Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Tombstone For William B. Schultz

One of my least-often seen possessions is an old 4-inch thick tombstone. I use it as a step into my study. The study, formerly half of a two-car garage—not the garage attached to the house, but a separate building—is where I have a work bench for "clean" tasks, things other than lawn mower engine parts and such. My now very infrequent leatherwork, for instance, is done in here. If I take on an absurd task like the repair of an umbrella, that's where I do it. My stereo and computer and what few books I've hung onto in a lifetime of losing and disposing of things are also out here.

What You Can't See

Back to the tombstone. No, I didn't say back to the future; that's another story entirely. Anyway, nobody ever looks down at their feet and recognizes the tombstone shape they're standing on. They step on it, they step off it. It isn't really there. My grave marker has been in its current location for about 14 years, its inscription face down. If it faced up, perhaps Mr. Schultz would give some people the creeps. What you don't know can't hurt you, I guess.

Get A Grip On Things

During this 14 years, it had been sinking little by little into the ground and lately I'd noticed that it had sunk in about 2.5 to 3 inches and now creates a longer step from ground to doorsill than it used to. So, yesterday I unearthed it from the compacted dirt and the ensnaring tree roots—it's peculiar how tiny tree roots can get a grip on surfaces that we think are smooth! Then I pried it loose from the hole it was in with a huge crowbar. Hooking onto the back corners with the crowbar, I pulled it toward me in stages until it made a clear space to work. I placed a layer of dirt in the hole that was left behind and then added four concrete blocks—each one an inch-thick and 12 inches long—over that. I moved the tombstone on top of that by heaving it left, right, forward, back, a little at a time. It's times like these I wish were as strong as I am large.

All's Well That Doesn't Make You Fall Down

It seems nice, secure, and level at present, but the first couple of rains may alter all that. It's no longer such a long step up or down any more out there at the door to my study. I just have to get used to the idea that it's easy, not hard any more. My leading foot and leg keep encountering the step sooner than anticipated and so my step seems a bit awkward, though the fact is that it's easier. In a few weeks I'll have adjusted to it, I guess, and I won't have to think of it so much.

Where Did I Get A Tombstone?

The usual place, of course. No, not the graveyard! When I began to do a great deal of leatherwork in Austin, I needed something heavy to act as a foundation for all the hammering. I went to a local monument works and asked the workmen if they had any smooth junk pieces in their back yard I could buy. I bought a much thinner piece, about 1-inch thick, of polished granite, very pink, very pretty, very hard and smooth. Perfect as a shock absorber when using steel stamps for decorations or for attaching medium rivets and snaps on the belts. It looked like a piece of marble to me; but I was no expert and it was just artful imitation, I was told. Thirty years later it's not so smooth as it used to be but it's still almost as polished as it was. I think I gave the workmen about $3 for it. They probably bought a bottle or two of cheap wine with which to while away the rest of the afternoon.

The Nutcracker Part!

As I was leaving I saw the 4" block and asked about it; they said I could just have that old tombstone for free if they didn't have to help load it in my car. I nodded and grinned, getting the impression that day's drinking had begun before I got there. It resisted the heavy hammering I gave it when punching the long slots for the belt buckle prongs in belts. Being young and poor and greedy, I couldn't resist the Free offer and I drove my Ford Falcon right up to it in the high weeds, folded the front seat forward, and tilted the tombstone upward onto the edge of the rear floorboard. When I tilted it forward one more time and let it fall forward CLUNK! all the way into the car, it was as if two guys had just simultaneously jumped into the car. I had saved my cojones by turning loose in a timely manner, but I wondered for a second or two if I'd sprung the car springs. A few times in the past 30 years, two men (usually including me!) have moved it short distances, but no one ever enjoyed it. I remember when Red Fred helped me with it and panted something to the effect that he now owed me no favors Of Any Kind. I didn't blame him.

Buddy, Can You Spare A…Uh…

You're probably wondering why there was a spare tombstone lying around like that. It had not been vandalized. It wasn't scratched. I could detect no misspelled words. It wasn't discolored. There was nothing that indicated it might have been a discard. And nothing to indicate that someone had made it recently as some sort of practice. I figured it was either a display model or else one that was soon replaced by a more expensive one—maybe one that spelled out all the words. It read

Wm. B. Schultze
Hosp. Corps. Sp. Am. War

It had no dates, no year of birth or year of death. Other explanations are still possible, but this description is the thing that makes me guess that it was a display model. If you knew enough to be marking a fellow's last resting place, it seems like you'd know his dates of birth and death. Oh, well, you can conjecture about it yourself and probably produce and reject quite a number of possibilities. My conjectures and convictions about how it came to me tend to guard me against feelings of guilt. I have never felt either disrespectful or creepy about possessing it. It's just a moderately interesting story.

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