On a chilly autumn morning, I gathered my trowel, spade and several bags of spring-flowering bulbs and headed to the far corner of the yard. This was our first year on the little farmstead, our lifelong dream come true.
It was heavy going, digging a new flower bed in the dense clay soil, and one section of particularly thick sod gave me much trouble. I struggled to remove tenacious roots and rocks. I also found shards of broken crockery and rusty pieces of old tools—relics of days gone by. I worked with zest, putting rocks in one pile, debris in another.
When I paused to catch my breath, I spotted it. Although it was caked with soil, one rock appeared quite different from the others. Slender and about six inches long, it was an elegant tool, a whetstone used for sharpening a scythe. I knew I had dug up a treasure.
It must have lain undisturbed for decades in the quiet corner that was once a field and is now the edge of a lawn. When the farmer discovered the whetstone was missing, the whole family undoubtedly went looking for it. Back then replacing a good whetstone was an unwanted expense. But it remained hidden where it fell, and eventually the searchers gave it up for lost. I scraped away the mud carefully.
Impressions of the farmer’s own fingers were worn into its surface, a rough testament to years of hard, productive work. It fit my own hand comfortably. I wondered about when the farmer first noticed it was missing. Had it fallen out of his pocket as he worked?
As I turned it over, I imagined him standing the scythe on its end and using a keen eye and practiced strokes as he ran the whetstone along the curve of the blade. Maybe he stopped to look up at the sky, gauging whether he could finish cutting before the rain began. Or perhaps it was the end of the day, and putting the scythe across his shoulder, he walked to the house—hot, weary and ready for supper.
From the property deed, I know the names of the farmers who had worked our land. Which one lost this stone? Was he cheerful or dour, easygoing or stern, generous or greedy? Did he find joy among the trials of life? Did he look with hope upon the coming harvest, or was he beset with worry? Like the rest of us, he likely felt all those things at one time or another.
Whoever he was, he labored hard. The stone bears testimony to that.