Without a doubt it was the aged carpenter that stirred my memories of a dear friend.
I was on one of my usual “photo excursions” about a week ago when I spotted a new house being built near Loreauville. I pulled over on the shoulder and observed some men at work. Among them was a tall, slender, older man, perhaps in his late sixties, concentrating while sawing some wood. His manner and appearance immediately made me recall Ephram.
As kind and thoughtful as he was skilled in carpentry, Ephram Mitchell always seemed to know the right things to say or do, both as a friend and in his trade. An almost palpable morality guided him, quietly and steadfastly.
We first met nearly 40 years ago when I decided to install a photographic darkroom at home.
He had been recommended to me by a mutual friend. I would never be disappointed.
The job was quite an undertaking.
I chose an unused closet in the back of the house right next to a bathroom. After explaining what I needed, at Ephram’s suggestion we removed the uppermost shelves but kept the lower ones so that they could be used to store photographic paper, enlarger lenses, and so on. Then, after measuring just enough space to set up my enlarger, he built a small partition to separate that “dry” area from the “wet” area where the development of the print and its washing would occur. He took some of the removed shelves and made an extended counter where I could place my trays filled with chemicals. He then added an exhaust fan in the corner to draw out the fumes. His work, like his thinking, was precise.
After completing this, our first project, he told me, “Jim, always use whatever good material you’ve been able to save and avoid waste.” This sound advice, like his very presence, was a golden legacy.
In the years to come we worked together frequently. He did everything from changing a screen door to replacing an entire rotting bathroom floor. He could tackle any task at any time and had that reassuring “call me when you need me” demeanor. And I always assisted him hoping to learn something.
Once, after a long stretch of heavy rainfall, a section of waterlogged ceiling tiles in a bedroom had fallen while another area nearby was ready to give way. I called Ephram expecting to see him in a day or so, but to my surprise he showed up almost immediately and got to work. To my astonishment he was wearing his house slippers. In his eagerness to help me, he had forgotten to put on his work shoes.
That turned out to be our final major job together.
As advancing age and different ailments plagued him, we worked less and less. The last time I saw my friend he was semi-conscious in a Lafayette hospital. I held his hand and said goodbye. He passed away in 2008 and now reposes next to his beloved wife, Louise, in a rural cemetery.
Whenever I’m in “our” darkroom I think of him.
O.J. GONZALEZ is a native and resident of Jeanerette. He graduated from USL in printmaking and photography and his photographs have appeared in publications in Louisiana, Alaska, Canada, New Zealand and England.