|| I squatted down to get another shot
from beneath his chin because I needed views from all angles; above,
behind, from the side, and from down below, like a view up to DAVID
from the floor of the Academy in Florence. Michaelangelo interpreted
a man after Gods own heart. I was attempting to do the same,
but, along with every other way that my work is unlike the Italian
genius, I had my man right in front of me. The real deal. Another
man after Gods own heart. Not a king or a slayer of giants or
an adulterer, but, like David, just another man, human, believing
not just in what is seen, but what is unseen.
Forming a head in clay is not like drawing one on paper. On paper,
only one angle is seen, the rest are only suggested. But to push the
clay into shapes and squeeze the form of a nose or a jaw line means
that all the angles can and will be seen. In his case, the bold angles
would not be mistaken he had large masses of flesh. Distinct.
I felt a strange furry mass rub against my back. It almost tipped
me over onto my face, since my hands were balancing my twenty year
old Canon AT-1 and not my forty year old upper torso. Looking over
my shoulder as I reached down to steady my squat, I knew it must be
an animal. A wolf? It was my first sensation. Then instantly, I had
visions of a mountain bear. But the man after Gods own heart
had not appeared alarmed. Thats when I realized it was a dog.
It was a big dog.
A real German Shepuhd, I heard the chin say on that cool
March morning. He just seems tame. Hes really a trained
killa who could tear your throat out on command. We had to get
guard dogs and increase security back in the sixties when things got
worse up here; death threats and all. Especially after Dr. Kings
death. Thats why we had to put the fence up.
I was squatting at a precise moment in history. Very distinct. The
man had spoken to a hundred and sixty million people in just about
every country on the globe. It seemed like yesterday that I was listening
to the same big voice, only thirty-four years younger (the voice and
me), and from the living room of the house where God had dropped me
off after my daddy was crushed in a baby blue Volkswagon. Who travels
in a baby blue Volkswagon to buy Black Angus cows? Them bugs
is like a tin can on wheels.
My daddy did and he died and it broke his young wifes heart
and she died. Right after JFK rode down that Dallas street for the
last time, there in front of the Book Depository with Jackie trying
to crawl out the back, thats when my mother died. Time was marked.
I was six. I remember.
I can also remember sitting on an orange plastic pull-out sofa with
that voice speaking through the TV box. My grandma heard the same
thing I did. You come now. Dont wait. You, up in the top sections,
you come. Your friends and family will wait. We will pray with you
and give you some lit-tra-toor. Come now.
In 1958, he fathered a fifth child, Ned. The team was preparing
for the Australia and New Zealand meetings that would prove to be
the longest series of meetings he ever held outside the United States.
I was born that same year and I remember being aware of him when
I was a kid; large crowds, a song by a man named Beverly ( somebody
gave a boy that name ), and more verses of JUST AS I AM
than necessary; certainly more than I could remember and all of
them more than I could comprehend. Thats right. The words
that can change life passed right by me. I must have heard the sounds
of the words and not the actual words. Thats the only thing
I can figure.
I could be found stretched out on the pew next to Grandma where
I pointed up to the long pine planks sandwiched together forming
the open vaulted V-shaped sanctuary ceiling. I counted them every
week. Forty seven on one side, forty eight on the other. Every week
I counted just to make sure and I heard the sounds of the words
bounce off the planks.
Every couple of months we had crumbled up saltines and grape juice.
The bread of life. Feed me till I want no more. The taste was different
coming from that gold plate; better than saltines from the box that
I crumbled into my tomato soup. But the church crumbled cracker
bread of life meant something. The end was near. Forty-five, forty-six,
forty-seven, forty-eight. And then Sunday dinner. Good cracker.
I found him to be a big man in all ways; body, head, hands, and
heart. To be life-size, this bust would need a larger armature,
more clay than any of my other works. Eudora Welty had that hump
on her back and Andy Wyeth had the turtle neck. But it was about
more than the clay. Who would even try to capture this fella? Nobody
would be satisfied. You tried to do a portrait of who? What were
you thinking? We will pray for you.
Before attempting any portrait bust, a good understanding of the
person is necessary who they are, what they dislike, how
they sound, how they move. Research. I did not grow up with him
around the house though he did visit once a year from that TV box,
usually around the same time Dorthy found the munchkins. But that
had been years, a distant memory. Though still quite visible, it
was not enough.
On that cool March morning, I stood there with him on his back door
stone steps on top of the mountain. I had known of him my whole
life but I had only been studying him for a year. Now it was March,
and it was personal. And it was a big dog and the man had a big
voice even though he was on his own stone step and not my grandmas
TV. In March, it was still cool on the mountain.