Walnut, Orioles and Asphalt
I waited about ten minutes for the beeswax to cloud before wiping it away with a clean, lint free rag… going with the grain, of course.
"How long did you figure this job to take?' asked Donnie. He had packed away all of tools into our respective trucks and now stood, watching me somewhat anxiously.
From its kennel, the homeowner's Westie yipped with the ferocity of a hairy marshmallow. The tiny beast was sequestered to its caged quarters in the kitchen after it bit the heel of my leather boot, and its high-pitched protest reverberated through the corridors of vaulted ceilings and into the den where Donnie and I stood.
"Four hours," I answered. The American Black Walnut mantel glowed with etherial matte finish warmth, as if it naturally grew in the space we'd just installed it by ways of sunlight and time. I folded the cloth and stuffed it into my jeans pocket, stepping down from the hearth… satisfied. It was perfect.
"We're coming up on that now," Donnie said. "If you want to make Maryland tonight, we've got to hit the road, man. "
"Yeah… okay Don."
"It looks beautiful, Jay… Come on, man, we've got to go. The L.I.E. is going to be a bitch."
With that, we pulled out of Lloyd Harbor, NY and headed west into the rain soaked taillights of rush hour. We lost each other in Queens, but neither driver seemed to care. Several quick phone calls and a half bag of sunflower seeds later, we shook hands again in Clinton, New Jersey. The rolling hills of Pennsylvania were silhouetted flat black to the west against the January sky. The clean, crisp air was cut with wisps of diesel fuel. And we pressed on into the night.
Donnie knew of an old tavern in Fogelsville that served cold beer on tap to wash down the best prime rib within 100 miles. The waitresses were pretty, he said. I followed his taillights. The rain had stopped and country music came in clear on several radio stations, taking the helm from the classic rock airwaves of Long Island. I wondered if the waitresses had tattoos. I was getting tired. Maryland would have to wait until tomorrow.
We had left the blinds open and I woke with the sun from the hotel room in Hamberg, Pennsylvania. Donnie was fast asleep in his bed, his five-year old female Boxer sprawled out above the covers next to him. She was a good dog. Some Boxers were spoiled and high strung, but she had been rescued by Donnie after he found her malnourished and abandoned in a park in Georgia two years earlier. He called her Parker.
Parker opted to ride with me in my warm pickup truck into Maryland. My coffee had not been long gone before we crossed the state line that morning, and soon after we pulled into the muddy property where our warehouse and mill stands in Clear Springs… just a few minutes from the center of Hagerstown.
American Black Walnut proved to be the species of the moment. I loaded a large tabletop, fabricated by our boys in MD, onto the lumber rack of my pickup, and shook Donnie's hand one last time. It would be 4-6 weeks until I'd see him and Parker again.
At 8 pm, Donnie called me and said he'd just arrived at his home in Franklin, North Carolina. His 11-year-old son, Jack, got on the phone to thank me for a Babe Ruth sign that I had bought him in Cooperstown, New York several weeks earlier. I said goodbye and I pulled into a driveway off Bull Path, in East Hampton, back on the East End of Long Island.
One more job to do.
Three beers and two hours later, one of the most beautiful tables we'd ever built was completed. It was a collaborative piece with Mike, our metal fabricator… who also happens to be an incredible sculptor. Mike, a Long Islander, wore an Orioles cap… I had seen a few of those that morning south of the Mason-Dixon line, and although I thought about asking why he wore one, I opted not to. I finished my beer and headed east to my sleeping wife and children in Montauk.
I needed to get some sleep.
Tomorrow was a big day.