In mid-December of last year Don Pridgen received a call from our friend, ‘Mule’, who was slowly but surely soon to pass on to the other side. Four of the LOGJAM brotherhood were more than a bit familiar with Mule, whose work in ‘sticks and stones’ was as much of legend as he. Mule’s simple request was for Don to find the help he needed and construct a coffin.
Word went out, and quickly, with Don in the driver’s seat, we got to the task at hand. Because Don was working on Rick and Jen’s farmhouse restoration at that time, Don’s shop was in their basement, so that’s where we gathered to put the pieces together. Lukas threw out a simple but most workable design, Don gathered many boards from his personal lumberyard, Scott and Rick added a few sticks, and within a week or so, a coffin was born.
Mule never laid an eye on our creation, but he did see pictures and said, “When you all get me to the grave site, just open that sucker up and roll me out. It’s way too pretty to be covered with dirt.”
Throughout the process we four felt a certain sense of honor and a confused sense of impending loss. It was simultaneously uplifting and soulfully sad. The Logjam crew found new ways to bond. While tooling away in Rick’s basement, an occasional call would come in from Mule, checking on the progress as well as many other details behind a simple burial without preachers or funeral homes. Mule’s taking charge of his death was larger than a coffin. His was a green funeral all the way.
On Christmas Eve, Don and Rick drove the coffin down the mountain to Surry County and stored it with Mule’s childhood friends.
Diane (Mule’s wife) called about 8:30 on January 4th. Mule had died 10 minutes earlier, and she was heading back down the mountain to prepare for the gathering. The burial would commence as soon as they put the body in the coffin and drove over the mountain for one last ride. Part of this ride went through ‘Devotion’, once a large farm/estate owned by the Reynolds family, for whom Mule’s father worked and where Mule grew up.
The coffin was very heavy and contained at least 18 species of local and indigenous woods…words from Don P:
“The top is a wide plank of ambrosia red maple flanked by two narrow strips of chestnut from the Fielder cabin. The outside live edged pieces are from an eastern hophornbeam that grew up in the hollow behind the barn.
The sides are 3 horizontal planks wide, the top and bottom planks are white oak, the center planks on the long sides are cherry and on the ends are apple. One end bottom is red oak.
The handles are chestnut from a load that Mule delivered to Scott many years ago. The handle brackets are walnut from Rick. When Rick picked up that wood from the landowner he was shown pictures of that tree with Civil War soldiers in front of it.
The bottom, from memory:
American elm, basswood, sweet birch, beech, poplar, walnut, black locust, white pine, hemlock, mockernut, sassafras, ash, eastern red cedar, and sycamore. The apple, sassafras and walnut came from the cove. We capped the corners at the end of the evening with rough sawn oak from Rick and Jen's house.”
This needs to be understood as a gifting from all, Mule and his community, which included many.