He worked his hands in dirt, almost, it seemed, from the time of his birth. The years of his youth were spent in tobacco and corn. He was born to work the way some men are born to wealth. Generations of west Kentucky Arnett’s tilled the land, turning their hands to the plow: steel blades and wooden handles cutting long, slow furrows through the soil. Later, in Logan and then in Todd County, he planted crops and milked cows: Grade A dairy farms on the annual Farm Bureau model farms tours. He raised wheat along with the tobacco, corn, soybeans, and alfalfa, blending the grain into feed and using the straw for bedding.
Along with other skills related to construction such as wiring, roofing and some plumbing, he cultivated the talents of a carpenter. He helped build barns and church buildings, made blanket chests for granddaughters and built corner cupboards, refinished furniture. His works are scattered across the country now in Ohio, Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky. When he was nearly ninety, he made me a replica of a toy wagon he’d made for himself when he was a child.
It was also when he was a child that he began learning the Bible. His mother taught Sunday School at the Coldwater Church of Christ and did plenty of teaching at home, too. He learned the stories and the doctrine, preaching his first sermon on his nineteenth birthday at Kirksey. He preached his last public sermon in Hazel and stumbled leaving the pulpit, breaking the lowest bone in the spine and setting in motion the months long decline that took his life last week. He was buried within a short ride of where he’d been born.
Randa and I made his casket of oak plywood, believing that even the making of it represented some of the key elements of his life. For the farming, there were wheat carvings on the casket, on the brass plaque and on the handles. Randa and I bought a half-dozen old handsaws, removed and refinished the handles and attached them to the sides of the casket for the pallbearers. I also made a small wooden Bible, edges painted gold and the cover a worn black. I attached it to the lid, carefully measured to be located directly over his heart. It was where he had always kept The Word.