Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dancing in the Dark - An Old Ax Gets Sharpened

2013 Photo by Kathleen Scott
I met Warren at the farmer's market in downtown Fredericksburg, Texas. He was the elderly gentleman wearing a black cap with the inscription, "U.S. Army Air Corps - World War II Flyboy" on the front. The sign at his booth said, "I sharpen anything that cuts."

I told him he didn't look old enough to be a World War II veteran, but he said he was 88 years old. And still showing up to do something useful in the world. "Do you get much business here?"

"It keeps me busy. I set up here and at the New Braunfels farmer's market."

"I go to the New Braunfels market every Saturday. Can you sharpen an ax?"


My ax had never been properly sharpened, so it was practically useless. But I kept forgetting to bring it to the market. Finally I got the bright idea of storing the ax in the trunk of my car, so if the blade-sharpening man showed up, my ax would be only a few steps away.

On my next trip to the New Braunfels "Farm to Market" I saw his booth and handed him my ax. "It's in bad shape," I said.

"That's a good ax you have there. You want to hear an ax story?"

Are you kidding me? I have a Ph.D. in literature. I write stories every day. You might as well ask a little kid if he wants a candy bar. "Absolutely."

"Well, I have an ax just like yours. I live out in the country and I always keep it sharp. One day I was driving home in my truck and there was a grass fire next to the road. I got my ax out and cut some branches and started beating the edges of the fire. Then a young woman stopped and she started helping. She had a wonderful singing voice and later on she sang all over the country."

"What did you do in the war?" I asked.

"I flew B-17s. When the war ended I was a flight instructor."

An image of those old bombers formed in my mind. "Wow. B-17s. That must have been pretty scary." I told him that in Vietnam I went on over a hundred combat missions but returned without a scratch.

We were both silent for a moment. This kind of talk was a little out of place next to the mundane necessities of life, like buying fresh vegetables and sharpening an ax.

"Do you know the song, 'Dancing in the Dark'?" he asked; and without waiting for my answer, he began to sing:
Dancing in the dark
Till the tune ends
We're dancing in the dark and it soon ends
We're waltzing in the wonder of why we're here
Time hurries by, we're here and gone...

It felt strange to be the one-man audience of an old man's song. It was as if he needed to tell me something, and the song was the best way to do it. When he finished I said, "I've heard this song a million times, but I never paid attention to the lyrics. For a love song, it has a pretty existential message."

"Yes, it does."

So for just six dollars I got a nice, sharp edge on my old beat-up ax, plus a gift I hadn't bargained for.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2012. Building Personal Strength .

1 comment:

Kathleen Scott said...

Meeting Warren was a good reminder that stories are everywhere when we're open to finding them.