MITCHELL, Ind. -- As is the case with many great cooks, wooden spoons are a staple in Chris Brown's kitchen. Some spoons are well worn, propped up in a utensil crock that's tucked close to the stove, ready to stir up the next batch of yeast rolls or homemade caramels. Others, however, catch the glimmer of the sunlight on their varnish and serve merely as intricate displays of craftsmanship, tacked to the wall for all to see.
It's those intricately carved wooden spoons that serve as proof of her husband's artistic skills.
Wood-carving is a hobby Larry Brown took on in earnest when he was in the Alaskan interior, serving as a missionary pastor to the natives who call Pedro Bay their home. Long winter nights in a village, where visiting others in the evening hours was not a tradition, lent themselves to a skill Larry has honed into works of art.
"When he was in Alaska, he sent me the first spoon," Chris said. "It was too beautiful to use, so I hung it up."
Many more followed suit. Celtic knots, hummingbirds, hearts and calla lilies decorate the spoons. Some are walnut; others are butternut or basswood. One honors the couple's 50th wedding anniversary, etched with their initials and the date of their marriage. But Larry's talents expand beyond wooden spoons. He's carved whimsical houses out of cottonwood bark, Christmas ornaments, Native American busts, the pieces of the nativity and even a totem poll. In fact, each year, his pieces are prized at the Walk With Excellence silent auction, where they fetch hefty sums to benefit the WWE scholarship fund.
The Browns are a talented duo. Although Larry sticks mostly to wood-carving, Chris carries culinary skills, sewing and basket-weaving in her artistic arsenal. And, together, they remain humble about their talents - preferring to use them to serve others.
For nine years, after retiring from Crane, Larry lived in Pedro Bay, where he served as the interim pastor at the village church. Chris, who worked at Mitchell Community Schools, stayed home and visited during her breaks to help with the various ministries, including a summer vacation Bible school program for the children.
"I had a real ministry there," said Larry, who has served as the pastor of Posey Chapel in Washington County since 1989. "The Lord blessed me."
Pedro Bay, Larry said, is home to about 27 permanent residents. However, during salmon season, the village swells as people move in to cash in on the abundant salmon that flow into nearby Iliamna Lake before running off into streams and rivers. It's an area of Alaska so remote and inaccessible that everything has to be flown in.
"The only thing for sale in Pedro Bay is a postage stamp," Larry said. "Anything else has to be mailed in.
"... And if you're not from there, you're an outsider. Except Christy and I were accepted. I'm just redneck enough to fit right in."
Larry calls the mission work "a challenge that wouldn't go dormant," and to this day, the couple holds the relationships they cultivated in Pedro Bay close to their hearts. In fact, Larry recently returned from Alaska after traveling there for a dear friend's funeral.
"We've done things and been to places most people only dream about," Larry said. "God has really been good to us. We can't complain."
"It was such a blessing to be able to go and be a part of their culture," Chris added.
Larry and Chris grew up across 'the holler' from one another. They've always known one another, but one day - on a trip to the Evansville zoo - their relationship blossomed.
"Her brother and I used to skip school and ride horses together," Larry said.
Larry voluntarily joined the U.S. Army in 1964. On his way to Germany for a deployment, the two were married. A short time later, he was sent off to Vietnam. A month after that, the couple's first daughter was born.
"She took pictures of her every day and mailed them to me," Larry said.
"I think I'm to blame for her bad eyesight," Chris joked, "because I had that Polaroid in her face daily."
After four years in the service, the couple returned to Mitchell. At first, they lived in town but soon returned to the Georgia area, where they ended up next door to Chris's parents, Sonny and Sheila Dorsett. Although Sonny died a few years ago, Sheila remains next door where the family can check on her often.
It's Sheila who fostered Chris' love of cooking, and mother and daughter can often be found in the kitchen working on candies together. And whenever Chris is asked to cater a special event or program, Sheila is always there to lend a hand.
"We all like to cook," Chris said. "Both of my girls are excellent cooks.
"I mostly stick to doing the school events because it brings me back into the schools. I had a really hard time retiring because when you work some place for 39 years, your friends are where you work. And, of course, Becky (Mason, her daughter) and Georgie (Dumond, cousin) work there, so that's nice, too."
With their many talents and service toward others, the Browns never find themselves with idle time on their hands. They often sit together, Chris weaving baskets and Larry carving wood. Nothing they do is for sale - it's given away to friends and family or used to benefit others.
Chris taught the ladies of Posey Chapel how to weave baskets. Selling those baskets and homemade caramels have helped put a new furnace in the church and to remodel a rest room. And Larry's most prized wood sculpture - a ballerina - was given to Cassie Wheatley when she retired from Mitchell High School. Wheatley was the school's longtime dance coach.
Larry can put 40 to 45 hours into a single spoon, or spend 15 hours carving a spiral snowman ornament. The nativity set in their living room took him four years to create.
"It's a good way to relax, but you can lose track of time," Larry said. "It's definitely an old man's sport."
The first of anything he makes goes to Chris.
"Each piece of wood has its own personal story to tell," Larry said. "If you go into it with an idea, it's going to change because each piece has its own personality."
"When you give a gift to someone special, like Cassie Wheatley, it's harder because you want it to be just right," Chris said.
"I wouldn't make another of those dancers. Becky drew it for her, and I carved it. It's just for her," Larry added.
And the couple has no intention of slowing down.
"We just enjoy doing things," Chris said.
"When the Lord blesses you the way he has us, you pass it along," Larry said.
Source: Bedford Times-Mail, http://bit.ly/2h008NC
Information from: The Times-Mail, http://www.tmnews.com