Like a Civil War soldier blown open by artillery fire during the Battle of Chattanooga, the old Osage orange tree helplessly laid there on the ground of the courthouse Wednesday. Sometime during the night its root system gave up, and the majestic old guardian of the courthouse died, except for parts of it that will be loved and admired forever by those fortunate enough to possess them.
Those parts were created on the lathe of my father, who had a passion for the old tree. One day when he was visiting the courthouse and the wind had blown down a limb, he asked the courthouse lawn custodian what they would do with the limb.
He said, "We'll cut it up and haul it off."
Dad said, "Would you just call me when any limb of any size falls off the tree, and I will do a good cleanup job for you."
Over time, enough limbs fell for Dad to make Osage orange gavels for most of the sitting judges as well as for county commissioners. He tried several patterns but finally settled on the Swedish gavel, and everyone agreed that it is a beauty. Finally, after he had made gavels for everyone else, he made one for me.
Ever the teacher, he once appeared before the County Commission and gave the history of the tree and explained why woodworkers love to make things with the wood.
First, it has a deep orange color unlike any other hardwood. The orange lasts for a long time, but exposure to the elements eventually turns it into soft yellow with tinges of orange that persist for many years.
When Dad talked about the old tree, there was a touch of reverence in his voice. I honestly think if he had seen the huge hole Wednesday with all the roots sticking up helplessly, he would have cried.
Our whole family has a thing with trees, probably due to the nurturing influence of our Cherokee mother. It was an annual Super Bowl to watch her joust with EPB crews who came to trim Old Oakie, one of our front-yard trees.
As I stood there looking at the hole in the lawn and the exposed root system of the Osage orange tree, I felt like I was looking at my Dad's heart. Over his long life he had five heart attacks, and if the doctors had opened his chest after the one that took him out, they may have been looking at a sight like I saw gouged out there at the feet of Gen. A.P. Stewart.
It reminded me of the second verse of my song, "Ole A.P. and Me":
A.P. said, "Son, you can't win 'em all
but when the stakes are high, you gotta raise or call
and stay outta the game if you want sympathy
just ride your hoss and shoot your gun
and when your final race is run
come stand and look
out on the town with me."
The Osage orange's final race may not be run. If the county can find ways to get that magic orange mountain of priceless wood in the hands of local woodworkers, maybe the old tree will live forever through their hands and hearts.
Ask anyone who has one of Mr. Roy's gavels.
Email Dalton Roberts at DownhomeP@aol.com.