OLD JOE AND THE CARPENTER – A Tale from Appalachia
Old Joe lived way out in the countryside, and he had one good neighbor. They’d been friends all their lives. And now that their spouses were buried and their children raised, all they had left were their farms… and each other.
But for the first time, they’d had an argument. It was over a stray calf that neither one really needed. It seemed as though the calf was found on Joe’s neighbor’s land and so he claimed it as his own. But Old Joe said, “No, that calf has the same markings as my favorite cow, and I recognize it as being mine.”
Well, they were both a bit stubborn, so they just stopped talking to each other. That happened about a week before, and it seemed that a dark cloud had settled over Old Joe…until there came a knock at his door.
He wasn’t expecting anybody that morning, and as he opened the door, he saw a young man who had a box of tools on his shoulder. He had a kind voice and dark, deep eyes, and he said, “I’m a carpenter, and I’m looking for a bit of work. Maybe you’d have some small jobs that I can help with.”
Old Joe brought him into the kitchen and sat him down and gave him some stew that he had on the back of the stove. There was some homemade bread, some fresh churned butter and homemade jam.
While they were eating and talking, Joe decided that he liked this young fellow, and he said, “I do have a job for you. Look right there through my kitchen window. See that farm over there? That’s my neighbor’s place. And you see that crick [creek] running right down there between our property lines? That crick, it wasn’t there last week. My neighbor did that to spite me. He took his plow up there, and he dug a big old furrow from the upper pond and flooded it.
“Well, I want you to do one better. Since he wants us divided that way, you go out there and build me a fence – a big, tall fence – so I won’t even have to see his place no more!”
And the carpenter said, “Well, if you have the lumber and the nails, I got my tools, and I’ll be able to do a job that you’ll like.”
Joe had to go to town to get some supplies, so he hitched up the wagon and showed the carpenter where everything was in the barn. And that carpenter carried everything he needed down to the crick and started to work.
And his work went smooth and fast. He did his measuring and his sawing and his nailing. It was about sunset when Old Joe returned, and the carpenter had finished his work. When Old Joe pulled up in that wagon, his eyes opened wide and his mouth fell open…because there wasn’t a fence there at all.
It was a bridge, going from one side of the crick to the other! It had hand rails and all – a fine piece of work – and his neighbor was just starting to cross the bridge with his hand stuck out, and he was saying, “Joe, you’re quite a fellow to build this bridge. I’da never been able to do that, I’m so glad we’re going to be friends again!”
And Joe, he put his arms around his neighbor and said, “Oh, that calf is yours. I’ve known it all the time. I just want to be your friend, too.”
About that time, the carpenter started pulling his tools into the box and then hoisted it onto his shoulder and started to walk away. And Joe said, “Wait, come on back, young fellow. I want you to stay on. I got lots of projects for you.”
The carpenter just smiled and said, “I’d like to stay on, Joe, but you see, I can’t. I got more bridges to build.”
© Pleasant DeSpain. Reprinted from Peace Tales by Margaret Read MacDonald, 2005