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The Mantel

The Mantel
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle
The Mantel
From the PorchBy Amber Nagle

It began in 2021 — when a powerful storm passed through our property and blew over a large red oak that had stood sentry on this piece of land for over 100 years. We felt the jarring vibration as it fell to the earth with a heavy thud. The following day, my husband, Gene, and I surveyed the fallen giant and mourned for it.

“Maybe we can make something from the wood,” Gene said that day. “Maybe turn it into a mantel…” I couldn’t fathom working the wood. The downed tree was a behemoth. Where would we even start?

But coming out of the pandemic, Gene was ready to take on a big, meaningful project — something to memorialize the beautiful tree so that it could continue to live on. He ordered a gadget from the Internet that would allow him to cut a log lengthwise with a chainsaw. In October of 2021, he began the process of cutting down the log into a large, dense chunk. He used our lawn tractor to haul it up to our house to a small workshop, and then somehow, he managed to place the giant chunk of oak on some heavy duty saw horses. That’s where it has stayed for almost three years.

First it had to dry out a bit. Then little by little, Gene whittled away at the wood using various saws, chisels and routers. A year or more into the project, he began to fill the holes that insects had bored into the wood with epoxy. One edge had some rotten wood, so he removed most of that area and sanded it. He decided to keep the imperfect area as a testament to the tree’s life.

My husband worked on the project on and off for months. It was a project of patience and time and his continuously figuring things out. Then one day, I walked into the shop, and the chunk of red oak had started to take on the appearance of a mantel, but there was still much to be done. Gene continued to work on it during periods where he had free time, which wasn’t a lot. The project took a sabbatical after we discovered Gene’s biological family in Texas in late 2022. The mantel rested quietly in the shop, waiting for him to get back to it and finish its metamorphosis.

“I’ve discovered that there’s a slight twist in the wood,” he said to me over dinner one day. “It’s not perfectly square, but I think it will still work.”

That comment made me a little nervous.

Then a few weeks ago, he ordered long metal “cleats” to mount the mantel to the wall. He showed them to me then asked, “What do you think? Do you think this is going to work?”

Again, that question made me nervous. I was more than ready to get a mantel up on the wall above the fireplace.

Then a month ago, Gene’s brother, Chris, from Texas called him and mentioned that he and his two sons were considering a boy’s road trip to Georgia for the July 4th weekend.

“Come on over to Georgia, brother,” Gene said. “You and your strong young sons can help me get the mantel up on the wall, because me and Am- continued from page

ber can’t do it ourselves.”

Fast forward to Friday… Chris’s sons, Luke and Eli, carefully carried the mantel from the shop into our great room. I stood aside and took photos of the operation. They heaved it upward, and Gene and Chris helped guide their actions. It didn’t slide into the cleats effortlessly, but after some jiggling and pounding, the mantel was up and the two young men slowly removed their hands and stepped away.

Gene and his brother placed a level on the mantel and clapped and hooted when the bubble showed that the block of wood was “level.” My husband ran out to the shop and retrieved two side pieces that he had fashioned from the tree, shaped with dovetails to slide into the large mantel piece. He hammered them in with a mallet and smiled.

Three years later, the fallen tree is finally a showpiece in our great room. Moreover, it’s recycled, and it’s a part of this land’s history — and our history. I’m so proud of my husband for his willingness to take on such a large scale project and see it through to the end, and I’m so happy that his brother and nephews had a part in it, too — lifting it into place and celebrating with us. As for the mantel — it is stunning and most of all, it’s a testament to one man’s unwavering patience and artistic vision. I just love looking at it!

Gene with the log in 2021.

Gene with his brother and 2 nephews hanging the mantel in 2024.

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