My Father’s Brand
When an infant is baptized in the Episcopal Church, after pouring the water over the child’s head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the minister dips the ball of his thumb in lightly scented chrism (oil), makes the sign of the cross on the child’s forehead, calls his Christian name, and then intones these age-old words: “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever. Amen.”
After viewing this ritual many times I suddenly realized its intended significance as I recalled a poem I had once written about my father’s branding iron. That poem was published by the Desha County Historical Society with a photo of me holding the iron. I had written the poem decades after Daddy’s death when I discovered the rusty old iron hanging on the outside wall of an unpainted shed behind the house in which I was born in Selma, Arkansas.
The Father’s Brand
I found it hanging on a weathered wall
on the back of a handmade shed,
Forgotten, forlorn, left behind by all
when we moved from the old homestead.
So I took it down and brought it back home
where I soon cleaned away the dust,
And with a file and rasp and gritty hone
I scraped away the gathered rust.
I filed and I brushed and in a short while
I had scrubbed away the long years,
So I polished and shined and with a smile
I brushed away the gathered tears.
So there it now sits, in honored glory
right in front of my fireplace grill,
At it I point while I tell the story,
of the home place upon the hill.
It’s the old Circle-P, my father’s brand,
which he used with his face set grim,
To burn in their hides by his callused hand,
the young calves that belonged to him.
I witnessed today a special event,
an infant baptized all alone.
And deep in my soul I knew what it meant
to be branded the Master’s own.
Though Daddy is gone, his old iron still stands,
it’s displayed there upon my hearth,
And while the old brand is still in my hands,
the Father’s mark is in my heart.
January 12, 1992
My Father’s Seal
After my family had moved from Selma to McGehee in 1948 when I was ten years old, Daddy became a partner with C.B. Walker in the McGehee Livestock Auction.
Daddy died there of a heart attack on sale day, May 25, 1954, while I was in the back penning cattle. He was forty-nine years old; I was fifteen.
Some years after I discovered Daddy’s old brand, while I was living in Oklahoma but on visit to my hometown of McGehee, Arkansas, I was given the corporate seal of the McGehee Livestock Auction. It was presented to me by J.T. Henley of McGehee, one of Daddy’s acquaintances whose wife was associated with the auction barn.
For some time I used that precious seal to stamp copies of the poem about Daddy’s brand that I shared with family members and relatives. Then for some reason I can never explain I left it sitting on the work table at the office supply store where I used to go to make photocopies of the poem which I then stamped with the seal.
When I became aware of what I had done, I rushed back to the office supply store hoping that someone had realized how old it was and had kept it. When I arrived and asked about it I was told by a concerned young clerk that she had indeed noticed the vintage seal and had kept it for about a month. However, she added sadly, “When no one came to claim it, I threw it in the trash about two weeks ago.”
You can imagine my anguish and self-recrimination knowing how careless I had been with such an irreplaceable family heirloom. So I had a fascimile made of it using the last piece of paper in my files on which I had stamped the imprint made by that old seal. While it does not look like the original seal, it does make the same impression — on paper. The impression in my heart, however, will never be the same.