Faith Works 12-12-09
Working On the Daily Grind, With Love
Four floors of rumbling kept a fine sift of flour shimmering through the setting sun.
The mill was a century and a half old, and today was working in full flow, the millrace off the creek turning the wheel, whose gears and belts and grindstones were in motion, parallel and perpendicular, all through the open frame structure.
With the leaves off the trees, the light of sunset slanted directly through the windows on each of the three levels above the entrance. Late fall and harvest meant that wagons filled with whole grain had been pulling up with great regularity, and everyone working around the mill had taken a turn pulling sacks of corn up to the peak.
What wasn't powered by the water wheel or elbow grease was moved, through the mill, by gravity; many of the first steps of the milling process started on the top floor.
But the grain, as it ground down to floury powder, would rise up again through the floors, lifted by slats on long leather belts through wooden boxes called elevators, since they elevated the grain to a higher level through their constant turning, powered by an axle which in turn rotated off of the mill wheel itself.
The miller worked by ear, and feel, more than by sight, which was a good thing when the dust off of the milling process filled the air and the sun caught each mote so as to blind you more than a creekside fog.
Tap, tap, he gently rapped the planking of the elevator, one which his ear and the soles of his feet told him had shifted a bit with the creaking of the building itself, built of black walnut timbers in 1849 – some of those timbers starting as young seedlings in 1609 before cut and seasoned and built into this mill.
Now, 160 years later, a voice came up to the second floor from below: "Honey, the router went out again, and I can't get the internet on the cash register."
The miller looked thoughtfully at his large wooden mallet, and then laid it on a beam nearby and walked downstairs, brushing dust and flour off his jacket and jeans.
Coming through the door into the gift shop, another man walked inside at almost the exact same time. He looked cheerful, if a bit grim.
"Hello," offered the miller. "My wife is in the back just now, can I help you?"
"You sure can," said the visitor. "I'm looking for something for my wife, and this mill's gift shop, people tell me, has no end of unique stuff. That's what I need, unique," he nodded vigorously.
"Alright," said the miller. "So, you want to get her something that she wouldn't already have, or . . ."
"Something none of her friends already have, and something that will really 'wow' her," answered the man, placing his hands on the counter next to the register.
"What does she most want for Christmas?" asked the miller. "Has she given any hints about anything?"
The well dressed visitor laughed. "Hints? You must be married, too; I get nothing but hints, every day. Get home earlier, go to church with her, just sit on the sofa with her. But not a clue on what to get for Christmas for her."
"Really? It sounds like she's told you already what she wants," replied the miller. "Is that out of your price range?"
"No," and he shook his head, "I'm interested in whatever you've got. Some of that art pottery, maybe? Or a sculpture. Price is no object."
The miller laughed, gently but easily. "I can tell that. What I meant was if the cost was a bit too much to give her what she wants. My wife wanted to get this mill running again, and we could afford the property, but I wasn't sure I could cover the cost, if you know what I mean."
"I think I do," the visitor replied. "This is hard work, isn't it?"
"Not as hard as you might think, but long, and steady. You have to know how you intend to finish to even get started. I didn't know if I could do it, but when I knew she wanted to with all her heart, that set me on the path that led me here."
"It looks wonderful," said the man, looking around.
"And it is, but you have to believe in what you're doing. We started in church, and that's where we remember why we keep going, like that wheel out there, turning in the stream."
The miller's wife came out of the back room, saw the visitor and smiled. "Do we have here what you're looking for?"
Looking back at the miller, the man said "Yes, I think you do."
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he thanks Bear's Mill in western Ohio for inspiring a story this Christmas. Tell him about your search for a gift at email@example.com, or follow Knapsack @Twitter.com.