CASH — Growing up, I fell asleep each night listening to the rhythmic tamping of my father's rawhide hammer at work.
As a leather designer, Dad worked each day and deep into the night pounding intricate designs into tanned cow hides to make custom saddles for other people to enjoy.
My little brother and I didn't know our family depended on the hobbies and livelihoods of cowboys to put food on the table.
Our folks struggled financially, but because of Dad's uncommon talent there was always a revolving stack of disassembled saddle pieces sitting on our tiny kitchen table.
That pile of leather and late-night tap, tap, tap represented income for our family, and it's a legacy that endures almost 50 years later.
He's a leather crafter and tool maker by trade, handcrafting western goods using tools he makes in his out-of-the-way workshop and sells under the name, Gore Tool.
The noise generated by his mallet is etched in my memories, triggered especially when I carry the elaborately tooled handbag he made me a few years back.
On visits, I usually trace him to the tapping noise in his barn, tucked in a grove of trees at the end of a bumpy, narrow country road, the likes of which attracts little traffic, except for the mail truck, lost motorists and a stray cow every now and then.
In the front yard of his home, an American flag flutters in the wind. His spunky little dog, Gunner, trots out onto white rock driveway as I approach, waging his stubby tail, as my stepmom waves a hello.
There's always an icy glass of fresh tea waiting, plus a cool place to sit a spell and enjoy the breeze.
Though few people can probably find Dad's out of the way workplace, the items he creates there have ended up with clients as far away as Japan, England and Australia.
At 48, I see him as many things — an amazing artist, a witty story-teller, a loyal friend and mostly, my devoted dad.
LIFE AND LEATHER
I was born there too, along with my younger brother and scores of relatives.
He is the second of two children born to J.P. and Annie Gore, ordinary country folks from the Turkey Creek area near Miller Grove, who believed in hard work, independence and ingenuity.
Dad's inventiveness seems to be inherited from his father and grandfather, the elder of the two known for creating wacky contraptions such as a mailbox that extended a metal hand when the letter carrier arrived.
My father grew up in Greenville, served in the military and married young, echoing his father by rearing rear two youngsters, my little brother, Jeff, and me.
In the early 1960s, there were limited high-paying work opportunities in our hometown so Dad, with a family to support, went to work for a saddle company, pounding on leather and designing the patterns that adorned them.
As his talent blossomed, his work was soon featured on the saddles associated with a variety of recognizable names, Joe Montana, Bing Crosby and rodeo stars of the day.
Growing up, our modest house was largely devoted to the pastime.
A makeshift workbench, basically a steel base topped with a chuck of marble, dominated the kitchen and tiny living room.
Dad would start each piece of the saddle in the same way, dipping it in water and then using a swivel knife to cut a design in the moistened leather.
Using a handmade hammer, plus small stamping tools resembling oversized nails, he would bang create intricate, multi-dimension images into the leather, the noise permeating through the house.
When he wasn't toiling at the tooling bench, our mother was — he taught her the trade so she could be at home while my brother and I were young.
As a child, I didn't really understand my father's livelihood or our parents' sacrifices to keep us safe and warm.
I only knew that our lives were intertwined with the western culture and Dad always smelled like leather.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Although he's always been a leather guy, my late uncle pestered him to try his hand at tool-making.
With great hesitancy, he began hammering and filing on stainless steel rods, transforming them into custom tools for one-of-a-kind designs.
“I made up a handful and went to Market Hall to a leather show,” he said. “I had them in my back pocket and asked people, 'Would they be interested in anything like that?' It turned into a full time job … when I went to shows I left with big piles of orders.”
Demand has rarely slowed, even in a down economy.
Today, there are hundreds of unique, handcrafted tool patterns from which to choose, from old favorites such as oak leaves and acorns to newer varieties, star bursts and half-moons.
He's made as many as 40 tools in a day in the barn filled with collected objects. One of his latest features a wicker basket background with a tiny state of Texas stamped in the center.
Dad primarily peddles his leather stamping tools across the United States, attending shows in Wyoming, Las Vegas, California and Texas.
His designs land in western shops far and near, including the Fort Worth Stock Yards.
“The tools I make last a long time,” he said. “Sometimes I'll make one and think, 'Wow that looks good.' A lot of times I'm not sure about it, but when you hit it into a piece of leather, it looks beautiful.”
'ANYTHING HE TRIES'
New designs, born from his incessant doodling, seem to come from the most unlikely places.
“I can see leather pattern just about everywhere,” he said. “All I have to do is make it. Some people call it art, I call it work.”
My stepmom, Brenda, said he created a tool that resembled the bamboo pattern on the side of her favorite recipe box, and then used it to make a pencil holder for her office.
“I consider him an artist because he's able to do anything he tries,” she said, displaying a leather keychain and a briefcase received as gifts over the years.
We've all benefited from his talent.
I have my purse, my most cherished material possession.
For my brother, Dad transformed a scrap piece of steel into an elaborate hunting knife with an elk hornhandle and intricate carving on the blade.
In Dad's eyes, the design possibilities seem endless and he loves the challenge of creating something new.
“About 18 years ago, a friend of mine called me, wanting to know if I could make one with barbed wire,” he said. “I said, 'I'll try.'”
He made a single prong wire, then a double prong, and yet another with an extra twist of wire. Similar designs are popular today, appearing randomly as tattoos and truck wraps.
Dad's not sure why.
“It's a cool pattern,” he said. “But old cowboys hated barbed wire. They wanted nothing to remind them of it. Heck, there were killings over barbed wire — it was against the law to even carry wire cutters in your back pocket.”
Dad's been a bench rest shooter for years and sees ample opportunities in the sport's popularity, designing leather bolt holsters and custom rifle tuners that apparently sell like hotcakes.
He talks now and then of retiring, but I'm not sure he'll ever hang up his hammer.
“I can think of about half a dozen businesses I could start today,” he said with a grin. “I just don't have enough time to get to them all.”