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The fence blocking my way.

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The stone fence at home with his petrified stone chimney in the back ground

Work on the farm was a never-ending series event. And when all the pressing jobs were completed there were fences to mend. The winter of 1951, as I recall, was unseasonably cold. Working outside was uncomfortable, so that was the season Grandpa decided to replace the wire yard fence, at least the entryway, with one of stone. It was a project he’d contemplated for more than 20 years. With my help and his experience we moved into the basement and began.

He had an uncommon interest in rocks, but his favorite, it seems, was petrified wood. And he knew more facts about it than any person I ever met, before or since. Without a doubt, that intense interest is why his over-sized chimney was veneered with handpicked stones of that varity, as was his fireplace.

His project consumed much of the winter. When he was finished he applied a layer of fresh cement to a panel he’d left blank and inscribed on it a few lines written by Shakespeare.

These phrases meant nothing to me. After all, what could a man who had been dead some 500 years have in common with me, a 14-year-old who already had the world by the tail?

I was not in line to inherit the farm, so a few weeks following my graduation from high school I enlisted in the air force and didn’t return for nearly 40 years.

The early 1990s had arrived when I learned of my grandparents passing and that the place I’d called home was destroyed by fire.

The land belonged to someone else and it was posted. Taking a chance, I climbed the gate and hiked the quarter-mile lane to see if the stone fence I’d helped build was still there. It was, but the poem my grandfather had inscribed on it was totally obliterated with the exception of three words, sermons in stones. I had no idea what it meant, nor did anyone I knew.

After months of reading Shakespeare’s works I came upon the lines Grandpa had left in his wake.

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

I knew Grandma had been a school teacher. She was the poet and literary person of the two. These three lines were obviously her favorite and Grandpa had given them to her as a lasting gift.

 

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