Tamworth lost one of its great creative spirits this past week. I knew about Steve Damon before I really knew him, because I would drive by his house as a kid. We knew it was his house, of course, because it was the one (the only one!) with an observatory in the back yard—the observatory Steve built himself, containing the telescope he built himself. That seemed pretty marvelous to a child, and on top of that, he had a darkroom in his house, and he made those cool black and white postcards that were for sale at Remick’s, all of which seemed to celebrate in some way the wonders of our little town. I liked the one with the truck carrying enormous ears of corn lying like lumber the length of the flatbed—this was before Photoshop, remember. That one said something like, “We grow ‘em big in Tamworth.”
When I got older I knew him as the man who was taking pictures of everyone in Tamworth (as well as every bird and beast that paraded past his door). He didn’t just take your picture, he made sure you got a copy, often as soon as the next day, and he put a copy into a ring binder, too, with your name on it, to join the growing collection of photos of townspeople and visitors that now resides in the Cook Library.
Ten years ago I moved in next door to Steve and Ginny, into the last of the many houses Steve built in the area, and learned that Steve’s ingenuity and creativity extended far beyond photography and telescopes. His house, where it wasn’t piled high with books that represented the breadth and diversity of his and Ginny’s interests, was full of his projects in wood—from intricate display cases for Ginny’s fan collection to shelves for the vials of many-colored sand brought back from visits around the globe. The neighborhood was dotted with his steepled birdhouses—he brought us several as soon as we moved in. Because of this, and because he kept the feathered set in plenty of seed, the neighborhood was full, too, of birdsong.
Technology did not daunt him. When the world went digital, Steve went digital, too—and he would still bring prints by the next day, or even hours later. In his late seventies and early eighties he put his entire record collection onto CDs, a process that at the time was far beyond my software ken.
A week or two ago I posted here the “Fun a Day Anthem” by Jonathan Mann, who has set himself the task of writing a song a day, every day. One of the things that was so remarkable about Steve was that he seemed to live by a similar philosophy: just keep practicing your art(s), day after day after day. He was testament to just how prolific this makes one—all those albums of photographs, all the stools and boxes, napkin rings and carvings in his house and, because of his generosity, also in many of ours. And in the trees! Imagine our excitement when we discovered that an ivory-billed woodpecker (painted by his grandson Christian) had taken up residence outside his house.
And he exemplified “slow and steady wins the race.” When he decided in his early eighties that he needed to enlarge his workshop, he drove every day, sometimes a couple of times, to Silver Lake Hardware, returned with several pieces of lumber jutting out of the back of his trunk, and just kept at it. In this way he finished his project, as he always did, long before we ever finished any of ours.
It’s hard to believe now that he isn’t here, taking Ginny out on a lunch date, hanging around the circulation desk at the library, bringing the paper up from the village, stopping to show us a photo on his camera of some wild visitor or of his dental hygienist, giving our dog BJ a biscuit. BJ died this spring, and he’s probably been wondering where Steve is. His tail is wagging wildly as Steve pulls over to the side of the road and reaches his hand into the bag…
So much curiosity, so much willingness, when he wanted to do a thing, to try—to just go ahead and do it, to figure it out—and such generosity with the fruits of his labor! May we all in some way share the works of our hands and hearts with our community as Steve did. He enriched us all. We grow ‘em big in Tamworth.