I lost a friend last Thursday, though I only found out about it today, which gives you some kind of idea about how close we were. No, I didn’t know Keith very well, and, no, we had not shared an endless list of important times, holidays or similarities, but he was a friend, just the same.
I met Keith Woody at his family’s world-renowned chair shop. The Woodys have been incredible chair makers for over a hundred years, and their chairs grace places like the Smithsonian Institute, in Washington, D.C., and the Kennedy Library, in Boston. Keith’s uncle, Arval, who I was fortunate enough to meet, was given the prestigious title of Living National Treasure years ago because of his superb craftsmanship.
I met Keith and Arval when I dared venture into their shop to see if they’d be willing to talk to me about furniture making as I was researching my book, BENEATH A THOUSAND APPLE TREES. I almost didn’t stop and nearly drove past their driveway because I’d not called first and was sure they’d have no time for an interview. However, a little voice in my head said “just do it”, and I took a right hand turn off the highway and into a parking spot in front of their shop. As I mentally went over an apology for dropping by unannounced, I pulled open the screened door – with attached bell that charmingly tinkled with each new arrival – and walked into an old-timey shop complete with wood burning stove, aglow with bright red embers. In typical Norman Rockwell style, sitting in one of their beautiful handmade rockers near the stove was a big man with an even bigger smile, who I was sure would lose it once he realized that I wasn’t there to exchange money for a chair, but rather information in exchange for an acknowledgment in my book. The man was Keith Woody, and he couldn’t have been more gracious, warm and welcoming had I told him I’d come in to order a thousand rockers.
Keith gave me a tour of the back of the shop where all of the magic happens, then we sat back down as he went through an old picture album full of his great-this, and great-that, parents, aunts, uncles and relatives of all sorts. I learned how the business got started by one of Keith’s ancestors, Charlie Woody, and how Arval, Keith’s elderly uncle, was a dye-in-the-wool Democrat who had graced John Kennedy Jr., and Caroline with the two rockers that now sit in royal splendor in their father’s library. And then, as if on practiced cue, Arval walked through the door. It was his 92 birthday, and he had just come back from lunch with his niece, Jo, who was Keith’s cousin. I was immediately introduced and Arval was delighted I was there. He, too, sat down by the stove and regaled me with stories about his great-greats, and the good ol’ days of furniture making but which he’d given up some years before and let the younger ones take over. Then Mr. Arval Woody invited me up to his lovely home behind the shop where he showed off pictures of his beautiful, long dead and very missed wife, and pictures of our town, Spruce Pine, from way back when, though it really hasn’t changed that much over the years. I was more than touched that this man and his family would open their world to me, but if that wasn’t enough, as I got ready to leave, Arval graced me with a handmade wooden business card holder, superbly crafted, just like his chairs, as well as a wooden bookmark – treasures bestowed upon me by a Living National Treasure.
When Arval passed away about a year later, Keith invited my husband and me to join the family for a dinner their church was providing for them before the service. And Keith asked us to sit with the family during the service. We were beyond moved. We were humbled.
Keith and I have exchanged Christmas gifts before, though we didn’t last year. I didn’t get to see him – or maybe I just didn’t take the time to see him – and if I’m honest with myself, I’d guess it was the latter. You see, I was “busy”.
I never did stop to give Keith a copy of BENEATH A THOUSAND APPLE TREES, even though I acknowledged him and his family in the front of the book. I drove by his shop a hundred times, but was always on my way to some other place, and in too much of a hurry to stop. I told myself I would another day. Now, there won’t be “another day.”
During this holiday season, I think it’s important to remember that it’s the big little things that make a difference in people’s lives. All things considered, some of those big little things can be enough to write a blog about, and even a book. It’s a wonderful little irony of life that my home, where I do all of my writing, is on a mountain named Woody’s Knob, and I look down from my deck onto a beautiful winding road named Charlie Woody Mountain Road. It’s one of those big little things, and I’m most grateful for it.
Wishing each of you much happiness, and many big little things this holiday season.