A Creative Non-Fiction Essay
By Jeremy Wade Shockley
The large sheet metal door slides to the right with resistance, breaking the silence of the land. The smell of sage and juniper rise from the desert, a reminder of recent rain. The horizon looking north toward Colorado and the La Platas still holds its blue-gray demeanor. Late afternoon sun shines brightly upon my grandfather’s Stetson, a light straw affair, not nearly as dilapidated as the one I last saw him wearing. As he steps into the shadows of the workshop, he pushes the hat back on his forehead, revealing wisps of thinning gray hair above his weathered ears. Pearl snaps catch window light on a cuff of thin flannel material, signature western wear.
Shelves climb to the ceiling on either side of us. He reaches for a few stones, newly cut and polished, and spits on his thumb to better wipe the dust away, revealing shimmering quartz surfaces that he holds between two worn fingers. His pinky is missing. Filtered light catches the reflection of the smooth rock. The dust stirred by our presence stands in the air like a heavy beam caught in the sunlight. Tires and tools are stacked over and under decaying boxes of oily cardboard. The air smells of grease. A large industrial metal lathe sits to my left; I focus my eyes on the rusting thermostat, once selling Dr. Pepper. Nearby, an old Coke bottle sits on its side amid other windowsill clutter. Grandpa is searching for something. “See if you can pull down that box,” he demands, pointing a crooked finger above my head. It’s full of wooden containers, dated by a thick lacquer finish. He hands me one, a keepsake.
He pulls an old stool from somewhere, collecting his thoughts as he exhales. I take a few photos, realizing how out of place the Nikon seems in this antiquated reality. A workshop filled with tools, equipment and possibility. Dated. I feel a deep sadness for my grandfather and his way of life, both on the brink of disappearance. I let the camera rest as the old man shuffles outside. “Well,” he sighs, “we best be getting on. Dinner ‘ll be ready ‘for you know it.”
“Give me a hand with this door,” he says.
This is an image of my grandfather taken in 2006, at age 78. A stone mason since the age of 12, even now he is waiting for the snow to melt so that he may pick up his hammers and work once again.
This is officially my 101st post! I opened up the forum Fedora Photo Projects with a short photo essay on Lesotho’s aging population and their strengthening role within the community on September 26, 2007. Since then I have touched on subjects ranging from the American West to Sub Saharan Africa, and my own backyard while hopefully touching on the craft of photojournalim itself.
I want to share my gratitude for all who have stopped in on the site, shared it with others, and especially to those who keep coming back.
This is my grandfather, James W. Shockley. He is a hard old man, a worker, and a real bad ass-the sort of guy that would make John Wayne seem soft, lazy in comparison. Born in a small town on the panhandle of Texas he was witness to the end of the Great Depression and is no stranger to hardship, or the old ways.
He brakes the standard rule, for he is a jack of all trades and has managed to master a few. Perhaps his only real enjoyment out side of family and hard work would be his one week of elk hunting each year, which he never misses. Dub, as he is called by his friends, still manages to hunt the high ridges and deep, rugged forest at the age of eighty, shoots straighter then most, and processes his own meat. Enter the old ways, very few have the know how or take the massive effort required to clean, butcher, and process big game for themselves.
Set in the dusty barn of my youth is a large meat block, and under that table is an old portable heater that buzzes when turned on, emitting a strong burned smell from its many years of service. My grandfather boils water to clean the surface of the large wooden table and sharpens various knives on the heavy whit stones which lay off to the side. The largest pieces of the animal are butchered first, leaving the finer cuts of meat till the end, each one carefully wrapped in clean white butcher paper and labeled by hand.
A large steel Hobart grinder turns all the small cuts and second choice meat into sausage. Dogs gather from near and far to bicker and fight over the scraps turned out for them, the larger dogs carry away the bones and ribs as if victorious in their own hunt. The warm water and what little heat is radiated from the space heater make winter conditions in the barn bearable as the hours of labor drag on till the last package of meat is neatly stacked in the icebox.
Knives, rifles, clothing and boots are all cleaned and stored until the following year when the weather turns cold once again and the Fourth Season opens for young men and old hunters.