The  Word  Smith
                                                          By Deborah J; Lindsey

Everybody called him "Old Sedge" but nobody knew his real name or where he came from.  Some said he was a prize fighter from England and that would explain his crooked nose and half-closed eye.  Others said he was a gentleman's gentleman who fought a duel and was wounded.  That would account for his proper manners and the limp.  Some even claim that he was a married man who lost his wife and child in an epidemic. They said that he grieved so deeply, he was stricken deaf and dumb. Once, I even overheard a cowboy say that he was sure Old Sedge was on the run from the law. 

Many of the town folk were scared of him.  His odd appearance and strange ways kept folks tongues wagging from sunup to sundown. Folks were quick to judge in our little town and even more quick to offer their own two cents but everyone agreed that Old Sedge was the best blacksmith the town had ever seen.

My name is Willie and I was ten years old when I first met Old Sedge.  He gave me a salt water taffy while Pa and me waited for him to shoe our work horse, Ned. It was right after that, I begin to take special notice of him.

I'm ashamed to tell it but I followed him one day.  I told myself I was doing a fair job at staying hidden but I think the man knew I was there all the time.  I watched open-mouthed as Old Sedge sat down under an Oak tree and did a most curious thing. He pulled out a little black book from his pocket.  He pondered the book a while and then suddenly raised his arms in the air.

"Oh Shelly,  Bryon, Keats!  What marvels you are!"  

Well, I can tell you I was plenty scared because I didn't see anyone else around but Old Sedge and me.  Jess Barkley told me that he heard Old Sedge dabbled in the black arts. Jess was a big blow hard, but I was half afraid Old Sedge might be conjuring these other fellows but I stayed put.  I'm not sure if I was too scared to get up and run or if I was just curious enough to wait and see how it all played out.

No one had ever heard Old Sedge speak.   I must have made a stir because he looked up from his book straight in the direction of my hiding place..  I held my breath and gripped the ground with my fingernails. I was sure he could hear my heart beating.  It sounded like a thunder clap in my ears.

Finally, he just smiled and returned to his little book. He began to read aloud softly at first  I was totally amazed.  Old Sedge always communicated with signs and gestures.  His voice was magnificent. At times it boomed out over the fields like Preacher Catwalls' when he got excited about sin.  Other times, it flowed like soft like strands of music over standing wheat.

I didn't understand half of what I heard that day, but the words were soothing to me that I almost fell asleep.  Old Sedge suddenly snapped the little book closed and pulled out a sheaf of paper.  Using the little book as a desk, he begain to write.  He would write a bit and then stare off into the leaves. Then he would write some more.  I begin to wonder if the trees were talking to him and he was writing down what they told him.

After a while he put his pen away and stood up with much difficultly.  I was sure his bad leg was hurting after sitting that long. He yawned and stretched then bent down and placed the paper under a rock.  I saw him smile in my direction as he limped back toward town.

I dashed from  my hide out as soon as I saw his back disappear from view.  I could hardly wait to read his words. 

"For Willy", it read

Old Sedge and I became very good friends after that day.  He taught me many things about words and set my feet on a different path.  I kept in touch with him even after I went away to university.  He was a wise and kindly mentor who encouraged me much in my writing. 

In my third term, I came home for a visit when my classes let out for the Summer. I was excited to show him my latest poetry. I was saddened  to learn that my dear old friend had passed away the week before.

Heart broken, I walked out of town and sat under the same Oak tree where I first heard him speak so many years ago.

I pulled out a very worn piece of paper and began to paint with words, the sunset he had
painted for me so long ago.

                              C Copyright 2003 by Deborah J. Lindsey
~from The Midnight Oil Collection
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