His tools are in my shop. This can only mean one thing.
Tools held by strongest hands. Hands made for moving mountains and building bridges. Foundations of nothing less than stone. Hands that created sweeping arches that literally hold themselves up. A tangible testament to his legacy.
The aching, terrible beauty in this moment is that I have the power to rewrite his history. I decide the stories that survive for me and mine. I can decide the legend that will accompany his name in my house down to the seventh generation.
I have been afraid. Afraid of how to accomplish this. How to weed my thought bed to leave only beauty and right and still truth. How to manipulate depression and alcoholism and the taking of life, into a tidy steel box to be buried and forgotten. It has been six months and my mind still reels.
But then, a whisper of a revelation, late at night among no one but the ghosts. Truth. I need to make truth my first skin.
I need to live in a panoramic eye’s view of truth, whole truth. Unraveled, bleeding, wailing truth…of him.
I need to fall in love with his mess instead of forgetting it. Fall in love with the victories and defeats, with the broken and whole, with the bitter and the sweet. I need to fall in love with the hurdles that he absent mindedly placed for me… because they are forming me, welding and sharpening me to be better than I was yesterday. And so, I set my course to name him, fore to name someone is to claim them, in this case, re-claim him as my own.
So, now determined to shake the superfluous language of pride, left to speak only clear and hard. For what is more hard or clear than death?
In my house he is Earth mover. For what else to call a man that every day, moved his mountain of sadness and addiction with pick and ax, just to move it again tomorrow. His back was one of herculean strength moving boulders no man should move, and his soul made of the same. Perhaps that was how he became strong. For the weight of his disease either must be carried or it will bury you. He not only carried the weight, but powered it over his head and charged on, smirking at the dare life had set before him.
Changing his course from the path laid out by his forefathers. A farm manager in Middleburg for nearly 12 years before striking out to fulfill his dream of being a layer of stone, master carpenter, and preservationist. At one time he worked three jobs to get that dream off the ground. I remember swelling with pride as he would prepare to work through the night at the gas station around the corner, washing out the stone dust from the day. I remember thinking, yes, this is what we do. We find a way. Like water, we always find a way. Nothing above or below us.
He is my foundation layer, hard at work…always. Hands cracking to bleed, eyes stung with sweat. His brilliance validated by his continual self-taught successes. Anything was possible, nothing out of reach in spite of crippling depression. He dug down into earth and into himself to make way for stones perfected and then set into mud that dirtied his hands and checked his pride. Every day, finding another rock in the rubble and forming something beautiful from it. Something to stand on.
To my husband he is traditional bow hunter. He would say “anything else just isn’t sporting.” He would say that gun against beast is a vacation, but man against beast is a legacy. He took trophies from Africa, Spain, and Argentina with a bow he built himself. I hope to never lose the memory of the sparkle in his eye when approached with a challenging shot. It was the anticipation of the challenge that he craved, not the success in the end.
My great grandchildren will know him as master craftsman. The hands that created the graceful bridge and garden gate at Boxwood (that is now the winery’s logo.) From Huntland to Friendship Farm, he left his beautiful mark on many estates in the Piedmont. From his mind, many breathtaking pieces that will be passed down for generations. The baby beds he made for my daughters are inscribed with messages for each that impart lessons, it seems, that he never learned. Lessons about loving yourself and just doing the best you can. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Stone Mason. I remember asking him once on a job at Salamander Farm how long his stone wall would be there. He looked up with a smile and said, “forever.” I knew even then that it was in his craft that he found repose. Hard work, baptism of sweat inspiring him to continue.
Faith lender. Without fail, when I was weak he found strength to give me. When I was afraid, he found confidence to redirect me. And when I was confused he would walk with me until I found light. I see now he was pulling from an empty barrel. He once told me he had known despair since he was boy. I see only a miracle. That a broken little boy from a broken little home was able to put away the path laid out for him and magnificently conquer his world over and over. It is only a testament to his faith and endurance that he lasted as long as he did.
Shaper of stone, he has been chiseling me since my birth, and I see now that I have not given him enough credit as he is shaping me even in death.
We have all met good people. Reliable, straight and narrow, good people…forgettable, but good. Jerry Scott Coxsey was unforgettable. Marvelously and tragically flawed, but unforgettable.
At this moment he would give a crooked grin and say, “think on me and smile… or don’t think on me at all.”