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Pa. man finds solace in his woodworking shop

April 01, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Working on the century-old Syrian gaming table, Elijah Tabor had to peer through a jeweler's glass to insert the minute strips of ivory and mother-of-pearl into the table's intricate inlaid designs.

It took him the better part of two years to restore the antique, although he worked on other pieces to maintain the income needed to support his family of five.

The table was appraised at $15,000, but the customer had much more than that invested in it, Tabor said.

"He kept paying me faithfully every month," Tabor said. "I have customers who freak out over a $30 repair bill. I asked him why he was putting so much money into the table and he said, 'It's either that or throw it away.' "

The Tabor family - Elijah, his wife, Merri, and their three children, Melody, 3, Preston, 6, and John, 9 - live in their 200-year-old stone farmhouse on Honodel Road. Their life revolves around the house. The children are home schooled by Merri.

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Elijah spends his days in the old farm equipment shed near the house that he converted into his workshop. He keeps the place immaculately clean.

The shed holds hundreds of tools. Some are modern, like his big table saw and a few power tools, but most are those of the ancient craft of woodworking - wooden block planes, awls, chisels and carving tools. All are neatly arranged in their proper places on the walls of the shop.

He has too many planes to count, modern and antique. All are sharpened and ready to work. He holds up a big old one, his favorite.

"I can do anything with this," he said, waving it in the air.

A small barn holds the family's two riding horses ,and a shed is home to the little flock of laying hens that keep the Tabors in eggs.

Back in the 1960s the Tabor homestead could have been a hippie commune, and if it had been Elijah Tabor would have been right at home.

Born in a military family, he grew up on military bases. After some time in college he worked as a data analyst for a company in the Washington area "in a windowless office."

"I dropped out at 23 and joined the Peace Movement," he said. It was 1968.

It was a hard choice to protest the Vietnam War while coming from a military family, he said.

"It took me out of the mainstream, but I felt that I was part of an epic struggle that was trying to save America," Tabor said. "I was finding myself at odds with the government, but the government was wrong."

He moved with others to a farm in central Kentucky.

"It was 12 miles down a dirt road and we were trying to pioneer a whole new America because we felt something in the country had gone haywire," he said. "We were a strong country that had lost its soul.

"The Vietnam War was a symptom that the nation had veered in the wrong direction," he said. "That's why we're home schooling our children. We still have some hopes that there will be a saner world.

"Like the Joni Mitchell song says, you have to get back to the land to set your soul free."

The family moved from Leitersburg to the homestead eight years ago.

"We came here in a spiritual emergency," Tabor said.

He said he has gone from being a stereotypical hippie to a born-again Christian.

"I was a boozing party animal, then something started happening to me," he said.

His grandmother turned him back to the Bible, he said.

"I went into deep spiritual waters."

He met Merri in 1979 in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., where both were living. They were married six months later. They lived in Kentucky and Arizona before returning to the Tri-State area.

Tabor said he turned to woodworking because he knew he had a gift for it.

"I was trying to find a principled way to make a living," he said.

He apprenticed under an old German cabinetmaker in a piano shop in Silver Spring, and later in a cabinet shop in Bethesda. When his old master died in 1972 Tabor bought all of his tools.

He started his own furniture restoration shop - which he calls The Golden Eagle Cabinet Shop in 1974 - and specializes in rare, valuable, heirloom antiques. It is here that a committed craftsman nurtures a dying craft that, in his careful hands, is born again.

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