Until death did they part this year after a storybook marriage that lasted seven decades.
But now, with the measured and highly imaginative skill of a Rome woodworking craftsman, love promised under an old oak tree in 1950 — and a marriage metaphorically sheltered by it and rooted in faith 66 years since – will find a renewed life of its own in the new year. It will take the form of a decorative table sourced from a naturally-shaped cut from the tree’s upper trunk shaped like a heart.
The towering 150-year-old oak that once was rooted beside Cartersville’s Center Baptist Church cemetery was felled by a lightning strike in the early fall. The tree had a special meaning for Bob Bearden and his wife Opal, representing a life-long love the two would see through together to the end amidst the trailing reaches of the Appalachian foothills.
Opal died of heart complications in April. But her 84th birthday would have been today, Dec. 30.
The Beardens’ eldest daughter, Stephanie Bearden Moore, couldn’t think of any better way to commemorate her mother’s enduring memory than to preserve a portion of the tree as a heart-shaped table for more to enjoy for years to come.
So when she found Rome’s Brian Matlick on social media after paying to have the dying tree felled in late fall, she knew the project she’d envisioned would be in capable hands.
“This is a love story from the ages. A story about my mom and dad and their love, commitment, and dedication to each other,” said the Beardens’ eldest adoptive daughter, 52. “I’m excited to see how Brian brings that and my loving mother’s memory back to life in his amazing work.”
And so the weight of preserving the Beardens’ marital and life legacy has landed squarely upon Matlick’s shoulders.
“You can feel as much love in this tree as energy still from the lightning strike that took it, as seeing the vision in the promise Bob kept to his precious Opal all those years ago,” Matlick said. “This is going to be an incredible project with many more years of love and memories ahead with a new life of its own.”
A former chef and restaurant owner out of Hershey, Pennsylvania, Matlick found his way in his mid 20s to Atlanta for the 1996 Olympic games.
There, working in a restaurant in the historic Virginia-Highland enclave, he’d meet his wife Crissy.
As fate would have it, Crissy would later take a position as a math teacher at Rome High School, bringing her back to north Georgia and the Matlicks here to plant roots and a grow a family of their own.
He started a business in Rome, B.K. and the Sawdogs, and his culinary origins are evident in custom-made pieces, with charcuterie boards made from fine and exotic woods he’s scavenged from sawmill scrap heaps and burn piles.
But like any small business struggling to make it these days, even in these trying COVID times, the Matlicks were hit with the devastating news last year that Crissy was diagnosed with cancer. After months of aggressive treatments, Crissy’s on the road to recovery thanks to the support of the Rome community and Cancer Navigators.
“She’s the reason I get up in the morning,” Matlick said. “After losing my father in 2019, a Navy veteran and my hero, and being there with him to the end, there was no way I was losing Crissy too.”
Apart from the heart-shaped table this year, Matlick’s most prized work is a wooden piece he’s assembling with pink ribbons in epoxy on wood that he’s donating to Cancer Navigators.
“I just know this table is going to turn out so great for the Beardens,” Matlick added. “Our families have been through so much this year. So I hope when everything comes together it’ll do the same for our families and others who never knew Opal but for the legacy she had in this tree and in her life.”