None of us knew him when he looked like this…
He now occupies a body thats 82 years old. My Pawpaw is Ernest Duff. My Grandmother Bobbie and I worked with Ben Watts to find pictures of Pawpaw in school before even she knew him. Our goal was to show a different perspective of the man we know. We had all heard stories of him being a trumpet player and wanting to be a classical jazz musician or the plans to live in Paris and write the great novel of our time. He once told me the field of quantum physics interested him most if he had been smart enough. But he was not sure he could pick up where Einstein left off and make a considerable contribution. He instead majored in Philosophy and went to Law School at Ole Miss. After numerous ulcer health problems he had 80% of his stomach removed in his 20’s. He was told he’d likely die but in the meantime to live a quiet life practicing law. He chose a quiet town but not a quiet life. He married a beautiful woman and had 4 children. At one point he had a law practice, a florist, pulp wood hauling business and started a tire retreading business while he was district attorney of Columbia and set on a few boards around town. He provided for his family and stretched himself really thin not knowing how long he could hold up. Lucky for us, he has held up long enough to meet his great great grandchildren and be a constant force of wisdom and compassion for his family. To say he is a hero of mine is an understatement. Knowing all this and sparing you a million details we thought it was plenty reason to celebrate my Pawpaw in a new light. Not the business man, not the logical thinker.. but the Dreamer.
You can imagine my excitement working with Ben Watts each week on the lump of clay that became my Pawpaw. Since we only had two photos from this time period to work with, alot of the features of young Pawpaw were taken from my own. Ben would measure my face and then we would consult the pictures, then he would turn me loose with his toys to whittle down his nose or obsess over his pompadour. It was really exciting and most days I’d leave thinking… poor Ben- what a challenge! The exciting thing was when Bobbie came to see the progress and approve the piece. After she liked it I took it to our family’s camp on Christmas Eve to present the clay bust to him and the family to approve. Pawpaw was a little embarrassed as he questioned if he deserved such a thing. The overall feeling was gratitude, I know Bobbie and I were happy he did not kill over from excitement. I took the clay back to Ben and he proceeded with the mould making and sent it off for casting.
June 2, 2013 was Pawpaw’s 82 Birthday. The Bust was bronzed and after rolling around on my crash pads for a week in my shop until I settled on an idea for the base. The casters had left me two 1/4 threaded holes in the neck. At one time I had thought to build this elaborate stand for him. But after seeing the piece I realized it needed to be sturdy and simple. The base I’d found in a machine shop in Baton Rouge earlier this year. My friend Chad of Rearden Steel (Yes he likes Atlas Shrugged-as do Pawpaw and I) gave it to me after we explored an old building he bought. There it was likely used as a small shaping and finishing anvil. To me the correlation was perfect. Bronze seems the perfect metal to cast a man in, it is a mis-mash of several metals from copper, zinc and steel. To me the color shows all the variations of genetics and the many decisions and it took to make the man we know. The underlying foundation being his character. Pure Steel, the sound of it rings with good intention and promise. The hardest thing in that machine shop, the anvil. It is the most pure and solid thing about this piece. It is what he will truly be remembered for. Not his body of clay, but his character of steel.
I have said alot to say this. I was told since I can remember that my days are numbered and to spend them wisely. My Pawpaw was the only one in my family who truly knew what it felt like to live with this shadow over you. Both of our futures seemed shrouded in mystery and both of us came out of it with a love of red rocks, philosophy and family. I have admired his example of love and passion for education. His desire to share his knowledge and ability to recite lectures from college word for word 50 years after graduation made him a superior teacher. Really what he has taught me is never stop dreaming. Because of him I have traveled to 25 countries and been on the move my whole life. He didn’t send me on a field trip… He took us himself-many times our whole family! He and Bobbie have always supported me. They have contributed to Cystic Fibrosis research heavily since I was first diagnosed. I have always believed what made the biggest impact in my disease was the support I had at home. I guess I couldn’t miss this opportunity to tell someone what he means to me. As for Bobbie… if she can love a dreamer… there must be hope for me too.