Volume 20, Number 118, December 2017/January 2018
by Trina Brooks
Wilfred Crupp woke up one day and faced his own mortality.
He entered the kitchen yanking up his suspenders. He had finally stopped expecting to see Marjorie there. After two years his old brain was finally catching on, but Wilfred doubted his heart ever would.
This morning’s routine was the same as every other morning since he retired: coffee, hot enough to burn, and toast, that was more like charcoal than breakfast. Wilfred switched on the old television set. He had no control over which channels came in and fiddling with the rabbit ears stopped working long ago. Almost any program would do, so he left it on the travel show. Wilfred and Marjorie hadn’t travelled much. They honeymooned in Niagara Falls and once took a family trip to Ottawa, when Jamie was little, but that was it. He never could see the sense in paying to sleep in a stranger’s bed, but he did have a fondness for history and this program was about Rome. He dipped his blackened bread into his coffee leaving a film of toast dust bobbing on the surface. On the screen were ancient ruins. Apparently, those old Romans were keen on being remembered. As a mechanic and general fix-it-guy Wilfred respected good workmanship. He often told Marjorie he would rather do nothing, than do something half-assed. Over the years he had practically rebuilt the house they lived in, glassed in the porch so she could call it a sunroom. There had been lots of other projects, all instigated by her, except one. Wilfred didn’t like to think about that one. Marjorie had cried but he had put his foot down.
Jamie was twelve when he drowned in the river. Young Adam from next door had ridden up the drive on his bicycle, frantically pedaling and screaming, “Mr. Crupp. Mr. Crupp, it’s Jamie!” He was crying so hard Wilfred could barely make out the words. When he did he ran faster than he ever had in his entire life, crashing through the forest, heedless of the branches whipping his arms and face. At the river’s edge, he found Ben and Carl from the fire department doing CPR. He stood back to let them do their job, but all he wanted to do was pick Jamie up and will him to open his eyes. The other boys, wet from the river, huddled together shaking while tears and snot ran down their faces. The firemen did their best but Wilfred could tell, that thing that was his son, had flown away.
Five years later Wilfred could no longer stand living with the shrine Marjorie had left Jamie’s room as, so he turned it into an office. He put up a bookshelf, organized colour coded file folders, then shut the door behind him. It was never used for anything but storage after that.
“The statue, Augustus of Prima Porta, is a 2-meter-high marble statue dating from somewhere between AD 14 and AD 37,” a very learned-sounded British man explained.
“Almost 2000 years old and still standing, imagine that.” Wilfred took a sip of his cooling coffee and wondered what his legacy would be after he was gone.
There were no grandchildren with his eyes. No one would ever say, “You’ve got a stubborn streak just like your Grandpa Wilfred.” No school projects would be displayed where he would figure prominently on a poorly drawn branch of a family tree. When he died, that would be it, snuffed out like a candle. It would be as if he never existed. And that one depressing thought got him thinking in ways he had never thought before. He was thinking big, monumental ... epic.
He rinsed his coffee cup and set his plate on the drying rack. Then Wilfred began the project that would change everything. He grabbed the keys to his truck and headed off to the one place a man on an epic journey to redefine his life would go... Home Depot.
That very afternoon Wilfred mowed the lawn. All the materials he purchased were piled neatly in the driveway. Using an old blue tarp, he went through his shed collecting odds and ends, which he dragged out to the middle of the lawn. Then Wilfred began to build. He had always been a straight forward kind of guy who followed the rules, obeyed laws and gave his decisions a good long think. That guy had gone on vacation. This Wilfred was a blow-in-the-wind, follow your gut kind of guy who didn’t stop for lunch or even a cold ice tea.
The afternoon pounded away into the evening, which drilled into the night. Only his aching back and faltering eyesight drove him inside to eat and sleep. That night his dreams were filled with hands of marble, feet of iron and butts of bronze.
The fresh morning air did nothing to clear his mind of fanciful notions. He woke up and immediately began scratching down ideas and sketching pictures on the back of an envelope. Each thought spawned another, it was hard to get them out before more took their place. Skipping his regular morning toast, he grabbed his coffee and resumed his creative process.
You might think by now someone would have noticed the unusual goings on, but they didn’t. Mrs. Fenton, Wilfred’s closest neighbour, a 92-year-old widow with poor hearing, was only interested in the lives of the characters on her soap operas. Wilfred could sometimes hear the voices clear across his lawn. “Oh Jared, how could you?” The other house, on their dead end street, was the MacNamaras. A nice family with a teenage boy and a tween girl. This was the week they spent at their cottage. It was as if Providence had smiled down on Wilfred, paving the way for his creation.
It wasn’t long before he ran out of his Home Depot items. He could have gone back for more storebought items but that wasn’t the idea, Wilfred thought. This was about him, his life and his journey, so the materials should be his as well.
By nightfall, of day two, Wilfred had procured the kitchen chair he always sat on and the television with the rabbit ears. He thought their inclusions were inspired. On day three the remaining contents of his garage and workshop were strewn about the lawn. There was a particularly moving moment on day four when Wilfred found a special place to include Jamie’s bicycle. The one he had ridden to the lake that day. It was the only time he took a break. Grabbing a chair and a beer he sat down in front of his work-inprogress, and allowed his eyes to mist over. The sound of footsteps on the loose gravel driveway alerted him to a visitor.
“Jumping Josephat, Mr. Crupp. What in the name of Joseph, Mary and Jesus is that?” Nester Fink stood in his Canada Post uniform with a wad of mail in his hand and his mouth gaping open.
“Afternoon Nestor. Just trying my hand at a little arts and crafts.” Since Nestor had arrived, thought Wilfred, it must be Monday. He had kind of lost track of time. “What do you think?” Wilfred stood in front of his instillation, beer in hand, head held high.
Nestor stood at the foot of Wilfred’s work in progress, head tilted back, staring in amazement.
“Granted it’s not finished yet, but it’s getting there,” Wilfred beamed.
Nestor looked at Mr. Crupp. He was bare chested except for his suspenders. His hair was a wild white tangle. Acriss-cross of scrapes and dried blood decorated his arms. A testament to the many sharp edges protruding from the piece. Nestor smiled weakly looking directly at the beer can in Wilfred’s hand.
“Well Mr. Crupp...,” he began tentatively. “It looks like you put a lot of work into it.”
To Wilfred’s ears that was high praise indeed. He threw his arm around poor Nester and led him on a tour.
“You’ll have to come back when it’s all finished. Maybe I’ll have an official unveiling. Do you think the town paper might be interested in taking some pictures?”
“Oh, I bet a lot of town folk will be interested. Well I’ve got a bag full of mail to deliver. I should get going. Good luck with your ...thing.”
Wilfred watched as Nestor backed away gingerly. Then turned and scurried off his property.
“Hmmm, odd fellow,” Wilfred said before returning to his life’s work.
Nestor was impressive by the speed in which he spread the word of Mr. Crupp’s creation. By dinner time Wilfred had set up two saw horses and strung a rope between them at the end of his driveway. He wanted to keep the crowds back and the trees on his property were a natural barrier to prying eyes.
Wilfred never knew there were so many art lovers in his small town. He decided he wanted to finish before anyone else saw it. Phone calls from the newspaper, radio station and the town’s Planning Commissioner, all went unanswered, on account of the recent placement of the phone on the left side of his piece.
On the morning of the sixth day Wilfred put the last piece of his creation, a set of barbeque tongs, into place. He stood back, way back, looking at what he had done. He lifted his arms above his head trying to work out the knots that had settled there, which was why he didn’t notice the person approaching through the trees on the side of his property.
“Hey, Mr. Crupp!”
Wilfred looked over to see Tyler McNamara. The boy had used the short cut between the two houses. Years ago, when Jamie’s friend Adam lived in that house, the path was well worn. Now it was mostly grown over.
“Hello Tyler. How was your trip to the lake?”
“Yeah, okay, I guess. My little sister had a friend with her. They were ultra-annoying.”
Tyler came and stood next to Wilfred. He didn’t say anything, just stared at the piece. Wilfred pushed his hands deep into his pocket and rocked back and forth. He had always liked the young boy who was the opposite of what his Jamie had been like. Marjorie had always referred to her son as ‘the bulldozer’. He was a solidly built kid. Tyler was slim and carried himself differently. Wilfred would often wonder what was going on behind the boy’s watchful eyes.
Tyler tilted his head to one side, assessing. He pursed his lips and held his chin in his hand before declaring, “It’s not quite done, is it?”
Wilfred looked at him, then the piece. “Hey, what’s that? Why isn’t it? I cleaned out my workshop, my garage and good half of the house. What’s missing?” He looked back and to his eyes everything was just where he wanted it to be. Still, he could now see what Tyler was talking about, something about it seemed unfinished. He just didn’t know what.
Tyler walked around the piece, with Wilfred trailing. “It brings to mind the great works of the Greeks or Romans.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was going for!” Wilfred said.
“But the metal has such a modern, pedestrian look that I feel it devalues the work.” Tyler stopped, putting his hands on his hips, an air of expertise hung about him.
Wilfred scratched his bare belly, reopening one of his scabs causing it to bleed a little.
“I’m majoring in art. I’ll get my degree when I go to university but I already know a lot,” Tyler told Wilfred, who nodded in agreement, since he knew nothing about art.
“What should I do?” he asked his new colleague.
“Paint it. I’d say white if you want to go classical.”
Wilfred’s eyes widened and he clapped his hands together. The fatigue he had been feeling drained away. The old man and the boy talked over the plans. Tyler used a lot of art jargon while Wilfred mostly smiled and nodded. By the end of their discussion Tyler had appointed himself Wilfred’s media contact, since the boy had a phone and Wilfred no longer did. He also called himself a curator. Wilfred was surprised to find out that had nothing to do with smoked meat.
For two days, Wilfred, with the help of Tyler, applied several coats of glossy white paint to his masterpiece. Then it was time for the unveiling. Tyler contacted the town paper and put up flyers in store windows. He also arranged for his sister and her annoying friend to sell lemonade and cupcakes to the crowd.
At two o’clock, the appointed time, the barriers at the end of Wilfred’s driveway came down. It looked like the whole town had come out.
Wilfred, put on a shirt and combed his hair. It wasn’t an overly hot day but he was sweating through his shirt. Within minutes the crowd had formed a semi-circle in front of the piece. They were silent, then a murmur began as they started to whisper amongst themselves. Wilfred could only hear little snippets.
“What is it?”
“Is that what I think it is?”
“What was he thinking?”
With each comment Wilfred shoulders sunk lower. He began looking at the shoes in the crowd instead of the faces. He glanced over his shoulder estimating the time it would take to reach his door and shut it behind himself. Just as he began to turn towards the house, Tyler stepped up in front of the crowd.
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the unveiling of Wilfred Crupp’s masterpiece, ‘Remembrance’. After toiling for almost two weeks he has finally completed a monument....”
“You mean a fiasco!” A voice yelled out from the back of the crowd.
Taylor continued. “...the monument is a legacy to Mr. Crupp and the town he lives in.”
“Really? It looks like a statue of a man. Is that supposed to be you Wilfred?” asked Beulah St. Evans, who was standing front and centre. She giggled and a few others joined in.
Wilfred looked at the crowd. Every face, young and old, he knew. Many he had watched grow from children into adults, and who now had kids of their own. These people knew him. A few had been there, baking casseroles and saying prayers for him when Jamie died. They were there again when Marjorie passed.
“Mr. Crupp.” Tyler was there beside him. “Sometimes people need help to see what you see.”
Wilfred looked at the young boy and felt steadied. They were in this together. He clapped the young boy on the shoulder and took a step forward to address the crowd.
“Beulah do you remember that tin tray, the one with the last supper picture on it that you bought in Nashville? You gave it to Marjorie when she was sick. I put it in the middle of the chest, where the heart would be.”
Beulah’s hands folded unconsciously over her own heart. “Oh,” was all she said.
“Adam,” Wilfred picked out the man who had been his son’s best friend. He was standing off to the side with his wife and daughter. “Do you remember that bike?”
“Yes, Mr. Crupp. I sure do.”
“I put it there as the shoulders because I feel the weight of that day every moment of my life.”
Adam reached out and pulled his daughter closer to him.
“And Reverend Dixon. You gave me that old television when the parish got the new fancy flat screen.” He spoke to the thin, somberly dressed man standing next to Nestor Fink. “We had a discussion about all the new technology. You confessed you had a fondness for the old things. I put it in because I like thinking about the old days too.” He looked at the crowd. “It’s not just about me. It’s about all of us. Our town. I just wanted something to remind us all of the past.”
The crowd was silent. Each one fixated on the statue. Adam’s daughter was the first one to step forward. She ran her hands along the rough surface until something caught her attention. She touched it and then turned to her father questioningly.
“Daddy, there’s a bottle of coke but it’s hard, not squishy like the ones mommy buys.”
Adam knelt down beside her. “They used to sell them in glass bottles when I was a kid. Me and my friend Jamie would save our pennies just so we could split one. Did I ever tell you about Jamie?”
Wilfred never heard the child’s response as the rest of the town folk surged forward. Each one looking to see if they could recognize a piece or figure out its significance.
After a while Tyler walked over with a glass of lemonade for Wilfred. “You should know Mr. Crupp the mayor is talking about moving this thing closer to city hall. He thinks it could be a tourist attraction.”
Wilfred thought that was a nice idea. He raised his head and his chest puffed out, just a little. He watched Adam lift his daughter onto his shoulders to point out something up high. In the beginning Wilfred had thought he was building a legacy to himself. Now he realized his story, that he immortalized in his creation, wasn’t just his own. It was the story of everyone who had touched his life and how he had touched theirs and if that wasn’t some great legacy, well he didn’t know what was.
Tyler and Wilfred stood silently watching the carnival atmosphere of people milling about, eating cupcakes, drinking lemonade and sharing stories about what they had seen. Beulah St. Evans held a tissue to her nose, while a school teacher patted her shoulder. A few children were crawling underneath it, laughing. Tyler put his hand on Mr. Crupp’s shoulder breaking the older man’s train of thought.
“So, Mr. Crupp, what is your next piece going to be?”