so pleased that I didn’t care if I never made anything as close to perfect as it. But there was still a lot to do when I left my studio that afternoon. As much as I wanted to keep working, I had to get downtown and meet with a gallery owner (not the one who was going to hold the exhibition). I remember putting the plastic over my work in progress to keep it moist, silently promising I’d be back soon. Only I wasn’t.

In fact it would be weeks, and merely days before the exhibit, before I’d step foot inside that studio again… at least physically.

TO BE CONTINUED…