The Ancient Modern
The Carpenter’s Wife / Joshua Alan Sturgill
Once Upon A Time
not so very long ago
in the middle of a great forest on the side of a mountain
lived a carpenter and his wife.
The mountains were known for fierce storms and wild animals, so the carpenter built a strong house with a little waking room in the front and a little sleeping room in the back. He had a mill on one side, a wood shop on the other, and goats behind. There were many and various trees around to supply the carpenter with wood for his craft. He and his wife were content.
The carpenter was quite skilled. He would make tables and chairs and benches with his square and plane; he would make cups and plates and bowls with his lathe. Every few weeks, when he had made enough to fill the cart, he would wake early, kiss his wife goodbye, and travel the rough road for a day through the forest to the nearest town. He would stay until everything had sold, then return.
The town was a busy place on a trade route, and in a few years it became quite prosperous. The carpenter soon found he was in high demand. With each trip, his goods sold more quickly. There were orders for furniture and kitchenware and toys, and his skill and diligence made him very wealthy.
As if to crown his good fortune, he and his wife had two beautiful children—a son and a daughter.
One day, as the carpenter was traveling through the town, he saw many new houses being built—tall or broad, simple or ornate. He decided to expand his own cottage to make more room for his growing family. He couldn’t build out, for there his mill and his shop and his goats were on all sides. Instead, like the houses in the village, he would build up.
He rushed home that week and began to work on the project. He had saved money and plenty of food, so he set to work adding a second story to his home. And, he built it well. It was beautiful, and it delighted his wife.
“A peaceful room for our growing family to enjoy above the smell of the animals and the noise of the mill!” she said.
“What shall I build next?” the carpenter asked. “A gate? A gazebo? A turret? A tower? A pergola?”
“A storm shelter,” his wife replied.
The carpenter was surprised. “What! Why?”
“We are up in the mountains,” said his wife, “in a place known for its fierce storms. You have given us strong walls against the wild animals, but we have nowhere safe against violent wind and hail. Now that we have children to think of, we should make preparations.”
“But there haven’t been bad storms for many years,” said the carpenter. “Weather patterns change. I think the storms have gone.”
“This only means the next storm will be all the more severe,” she said. “I wish for a storm shelter.”
“Well, alright,” said the carpenter.
But he didn’t build the storm shelter. He build a third story instead. It had beautifully finished floors and walls. The view was extraordinary.
“Yes, I do enjoy it,” said his wife sincerely when the carpenter brought her up to show her how far they could see. “But I have my eye on those dark clouds!”
“What dark clouds?” asked the carpenter.
But his wife only answered, “Why is the corner of the ceiling still unfinished?”
“That’s where I will build stairs up to the next floor!” said the carpenter.
His wife frowned. Though very pleased with her husband’s skill and obvious care for his family, she grew worried.
For the first two new floors, the carpenter made desks and chairs, couches and tables to fill the space usefully.
After this, he began to get ideas.
“We need a greenhouse,” he thought. And he built the next floor with great south-facing windows. But he only added a few pots and gardening tools before he decided, “We need a music room.” He had just brought up a violin and a music stand when it occurred to him, “We need a library.” He brought up a crate of books.
And, on it went. Just as he would nearly finish one floor, he would think about what should be next, and start building without having quite completed the work he had started.
A game-room. A lounge. A second kitchen. A workroom. Storage space. A formal dining hall.
“My wife and children will have the most beautiful house there is, with everything they need and nothing lacking!” This became the carpenter’s constant thought.
But his behavior meant a serious concern for his wife. His disappearances into the upper floors of the house were becoming as long as his former trips to the village. He would spend a day or two hauling lumber and tools upstairs, and then, the family would not see him for a week.
“I just wanted a storm shelter,” said his wife, and she decided something must be done. She set to work on some projects of her own. Her children saw her carry a bucket and a pickax into the old sleeping room on the ground floor.
The next time her husband came down, she took hold of his hand and led him to the table and they had a talk.
“It’s getting very close to the stormy season, and I sense that this year will be the worst we’ve ever seen. The air is too humid and warm too early. We are in for some bad weather. You have spent our savings making our house many stories high, but we need income. Please stop building, and go back to making goods to sell in the town.”
“But, I’m almost finished!” said the carpenter. “I have just started the final floor. I will make it an attic and put a roof on the top—and then, we’ll see about the storms! I’ve built everything very well.”
“I’m sure it’s very sturdy,” his wife said. “But, it’s a matter of wind resistance. How many stories tall is our house now?”
The carpenter thought for a moment, but he couldn’t remember.
His wife pressed him. “Things are looking bad outside. Tear down a few stories and reinforce the others before it’s too late.”
“Just one more floor—one more and I’m done!” said the carpenter firmly. And, he kissed his family, gathered some more lumber and went upstairs.
“Oh dear,” sighed his wife.
All that day the wind grew very restless. The sky darkened. Distant thunder could be heard, and on the horizon, clouds like boulders marched up over the mountains. When the storm struck, they said it was the worst seen in years in all that part of the country. The children ran outside and locked gates and secured pens. They called up the sides of the house for their father. The clouds were so low that the top of the house couldn’t be seen—stretching way up into the gloomy sky.
“We can’t find him!” the children told their mother.
“We can’t wait,” said the carpenter’s wife, and she brought them into the little back room where she had been working. She pushed back the bed, and under it, the children saw a trapdoor. It was not as beautifully finished as her husband’s work might have been, but it was strong and secure. She grasped the latch and pulled it up to reveal the storm shelter she had dug out beneath the bed.
There was room for the children, goats and chickens, and food for several days. They were all inside not a moment too soon. They heard a roar of wind and the deafening sound of rain and hail against the sides of the house. As they shut the trapdoor, they heard rumbling, creaking, groaning and cracking. The storm tore against the mountains and against the trees and against the house.
Many hours later, when it grew quiet above them, the carpenter’s wife and children pushed against the trapdoor and lifted it open. Their belongings were scattered, windows broken, doors unhinged. Outside, they saw that all the upper floors of their house were gone, and littering the woods on every side, were tables, chairs, household goods, toys and tools—which had fallen down among the trees.
Though they searched for several days and called his name in the forest for miles around, the carpenter had disappeared and was never seen again.