Randy Harper, Blind Woodworker

by Jennifer Odom


Leaning over his desk at the car dealership, Randy, the service manager, brought the invoice closer to his face. This was crazy. What was going on with his vision? It couldn’t be the lighting. Every bulb in the department was lit up. Bright as day. Yet he could hardly see out of that one eye.

Twenty-two years old was too young for this nonsense. Probably just needed to drink more water.

That was Friday. By the next Wednesday when his dad drove him over to the eye doctor, Randy’s eyesight was shutting off in the other eye, too.


The doctor’s face was grim. “I’m sorry. You’ve got Leber’s disease.”

An online resource, Web MD describes the disease as “mainly characterized by bilateral, painless sub-acute loss of central vision during young adult life. In most cases, symptoms begin with one eye first, followed a few weeks later by visual failure in the other eye…”

And just that quick, the disease robbed Randy of his vision and left him legally blind–and reeling.


Despite the scalding diagnosis, Randy, now 53, still retains a small amount of peripheral vision. And if need be, he can bring an object a few inches from his eyes and make it out using a strong magnifying glass.

What is most remarkable is that Randy is able to do artistic woodworking, and displays a faith that sustains him. But it wasn’t always that way.

Back in high school, Randy, a self-proclaimed neat-freak, signed up for a shop class. After high school, before he took the car dealership job, he worked as a furniture hauler. Later on, having those needed skills would remind Randy of divine guidance already at work.

But disappointment weighed him down. According to Randy, the most devastating thing for him was the lack of self-sufficiency and a constant dependence on others to find a ride.

With the help of his dad, a Baptist minister, Randy began to sell auto parts to small garages. The schedule was sporadic. Calling on all his accounts took only three days every other week. Frustration hammered him each time a driver quit. Nobody wanted a part-time job.

Four years into his blindness, Randy’s dad died.

Now what could Randy do? He searched for ideas.

Blind Services sent him to massage school in Gainesville where he carpooled with a fellow student from Belleview. This lasted for a little while.

Even with that, Randy eventually fell away from his childhood faith and turned to drugs and alcohol. One thing led to another and he ended up in prison.


“My faith was always there,” he said, “but prison’s where I had time to reflect. I spent my time working out and listening to Christian radio on my ear buds.”

Randy’s faith grew while incarcerated. The prison allowed him to do work-release for a year.

After prison, he used the small bit of capital he had gained to purchase lumber. His old high school carpentry skills came into play while he experimented and made a batch of wooden crosses.

Randy made crosses like these.

In the shop he needed those neat-freak skills. “If I hadn’t had those in place, I wouldn’t be able to find anything. I always know where everything is, and if anything is missing.”


Encouragement flooded in. Just before Mother’s Day in 2014, 40 of his 100 crosses sold at a local farmer’s market. Now he had a little more capital to work with.

On a whim, a friend dropped off a piece of live edge wood (lumber that retains part of its bark) and said, “See what you can do with it.”

Randy’s first stood was simple like this.

That’s just what Randy did. He formed it into a small simple stool.

Right away it sold. Relatives started requesting items, custom items, and the work piled up. This was Randy’s turning point.

He discovered the Ocala Farmer’s Market and brought his creations there. Customers such as Joyce Baron noticed his talent, paid attention, and made their own  requests. And they  keep coming back for more. She’s already bought three pieces from Randy, and two of those are custom made. “He is one of the nicest men I have ever met and one of the most caring. He’s very talented.

“What I wanted was a cat box,” she said.

Randy built this kitty litter cabinet for Joyce.

All she had to do was explain it and he built it. “It’s rather large, 40 inches tall, and off the floor with feet so you can clean underneath. It looks like a cabinet and you can’t tell it’s a kitty litter box. If you look at it from the front it looks like it has two doors. The workmanship is excellent.”

If you dream it he can make it. This is a display rack, perhaps for a store.

Just about every week you can find Randy at the Ocala Farmer’s Market. Just hunt for the special one-of-a-kind furniture pieces.

Before each event, Randy locates a driver and then packs as much furniture into the back of his pickup truck as it will hold. They bring it down to the Ocala Farmer’s Market or other area venues. All the while Randy reminds himself that the amazing amount he’s got wedged in the back of the truck is all due to those early furniture-hauling skills.

With several friends in the tree and sawmill business, Randy has a steady source of unusual logs. Part of the allure for his custom work is because of the unique variety and types of woods.

Woods the reader may have never seen before.

Back at his shop Randy led me around to view the unique, (and some well-known), woods in his creations.

The shop was a wood-lover’s paradise filled with items made of holly, several varieties of sweet gum, chinaberry, walnut, wild cherry, sycamore, hickory, and camphor. He pointed out the unique grains and the much sought after spaltings, or natural lines caused by fungi that follow the grain and develop after the log sits awhile, but before the lumber is cut.

Three years of creating custom benches, tables, chests, gun safes, and kitchen isles have only scratched the imaginative surface for Randy, leaving him with a list of future ideas he’d like to try.

Strong in his faith now, on Sundays you can find Randy at the Church of Hope in Ocala.

Randy’s life is the perfect example of the little things, God’s gifts that we might not notice, that prepare us for life. It demonstrates the strength we can find when life throws us a curve we wouldn’t have chosen.

Phillipians 4:13, his favorite Bible verse, sums it up:

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

So if you’re down at the Ocala Farmer’s Market, or some other local venue, keep your eyes open for the man with the creative wood furniture. You never know what you might find in Randy’s collection. And if you have an idea, be sure to let him know. He’ll most likely be able to craft it for you.


Sylvia Swain, Chicken-sitter


by Jennifer Odom

She dialed every last hardware store in town. “It can’t be done,” they said. Every single one of them.

Well, Sylvia Swain doesn’t take no from her kindergarteners, and she sure wasn’t taking it from these guys. After all, this was life or death for Little Black, her pet hen.

Little Black broods.

It all started when her broody hen, Little Black wanted to hatch eggs and raise chicks. Broody chickens will sit on a nest with or without eggs. They’ll quit eating and laying eggs. And Little Black had already spent 21 days on a nest of infertile eggs. No chicks yet, but she wasn’t getting up or giving up. She’d hatch those eggs if killed her.

But Little Black’s health was declining. Her comb, that floppy thing on top of her head, which under healthy conditions would be bright red, was now a pale pink.

Time and again Sylvia lifted Little Black off her nest and tossed her in with the other chickens,

hoping to break her broodiness so she’d hunt for food, forget the nest, and get back to normal. But after a few half-hearted pecks around the henhouse, Little Black headed straight back to her nest and plopped herself down.

New Idea

Sylvia tried every trick she could think of to get the chicken off her nest. Then finally, a fresh idea struck. Buy some fertile eggs! She contacted a friend who brought her four. After distracting Little Black she replaced the old eggs with the fertile ones. That outta work.

But 21 days later, same story, no chicks. Scrawnier now than Miss Sylvia had ever hoped to see, Little Black showed no signs of giving up on her nest. Sylvia prayed for ideas.

Desperate situations called for desperate times. If Sylvia didn’t figure this out, the chicken was going to die. And she couldn’t allow that to happen, not on her watch.

Even Better Idea

That’s when she picked up the phone and started placing those calls. Mid-summer is hot, a hard time to find chicks in a hardware store. Ring after ring, explanation after explanation, nobody had baby chicks on hand, especially chicks that were less than a week old. Everybody told her the same thing, “You can’t do it, it won’t work.”

Well, by golly, she’d make her plan work. At least she’d give it her best. All she needed was four of the fuzzy little hatchlings.

The final listing was an out-of-town number. She dialed anyway, and–voila! They had her chicks. “Are you really really sure?” she asked. “These chicks have to be less than a week old or the hen will know they aren’t hers and peck them to death.”

They were sure. So Sylvia hopped in the car and raced out of town for the prize chicks. Her plan had to work.

Back at the Farm

Back at her farm with the chicks in hand, step one was complete. Step two was a little more complicated.

That night, while all the neighbors were asleep in bed and Sylvia’s other chickens roosted on their perch, she stepped out the back door, adjusted her eyes to pale light of the moon, and crept carefully across the grass to the henhouse. Her dogs, too lazy to rise, remained where they were. Crickets chirped from the tall weeds. An owl hooted from a field nearby. But not one peep came from the chick held against the warmth of her side.

This next part, in the pen, was tricky, and needed to be done just right, or Little Black would reject the chick.

The chicken-wire door creaked its muffled creak and she stepped in to the pen, laden with the heavy must of chicken poo and soil, and closed the latch behind her.

In the Hen House

It was impossible in the dark to tell if the hen noticed her or not, but Little Black didn’t stir. Sylvia knelt in the straw and waited behind the hen.

Finally, when Sylvia felt the time was right, she reached under the hen, pulled out an egg, and slid the chick underneath. The hen turned, eyed the chick, and pecked.

Uh oh. Disappointed, Sylvia retrieved the chick.

This didn’t mean failure, though. Not yet. She’d push it further underneath the next time. Once again she cradled the chick and waited. Little Black settled down. For the second time, Sylvia slid the hatchling under the hen’s warm feathers. She let go.

The Plan Works

The hen shifted, chortled, and settled again.

Ahh. It seemed to be working now.

With the hen content, a satisfied Sylvia returned to the house, praying for a continued miracle, and fetched the second chick.

With long waits in between chicks, the process took most of the night. One chick at a time.

By morning, though, a very weary Sylvia could see that Little Black was doing just fine, and speaking to her four new chicks. She was even off her nest, a proud mama, leading her chicks to the little bits of food that Sylvia had placed inside the pen.

Success at last. A night well spent. Sylvia latched the gate and headed into the house to catch a few well-deserved winks.

The chicks are grown now, and miraculously, even turned out the same color as their mama.

Don’t ever tell Miss Sylvia the chicken-sitter she can’t do a thing. That’s not in her vocabulary.

In all thy ways acknowledge Him (the Lord), and He shall direct thy paths.  Proverbs 3:6

Gail Cratty and Gosling’s Monkey Baby


by Jennifer Odom

A yellow-orange sun crept lower and lower behind the pines’ darkening silhouettes, winding down another day on the farm. Gail ran the back of her gloved hand across her frozen nose and opened the metal latch of the feed room at the end of the horse stalls. Last night’s temperatures were some of the lowest of the year, and tonight’s promised to be worse. The mercury’d already dropped. Her fingers and toes were ice. She rushed, wanting to wrap things up and get inside to the warmth of a heater and the dogs who were likely pacing for their supper.

In front of the barn she unfolded Amelia’s canvas “playpen,” and set her down to nibble the grass, and get a little exercise. She leaned Amelia’s toy monkey against the side to keep her company.

The monkey was just a part of Amelia’s daily routine. Wherever she went around the farm, Gail dragged the monkey along with Amelia’s other things, her food, water, and playpen, and thought little more about it. Until Amelia grew up and became independent, less vulnerable to predators, that’s simply how it would be. Amelia would have her things and her playpen.

As far as the gosling was concerned, Gayle would find out, it was more than a routine.

“Amelia, you stay put, and I’ll be right over here doing my chores.” The gosling always peeped louder if Gail moved too far away, but a few feet was no problem. Ducks and geese will bond with humans like that.

Gail poured in the horse feed, raked up, and topped off the waterers. By the time she’d wrapped everything up, the dim light of the stalls had turned into darkness. “That’s it, Amelia,” she said, then scooped up the fuzzy baby goose and cuddled it against her chest as she put away a few more things in the feed room before closing it tight. “Let’s get out of here and get up to the house.” Then they headed the hundred miserable paces through the biting cold to the porch.

Inside, the dogs nearly knocked Gail down with affection and their desire for food. “Settle down, guys. I’ll get to you in a minute.” She lowered Amelia in her wire kennel and fed the dogs.

A nice hot shower is all Gail wanted, and a big hot bowl of last night’s leftover potato soup. She needed to warm her bones.

From behind her in the kennel, Amelia let loose a discontented noise. Peep. Peep. Peep.

“You settle down, baby. I’m getting your supper, too.”

Gail fed the gosling and closed the cage again. Peep. Peep. Peep.

By now the dogs had just about finished theirs. Gail would eat after her shower. She headed to the bathroom and turned on the water, then waited for it to warm up as she tossed aside her grungy farm clothes.

Peep! Peep! Peep!

Hmmm, Maybe Amelia wanted more attention. After all, Gail had cuddled her on the way back to the house.

Gail stuck her hand in the shower to check the temperature, then climbed in. Well, Amelia’d just have to wait until Gail took care of herself right now.

Hot water drained over Gail’s shoulders and back. Ahhh. Just what she needed.

Peep! Peep! Peep! Amelia’s cries grew stronger.

“Hey, settle down in there.” Man, that little goose was getting spoiled. The hot water ran over Gail’s face. Amelia would have to wait this one out.

Peep! Peep! Peep!

“Ah come on, Amelia. It’s not that bad.”

The yorkie trotted into the bathroom, whining. Gail pulled back the curtain and peeked out. “What? That goose gettin’ to you?”

The shower curtain punched in on the other side and the mastiff’s nose appeared, his brow wrinkled as if to say, “Can’t you do something?”

“Hey, get outta here.” Gail pushed him out of the shower and peeked through the other side of the curtain, out to the hall.

She turned off the water and wrung out her hair. After a quick towel run across her wet skin and a few quick passes across her dripping hair, she threw on her pajamas, slippers, and housecoat.

Then it hit her. Gail grabbed her damp forehead. No wonder Amelia was fussing. Her monkey was gone. “Oh. My. Gosh. Of all the nights.”

She’d left that crazy toy monkey back in the dad-gum feed room. She’d set him down with the tools. “All right, all right! I’m goin’. Right now. I promise.”

Peep! Peep! Peep!

“Get outta the bathroom,” she yelled at the dogs.

Peep! Peep! Peep!

Gail wrapped her housecoat tight around her. It was cold outside. Out in the hall the baby goose wandered left and right in her kennel. Peep! Peep! Peep!

“Good golly, goose. You’re gonna be the death of me yet.” Gail grabbed the back door knob, took a deep breath, and threw it open. Now or never. The door slapped behind her as she sprinted through the frozen darkness and charged past the stalls to the feed room. No need for a flashlight. She knew the way.

Shivering under her cold wet scalp, Gail opened the latch and squinted into the darkness. There, up on the shelf sat the grinning monkey, right where she’d left him next to the tools. She’d meant to carry him out when she closed up, of course.

This would be the last time she ever forgot that silly thing.

Like a relay race from elementary school days, she stepped across the feed room, grabbed the monkey’s skinny body, secured the gate, and raced for the house. Just not quick enough to keep herself from freezing to death.

Peep! Peep! Peep! Amelia’s cries reached her long before she reached the door.

She flung it open and slipped inside with teeth chattering, feet dancing, and dogs crowding her. “Oh, my gosh, it’s cold out there.”

Gail plowed between the dogs and stepped toward Amelia’s kennel. Amelia spotted the monkey and craned her neck, her black eyes shining. Her voice immediately settled into a complaining talk, more of an anh, anh, anh, instead of the loud peep.

Gail lowered the monkey inside and propped it against the towel in the corner. “Here you go, little one.”

Anh, anh, anh Amelia grumbled and moved close to the monkey.

Finally she quieted all the way, crawled up on the monkey’s lap, and snuggled down to sleep.

Still shivering, Gail reached for the dogs. “Of all the nights to forget that monkey. Remind me not to do that again.”


A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast Prov. 12:10a




Gail Cratty-The African Grey Goose Arrives


by Jennifer Odom

Peep! Peep! Peep!  Gail reached a gentle hand into the cardboard box and caressed the little grey ball of fluff, her new baby African grey goose. A long time ago Gail owned  geese and her animal-lover heart had grown quite fond of and attached to them. So attached.

A little thrill ran through Gail’s heart. Soon little Amelia would be following her all over the farm.

“There, there, Amelia. It’s alright. Settle down. Shhhh!”

Peep! Peep! Peep! Geese are naturally noisy, and Amelia’s racket persisted. But it didn’t surprise or bother Gail. She smiled. For sure, riding in the car was a wild new experience for this one-day-old gosling. But Amelia’d soon learn to love her rides and her new life at Gail’s farm.

Peep! Peep! Peep!

“It’s okay, baby.” Gail returned her hand to the steering wheel. She hardly noticed the beautiful sunlight, the mossy green woods, or the miles that raced by. Her mind was churning with ways to make a happy little life for the new gosling.

Hey, hadn’t she once heard that geese liked a mirror in their box? Or a ticking clock? Might as well try it on Amelia.

An hour later Gail’s truck pulled into the farm. Her yorkie and mastiff met Gail at the door. With noses high, they circled around, eager to satisfy their curiosity about the noisy peeps drifting down from the box. Gail set the box down and showed them the little goose.

The dogs quickly settled as if to say, Oh, okay. It’s just another one of Mama’s critters.

Peep! Peep! Peep!

The gears still clicked in Gail’s head. Wait, wait, wait. Hadn’t her pet goose long ago bonded with a small stuffed cow?

There had to be a toy around here. At least a dog toy. Yes….and there it was, over there on the kitchen chair, the silly thing she brought home the other day, a skinny stuffed monkey, one that screamed when you threw it or hit it. The dogs had hated it. Turned their nose up at it.

Gail scrambled over, snatched it out of the seat, and crawled back to Amelia’s box. She lowered it into the corner and propped it up for Amelia to see.

Amelia’s peeps dropped to a quiet murmur. “Peeeeep, peeeep.”

Gail’s jaw dropped. She grinned and reached for the dogs. “Would you look at that.”

With satisfied chortles Amelia snuggled into a furry ball on the monkey’s narrow lap. It was just the right size for a downy puff like her.

Gail tightened her hug around the dogs. “Looks like we might just get some sleep tonight after all, guys.”

A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast. Prov. 12:10a