When I took Elizabeth’s stone from her backyard, I loaded them one, two at a time into the back of my family’s minivan. There might have been one hundred of the nice, flat Goshen Stone piled behind her pine tree. I had built a few little walls for her with this stone and laid a few down for a patio. Most of the prized stone were just piled there. She had told me I could take some for my new clay oven.
With the minivan parked out front, I made quick work of it. I had taken most of the pile when Elizabeth walked out of the house. In that pained, calculated way, she asked, Had I taken enough of her stone yet?
When I ask her about this now, years later, she tells me that I had asked her for some of her stone, not all of it. She thought I would take a few. I can't say that remember how I asked her for her stone.
Anyway, Elizabeth called me later that night, and she never calls. Elizabeth emails.
I stood in my basement, running my hand through my hair when I accepted the call. That stone, she told me, she had moved from the house she shared with her ex-husband. She thought that that she would rebuild the wall at her new home. Years later, her kids were grown, I was puttering around her yard, and the much of the stone was still sitting there waiting for some project that might happen some day. “I guess I didn’t need to rebuild that wall,” she told me over the phone. And she told me to take as much of the stone as I needed.
That was five years ago.
This year I built a new oven. I drove into the Hilltowns with my Toyota hatchback, past my mom’s work, along the river to Jim’s house. I found him in his sun room, shirtless on a cool August day, holding a coke. His skin might have sagged off his bones, but his eyes burst with ambition and confidence.
“Sam,” he announced when I walked in, and he shook my hand, firmly. “You see where the pile is. Grab all the stone you want. I’ll pull my truck up and you load it as full as it will go. You couldn’t take two stones in that toy you drove up.” Then he stuck a folded ten dollar bill in my hand “for gas.”
I loaded his Silverado, drove it 45 minutes back to town, dropped the stone, and brought the truck back. We sat there on his sun porch for a while, and he told me where he got the stone, picked up little by little over the last thirty years. Some from the side of the road, some from road projects, one enormous and cupped “birdbath” stone that his friend had picked up for him. We looked out at the walls and out-buildings and patios he had built with stone over the years. This last pile of stone he was going to make into a silo.
“I just ran out of health and ran out of time,” he told me.
Before I left, Jim grabbed a jar of pickles from his garden, kielbasa from his cousins, and a few fresh cucumbers for salad. “I’ll have you speaking Polish before you know it.” And he told me, once again, how my mom had saved his life. “I’ll do anything she tells me to do,” he said, and I wondered if that was true.
I grabbed a few hundred pounds of stone for my hatchback, and started home. I drove down the drive, past the neat, stone walls and magnificent sculptures of stacked stone that balanced against all odds. I drove past the past the birdbath and out of sight.
That was a few months ago, and I look now out of my kitchen window at the oven I built this past September. I salvaged Elizabeth’s stone from the old, cracked clay oven, and now her stone is mixed in with Jim’s. Their stone forms the stone archway, the counters, the grill, the stone seat, the chimney details, and the lintel. All that stone in my oven, it’s all theirs.