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Saturday, November 8, 2008

The last of my trip, Tom, Maxie and other things worth mentioning

Writing about family is a tricky thing. I was very careful in my last blog when talking about my Aunt and Uncle. Careful not to say too much, careful with my selection of photos, careful not to use their names. Maxie made me all too aware of the dangers of saying too much about family. On this day of my visit with family, luck was on our side as my Uncle and I found Tom at home before we headed out to see Maxie. Had we not been asked to pick up one of his paintings, we would have missed him as he was rushing to leave. And I would have missed out on the pleasure of meeting him. Tom taught art for 35 years and is a retired Furman University Fine Arts Chair. Tom is delightful. Even in his rush to leave, he opened up his studio upon my request and allowed me to photograph him. I wish the visit could have lasted longer, but I had to be considerate of his time and felt I had taken too much already.

My Uncle was hoping that we would find Maxie in her shop today. He was still puzzled that she was not there yesterday. We drove the short distance to her house and again she was not there. We drove across the road and found her in her golf cart, which she uses to travel back and forth between her home and the shop. She saw us at the shop and was on her way to greet us. From the first moment I met Maxie, I knew this would be a meeting I would not forget.

Maxie turned 84 two days prior to my meeting her. She is known as the Bowl Digger. My Uncle does not know the name of some of the acquaintances he has made through Maxie. He only knows them as “the school teacher”, “the UPS man” and “the doctor”. Even Tom, while like family to Maxie, is called “the professor”. Red is Maxie’s favorite color. Today she wears a red work shirt with Maxie over one pocket and Bowl Digger over the other. Strands of hair form white wings from under the ball cap. Blue jeans and work boots finish it off. She also creates wooden figurines of people she knows. She won’t sell them. Neither will she sell the special bowls lining the shelf and fireplace in her home. Those are her special babies. Maxie’s bowls and dough trays can be found in homes in other countries! When I asked how this is, since she only sells them from her home, she told me that someone local would bring someone visiting from another country. They would take their bowls home and show it to friends. Next thing you know, they would come to visit, buy more bowls, give them to friends, and then they would come. It’s been that way for years, she tells me.

Maxie is called the Bowl Digger because she makes bowls and dough trays. She took me into her home to show me her favorite pieces. Being a lover of wood myself and a one time wood worker, I was captivated by the bowls and Maxie. Her mother told her “to be happy, you gotta look for the good things in life”. Maxie told me “I’ve always found beauty in trees. I made my first bowl after I retired, and I haven’t been able to stop.” Maxie generously granted me permission to take pictures of her---in her house, in her workshop, in her golf cart with Rufus.
Maxie finds something in every piece of wood she touches. Below are a couple of things that hang over the doors in her shop. She saw a mountain scene in the grain of the wood in one and an interesting shape in another.

People bring her wood and ask her to make a bowl out of it. She can name every type of wood and where it came from when she describes her "babies". Below is a future bowl from beautifully grained wood that someone gave her recently.

Her husband, Hylton, is a very kind soul. You know that when he speaks. He tells me when he was young he wanted to marry a lady…”and I did”.

Rufus is a black Lab that had been abused by his previous owner. He somehow found his way to Maxie and her kind heart. It is obvious they adore one another. He guardedly watches from a distance as he is shy in our presence.

I could have stayed for hours listening to Maxie’s stories. She has written 2 books about her life. One of her books, I believe it was the second book, upset one of her relatives. That relative did not speak to Maxie for 5 years. She had not imagined when writing the book that anyone would be hurt. It is clear that Maxie would never knowingly hurt anybody. She had planned to write a third book, but has decided not to do so as she cannot bear the thought of hurting another.

I came away with a bowl and a dough tray, and a warm glow that I will carry with me every time I think of the Bowl Digger. You have to come away with something good when you meet Maxie. Good things came to me during my trip and Maxie was one of the best. I also came away with a copy of a documentary about Maxie directed by Kathy Higby. I hope you will take a look at it. It is only 16 minutes long. Please go to the following link to see this short film: . You will see a painting of Maxie in the film. It was painted by Tom, “the professor”. I can’t fully explain the affect meeting Maxie had on me. Sometimes the best things in life are served to you on a wooden platter.

That evening, my cousin had us over for dinner. This was a joy for me as they moved from Virginia when we were children so I have not known her or her family. She is married and has two daughters, age 19 and 17. I had never seen her children. This wonderful day was now topped off with a spontaneous reunion. My cousin’s husband has a degree in agricultural engineering and has the most serious garden. Eggplants were being harvested so we had a delicious eggplant casserole.
My Uncle and I put together a salad to contribute to the dinner. All of our ingredients were from the store, not the backyard. After making the salad, my Uncle and I got lost in conversation on one of the screened porches. Add that time to some of the most precious moments of my visit. Then add the dinner conversation with my cousin and her family. I am lost for words.
During my last day, my Aunt and I rested at home while my Uncle went off to do his weekly volunteer work. He later took us to lunch at a winery. Afterward, we drove through the town of Pickens where they buy groceries and attend the Presbyterian church. Three hours later, we were home again. Porch sitting time. Time that I am running out of. The day was topped off by attending a pig auction at the BMW plant in Greenville. A man that looks more like Santa than anyone I have ever seen, makes the ceramic pigs and then they are painted by local artists. The pigs are paired with donated items to be sold at auction. Before the auction, we got to sample some fine food prepared by restaurants as they demonstrated their cuisine. My cousin joined us, a last minute decision on her part. I got to spend most of the evening hanging out with her. Priceless.

The next morning I slept in, awaking at 8:30 AM. It was raining. Do you know the sound of rain in the woods? Everyone should know that sound. It is soft and peaceful. My Uncle made our last breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast. Then it was time to pack up and head for home. I said my sad good-bye. The long drive back was beautiful, even in the drizzling on-and-off rain. I popped in a CD appropriate for the drive. It is called The Sounds of Shenandoah…The National Park Series. I purchased it while attending a culinary workshop at Skyline Meadows on the Blue Ridge Parkway last year. It was a perfect choice for the drive and created an out-of-car experience. Later, I switched to Joss Stone’s Mind, Body and Soul.

Thank you for hanging in there with me while I wrote about this memorable trip. I had not planned the trip. It just happened. I got in my car one Saturday morning and only knew where I was going to sleep. Each part of this trip was gifted to me. I could not have planned it. I had to come to it. Thanks to my Aunt and Uncle for providing the groundwork for so many priceless moments.


  1. My name is Sissy Parks. I live in York SC and just seen your story on tv. I would love very much to have some works of Maxie's. Please email me at

  2. My name is Sissy Parks. I live in York SC and just seen your story on tv. I would love very much to have some works of Maxie's. Please email me at

    January 24, 2013 at 5:19 PM