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"Old Joe and the Carpenter" Story

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1) "OLD JOE AND THE CARPENTER" STORY - a tale from Appalachia
[© Pleasant DeSpain. Reprinted from Peace Tales by Margaret Read MacDonald, 2005.


Old Joe lived way out in the countryside, and he had one good neighbor. They'd been friends all their lives. And now that their spouses were buried and their children raised, all they had left were their farms... and each other.

But for the first time, they'd had an argument. It was over a stray calf that neither one really needed. It seemed as though the calf was found on Joe's neighbor's land and so he claimed it as his own. But Old Joe said, "No, that calf has the same markings as my favorite cow, and I recognize it as being mine."

Well, they were both a bit stubborn, so they just stopped talking to each other. That happened about a week before, and it seemed that a dark cloud had settled over Old Joe...until there came a knock at his door.

He wasn't expecting anybody that morning, and as he opened the door, he saw a young man who had a box of tools on his shoulder. He had a kind voice and dark, deep eyes, and he said, "I'm a carpenter, and I'm looking for a bit of work. Maybe you'd have some small jobs that I can help with."

Old Joe brought him into the kitchen and sat him down and gave him some stew that he had on the back of the stove. There was some homemade bread, some fresh churned butter and homemade jam.

While they were eating and talking, Joe decided that he liked this young fellow, and he said, "I do have a job for you. Look right there through my kitchen window. See that farm over there? That's my neighbor's place. And you see that crick [creek] running right down there between our property lines? That crick, it wasn't there last week. My neighbor did that to spite me. He took his plow up there, and he dug a big old furrow from the upper pond and flooded it.

"Well, I want you to do one better. Since he wants us divided that way, you go out there and build me a fence - a big, tall fence - so I won't even have to see his place no more!"

And the carpenter said, "Well, if you have the lumber and the nails, I got my tools, and I'll be able to do a job that you'll like."

Joe had to go to town to get some supplies, so he hitched up the wagon and showed the carpenter where everything was in the barn. And that carpenter carried everything he needed down to the crick and started to work.

And his work went smooth and fast. He did his measuring and his sawing and his nailing. It was about sunset when Old Joe returned, and the carpenter had finished his work. When Old Joe pulled up in that wagon, his eyes opened wide and his mouth fell open...because there wasn't a fence there at all.

It was a bridge, going from one side of the crick to the other! It had hand rails and all - a fine piece of work - and his neighbor was just starting to cross the bridge with his hand stuck out, and he was saying, "Joe, you're quite a fellow to build this bridge. I'da never been able to do that, I'm so glad we're going to be friends again!"

And Joe, he put his arms around his neighbor and said, "Oh, that calf is yours. I've known it all the time. I just want to be your friend, too."

About that time, the carpenter started pulling his tools into the box and then hoisted it onto his shoulder and started to walk away. And Joe said, "Wait, come on back, young fellow. I want you to stay on. I got lots of projects for you."

The carpenter just smiled and said, "I'd like to stay on, Joe, but you see, I can't. I got more bridges to build."

So he walked on, and there ends my tale.


Neppe P. Finland

2) Another version:
In Old Joe and the Carpenter, two old neighbors, long-time friends, fall into a petty dispute and become alienated from each other. It's sad because they're the only friends they have left – their wives have died, and they have grown old. They don't know how to mend their friendship, so they give up. One puts in a creek on the property line between them. Not to be outdone, the other proposes a fence. But along comes a wise young carpenter, who offers to do the work – and then, instead of building a fence – he builds a bridge. The bridge leads the two old neighbors to reconcile and they restore their friendship.

Traditional American tale...

Rev. Meyer

De Spain, Pleasant. Sweet Land of Story. Illus. Don Bell, 2000. I'm not sure which ones are from the mountains, but the tales from Appalachian states are "Ghost Dog" (Virginia), "Poor Tail-eee-poe" (Kentucky), "Caleb's Wild Ride" (Virginia), "Old Joe and the Carpenter" (North Carolina), "Sam Davis and the Hangman's Noose" (Tennessee), "Big, Smelly, Hairy Toe" (North Carolina) "Salting the Pudding" (Alabama), "Haint that Roared" (Alabama). "Jack and the Bogey Man" is from Texas. Also includes Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, Calamity Jane, and some Native American tales. Most are from the 19th century or earlier, with extensive notes and tips for storytellers.

MacDonald, Margaret Read. Compiler. “Old Joe and the Carpenter.” In Peace Tales. Retold by Pleasant DeSpain, 1992.
Ethnic Origin:
United States, first known recording by Manly Wade Wellman as told to him by an old man named Green, a bee hunter, living near Bat Cave, Henderson County, NC in 1951.
Running Time:  7 minutes
Power Centers:
Power of forgiveness and friendship, not to let something little stand in the way of friendship.
Molly, Anna, and the Carpenter
Molly living alone in a cabin on mountain.  Molly has argument with neighbor over calf. Carpenter knocks on the door and has tea with Molly.  Carpenter works outside.  Molly returns, finds bridge and makes up with neighbor.
Molly a widow lady is living alone in a cabin on side of mountain and has silly argument with best friend and neighbor,Anna.  Anna has a creek dug between their property. A carpenter stops by looking for work. Anna asks carpenter to build fence to hide creek and Anna’s property. Carpenter says he thinks he can build something she will like. Molly leaves for town and comes back to find a bridge instead of a fence. Molly and Anna make up. Carpenter leaves saying he has more bridges to build.
Rhymes/Special Phrases/ “Flavor”:
“I believe I can give you something you will like."
“I’ve got more bridges to build.”
This story was chosen for middle adolescence (ages 14-17) to show them the importance of friendship and not to let something little break up a friendship. Sometimes it is better to be the bigger person and let bygones be bygones. The developmental characteristics that it focuses on is achieving more mature relationships, emotional independence and achieving socially responsible behavior.  The story is important to middle adolescence because it includes “self-discovery”, its “performance oriented” and shows “relationships are vital."

I think the story is also important because it speaks to the values one has. What do you value more, material possessions, “the cow” or friendship? These are questions that adolescence need to decide. They also need to decide on appropriate behavior. Is it appropriate to act on your need to get back at someone for something they have done? Should Anna have built the creek? Should Molly have the fence built?  Molly reacted because she was hurt that Anna dug the creek and took it as a personal affront to her. Molly still wanted to be friends and probably would have eventually made up if Anna had not dug the creek. Then she was too hurt and her pride wouldn’t let her. Adolescence need to see that there are consequences to their words and actions and how they have the power to hurt or help others. Even though Molly and the Carpenter is about older people, I think that adolescence can see the lessons and maybe even discuss them without showing their vulnerability of talking about their own peer group
Bibliographic information of other versions/variants:
Pleasant DeSpain, storyteller. “Old Joe and the Carpenter.” In Thirty-Three Multicultural Tales to Tell (American Storytelling), 1993.
Wellman, Manly Wade, retold.  “A Job of Work.”  North Carolina Folklore, vol. III, No. 1, July 1955.
MacDonald, Margaret Read. Compiler. “Looking Your Enemy in the Eye.” In Peace Tales, 1992.
MacDonald, Margaret Read. Compiler. “The Battle.” In
Peace Tales. Coyote Story by Peter Blue Cloud, 1992.
MacDonald, Margaret Read. Compiler. “Buddha Prevents a War.” In
Peace Tales, 1992.
MacDonald, Margaret Read. Compiler. “The Rose Prince.”
Peace Tales. Retold by Sharon Creedon. 1992.
Brief comparison of all versions/variants:
The original story, “A Job of Work” is written in the Appalachian dialect more like it was transcribed directly from “old man Green.”  I really enjoyed the Appalachian flavor and I could just see this old man Green sitting on his front porch, spitting chewing tobacco and telling this writer from Chapel Hill the story.  The theme of the story about the bridge is similar to both “Old Joe and the Carpenter” versions with one major difference. 
“A Job of Work” has a spiritual theme and the carpenter symbolizes Jesus. In this story Old Joe has a crippled son that the Carpenter heals before he leaves. I think the story is not only showing the power of forgiving one another, but the power of spiritual forgiveness and faith.
Both versions of “Old Joe and the Carpenter” are credited to Pleasant DeSpain. There are differences in the two tales probably because a true storyteller never tells the story the same two times in a row.  The version in Peace Tales has more flesh on the story and the Multicultural Tales to Tell is more of a bare bones edition. DeSpain adds more warmth with her language in Peace Tales and also adds some of the Appalachian flavor with her words and expression. For example the use of “crick” versus “creek”.  The story just flows better in Peace Tales.  The Multicultural Tales to Tell reminds me of the politically correct fairy tales where all the ethnicity is taking out of it. You would think they would have wanted to keep the ethnicity when compiling multicultural tales.
“Looking Your Enemy in the Eye” is listed as a variant, but it is not applicable because it is really more of a peacemaking technique instead of a story so it is hard to compare.
In “Buddha Prevents a War,” the story is totally different, but the theme is throwing away something of great value, friendship, for something so little, water. It is the same theme, letting a silly argument break up a friendship. “The Battle” variant is similar in its use of dialogue.  It also uses a surprise ending like “Old Joe and the Carpenter” to bring about the realization that friendship is more important than who’s right and who’s wrong.  The narrative and story line though is totally different even though it is conveying a similar theme.
The “Rose Prince" is listed as a variant and in the same way as the other stories it tells of choosing peace over conflict.  All of the variants have a major string that run through them, that we have control over our actions and we can choose peace or conflict.  The stories all show that good things happen if you choose peace versus conflict.  The Rose Prince is more fanciful, but it does appeal to the spiritual like “A Job of Work”, but in a supernatural world.


Created 2005; last update 2/5/10

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