I was sittin’ at my stitch horse, was a cold day late in the fall
sewin’ up a saddle skirt with two needles and an awl
I was plantin’ stitches six to the inch, and I stropped the awl every two or three
A spool of six cord linen thread and a ball of beeswax was on the workbench next to me
The shop was cluttered, like it usually was, with scraps of leather on the floor
There was some new saddle trees that had just come in, sittin’ on the Jake knife over by the door
There were shelves full of patterns, bins full of hardware, and a room full of glues and dyes,
And there was a butcher’s block with leather punches of every shape and size.
My work bench must have had two hundred tools, Hackbarths and Osbornes and Randalls.
There were edgers and creasers and overstitch wheels, with rosewood and hickory handles
There was a big block of marble set into the bench, where a splitter would normally be
The gravestone company had spelled the name wrong, so they gave it to me for free.
It had been lyin’ around in their yard for years, the monument fella had said
Wasn’t worth the trouble to grind the name off, so they threw it out instead.
Well, I brought it home as a carving stone, and it did the job right well.
With the name, “James P. Smiht”
lyin’ face down, it was hidden so you couldn’t tell.
Now the last name was sorta spelled backwards, it was, “S-M-I-H-T”
and everyone knows “S-M-I-T-H” is the spelling that “Smith” should be
So the monument maker’s loss was my gain, and I felt real glad to have found it
‘Cause a stone like that ain’t easy to come by, and I built my whole workbench around it.
Well, I used that gravestone all through the summer, carvin’ flowers and leaves and vines,
Makin’ basket stamped saddles and squirrel gut patterns, and all sorts of hand tooled designs.
And that four inch thick piece of marble, well it took all them blows mighty well
And I was proud of that stone, and I wondered about all the stories that ol’ James Smith could tell.
But when I opened the shop up each morning, that stone… well, it had moved just a bit
And I noticed it wasn’t lined up on my bench, as if someone had fooled with it.
Now, this went on for weeks, every morning, and I couldn’t figure out what it was
‘Till that day in October, as I sat at my stitch horse, and the beeswax began to buzz.
I always use a small stick of beeswax, for stitching with a needle and awl
I melt it in a pan along with some rosin, and roll it all into a ball.
When you make up a thread for hand sewing, you taper each end with a blade
You twist ‘em and wax ‘em and pass ‘em through needles that go through the stitch holes you’ve made
That little ol’ ball of beeswax, it didn’t look like too much, but I’ll say
It made them stitches look tidy and tight—it was sticky, so they stayed that way.
But this little ball, it wouldn’t sit still, it was making a terrible sound
And the buzzing grew louder, my workbench it shook, and the lights in the shop all went down
Well, I thought that maybe a bumblebee was trapped inside that little wax ball
But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out, how he had managed to stay alive through it all.
And at first, I couldn’t see nothin’, but then it began to glow green,
and an eerie light came from that old marble stone, it was the strangest thing I’d ever seen.
And all of a sudden a fella appeared, right there in front of my eyes
He wasn’t a big man, but his green apparition made up for his lack in size.
And he sorta just stood there, not sayin’ nothin’, as the beeswax continued to buzz
And I no longer knew if it were daytime or night, or where in the world I was.
His ghost like appearance got to lookin’ more solid, and the buzzin’ it seemed to just stop
and everything suddenly got real quiet, there weren’t a sound in that old saddle shop.
I got to my feet and stood up to face him, so I wouldn’t feel so small.
There wasn’t no way to defend myself, all I had was a diamond shaped awl.
But then the man spoke, he said, “Hold on there, son, I know this ain’t goin’ too well,
but if you’ll bear with me for just a short while, I’ve got a story to tell.
When they made this here marker to put on my grave, they thought that ‘Smith’ was my name.
But it dang shore isn’t—they made a mistake, though no one is really to blame.”
And he tilted that carving stone up on its side, so the writing was facing at me
And to me it looked like “Smith” was spelled wrong, and the man said, “Yes, I agree.”
But then he said, “Y’see this old headstone? Well I tell ya, they done it all wrong.
My real name’s Smiht, just like it says here, this gravestone was correct all along.”
And he said, “I’m gonna ask you a favor son, and this ain’t how I normally behave.
But I ain’t had a decent night’s sleep since they put the wrong marker on top of my grave.”
And he asked me if I would consider a trade, a straight across one-fer-one swap.
The old marble headstone that stood on his grave, for the one I had there in my shop.
Well, the upshot of this crazy story is one that you probably guessed.
I drove that old stone on out to the graveyard and finally put it to rest.
In the middle of the night I left my headstone, and brought home its counterfeit twin.
and I’ll be danged if it didn’t fit perfect in the place where the other had been.
Now a lot of leather’s been carved on that stone, it’s even better than the one before.
And when springtime came around and the days got longer, the man showed up once more.
And he looked at me mighty grateful like, and his eyes they filled up with tears,
And he said, “Thank you, friend, I owe you one. I ain’t slept this good in years.”