By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Melvin Higgs has worked with wood most of his life.
His house on the south end of Effingham is filled with clocks, furniture, a television stand, picture frames, religious pieces and games that he created with his hands. Some of his favorite pieces are the wagons and stage coaches he has created through the years.
Some of his wagons, all made to scale, are on display at the Effingham County Cultural Center and History Museum.
“I grew up on a farm and used wagons. I liked to work with wood. The first one I made was a box wagon,” the 93-year-old said as he sat in his favorite chair. “I helped my grandpa, Roy Smith, when I was a teenager. He was a carpenter. That’s back when you hung a door on your own.”
Some of his love for making smaller wagons is connected to his youth when he worked with farm horses. He used to match a male horse with a young mare. He recalled how the mare could be a bit skittish.
“She’d take off if something crackled under her feet,” Higgs said.
His work on the small wagons is not just a measure in wood, but in time as well.
“It would take four days to make a wagon. It would take half a day to make a wheel.”
Over a year ago, Higgs decided it was time to sell his woodworking tools. Since then he has been working with words, not wood.
Higgs has taken up writing poetry. His subject matter is not about knights and fair maidens or the wonders of the night sky. Some of his poems amount to him commenting on himself after 34 years of retirement.
Consider the poem “Reflection.”
As I was hobbling down the street
On these old tired and aching feet
I passed a shop out of the corner of my eye
I caught a glimpse of that old stooped shoulder and sad looking guy
A few steps father and I turned around
And my feet seemed much lighter as
they touched the ground
Because I was going back to cheer up that old guy
But when I got back I was surprised to see
That old guy was a reflection in the window of me
With Christmas approaching he has turned the poem about the night before the holiday into an entertaining cat-and-mouse story. It does not have a happy ending for one of the critters. He also has a version of “Humpty Dumpty” that has a happier ending involving firemen with ladders instead of all the King’s men.
When he reads his poetry, his delivery is steady and has a tonal quality that carries you gently from line to line.
He has shown an interest in poetry over many years but he did not grab the pen back then. He might have just recited them for family and friends.
“I’ve thought up a lot of poems, but I didn’t write them down until lately. I do like reading some good poems, too,” Higgs said. “When you’re working with wood, you have the time to do a lot of thinking. When I was doing orders on wood, people used to ask me where my patterns come from and I would tell them they came out of my head.”
Now, the poetry is coming from the same source for the most part.
Across the room, he is reminded by a silver-haired lady not to “brag too much.” Mary E. has been married to Melvin for just a few months short of 70 years. They first came together at Red’s Café in Altamont when Mary Sieben was a brunette and Melvin worked on a farm near Dexter.
She helped him with the farming by driving a tractor and she also worked in the old garment factory that once produced men’s pants in Altamont. They have a daughter and grandchildren plus great-grandchildren.
“When I first saw her I knew she was the one,” Melvin said just as the grandfather clock he encased in wood chimed four times.
When asked for the secret to a long marriage, Melvin paused then shook his head. Mary suggested leaving a blank space for that question.
Maybe, Melvin will turn that question into another poem. He certainly has the time for jotting down more poems.
“I’ll write a few more down. But nothing serious,” he said.