Thinking back upon my past conversations, I find that words escape into the shadows, and only the interactions themselves remain silhouetted against sculpted memories.
Words are a spice that eventually fades from the mind's tongue. But ideas are more substantial. Ideas are granite.
I remember my grandfather Newt's rough, thoughtful hand reaching into the back pocket of a frayed pair of blue jeans, and taking out a worn leather case that was clasped tightly by a silver button.
"This is for you," I recall him saying.
He watched me as I slowly undid the single button. When I opened it up, I was surprised by its contents. It was an old architectural set containing rulers, compasses, and other worn implements. I think my grandfather sensed my surprise and bewilderment.
"My father gave me these when I was about your age," he said. "He knew that I wanted to be an artist and, for him, the only practical career in the arts was architecture. He was a practical man."
My grandfather studied my expression. "I'm giving you these now because I know that you, too, are an artist. I know that you will probably never use these tools, but I give you this gift with the knowledge of something that my father was never able to fully understand: Art can take many forms, and it can be created for its own sake."
I looked up at my grandfather. "Thank you," I said, not fully absorbing his rich statement.
OVER the years, as I returned to his studio, I began to understand this gesture. Today, I look around at piles of rock: the sculptures crouching and towering in various degrees of completion. Stone stacked upon stone, creating the graceful symmetry of each finished sculpture.
I begin to see that this studio is not only a place or a workshop, but a gathering of ideas. A collection of thoughts and decisions scattered around a windowless room. I examine the pulleys that my grandfather fashioned to transport the huge rocks, and I realize he, too, is a practical man. A man of insight, but also a craftsman, an artist, and a lawyer. I see that even though his parents had impressed upon him their desires and dreams, my grandfather has fashioned his own life-sculpture.
I watch him gather stones from the cracked bed of a dried-up stream. He feels each rock fill his fingers, and lingers over those stones that will best realize his artistic vision. He slides the smooth stones into his pocket, smiling slightly with a satisfaction born from a life of choosing those stones that suit him best.
And I see these decisions drawn on his soft, wise eyes, and written in the crooked cracks of his parched hands. But I also see them in his work, and in the tools I have never used.