Charley was a wood carver who had learned the trade from his Great Uncle Horatio, aka “Uncle Ray”, a grand adventurer who rejected the comfort of a privileged lifestyle of inherited wealth and who instead chose to globe-trot well into his 80s.
Charley was able to spend each January with Uncle Ray, who came home to his estate in December for the holidays and left again in February. His uncle was always bringing doo-dads back from his travels.
The January Charley turned 11, his uncle brought a glorious teakwood carving of a hippopotamus home which captured Charley’s attention and admiration. Imagine Charley’s surprise when he found the hippo wrapped and under the Christmas tree as a gift for him. Also in the green velveteen package was a block of wax and a sharp knife. Uncle Ray said, “Charley, you’ve got to the end of the week to carve me a likeness of Hilda (the name Uncle Ray had given the hippo) in the wax.”
Charley’s eyes opened wide and he said, “I don’t have a clue how to start!”
Uncle Ray walked over to the cabinet in the corner and hauled out a two foot square box and opened it to reveal several blocks of wax.
“You begin,” he said.
“You practice,” he said.
“You have fun!,” he said.
“Begin, practice, fun, it’s that simple,” Uncle Ray said.
Every morning after breakfast they practiced. Uncle Ray took Charley through it, step by step. Several blocks were sacrificed along the way; but at the end of a week, Charlie had completed his carving on the wax to a reasonable facscimile of Hilda.
The next step in the process was the day Uncle Ray and Charlie walked out onto the rambling property of the estate, looking for pieces of fallen wood to carve. As Uncle Ray picked up the pieces, he carefully scrutinized its every angle, curve, and grain; then he put it up to his ear and listened. Charlie’s quizzical expression had Uncle Ray saying, “you have to see and hear what the wood is meant to be. You don’t choose. It tells you. Now you try, Charley.”
Charley held a chunk of red oak that had a lovely shape to it. He turned it this way and that in the sun, then put it up to his ear. As if by magic, the image of a fox popped into his head. Charley said, “This one is a fox!”
Uncle Ray smiled with his Kris Kringle twinkling eyes and said, “Very good and so it shall be.”
For the remainder of January, Uncle Ray helped Charley turn the chunk of fallen oak into a fox. It was roughly carved, but afterwards Charley sanded and polished the fox until it gleamed. He was so proud of himself.
The end of January was near. Uncle Ray, seventy-three that year, was headed to the northern boundaries of Canada. He told Charley, “I’m looking forward to seeing whatever else you find in the woods when I return for the holidays.
The wood-carving continued over the years, and by the time Uncle Ray passed at age 97, Charley was a master woodcarver who earned a steady income from selling his works. Charley always let the wood tell him what it wanted to become, but there were times clients would bring him pieces and tell him what to create from them and were willing to pay large amounts of money to have him do it. Charley would look at and listen to it and if it wasn’t what the wood wanted, Charley would refuse. As you can imagine, the wealthy are used to having their way and did not like being thwarted in their wishes. As word of the refusals spread, so too came the view by some that he was being churlish. Charley didn’t mind.