A friend lost her father yesterday. He was killed in an accident on their family farm.
I feel so bad for her. I can’t imagine losing my dad. I’ve lost my mom and two of my daughters. I can’t lose my dad. Not ever, if I get my wish. He’s my rock.
I can always call him for advice, even the most random things, like why there is a dead spot in my back yard in a perfect rectangle shape. It wasn’t an alien spaceship – my septic tank lid wasn’t buried far enough and the heat was reflecting off the lid and killing the grass. See, that’s stuff that my dad knows.
He taught me how to convert fractions to decimals with a drill bit conversion chart, how to change a tire, and how to hang wallpaper. Well, the wallpaper was an accident – he was trying to make gravy for our biscuits, and his water/flour ratio was a bit off, so he said we’d use it as wallpaper glue.
There are memories that stick with you your whole life and shape you, even though you don’t know it at the time. This is one of mine.
I still remember that day. It was damp, windy and cold, overcast and gray. He was splitting firewood and I was building a woodpile, stacking it as fast as I could so I could get it done and get inside. As it started to get dark I started to perk up, because I thought that meant we’d be done soon and hey, here’s an idea, let’s go inside and burn the wood and warm up.
For some reason, my dad believed that wood needed to be neatly stacked in a straight line. I personally favored the whole unstructured “just throw it in a pile” approach. I always doubted it made a difference in how it burned, but was smart enough to keep that theory to myself.
He had taught me how to build endcaps by criss-crossing pieces of wood into two square bookends, for lack of a technical term, then stacking the wood between them, fitting the split pieces tightly together so it was sturdy and strong and wouldn’t fall over.
He finally shut off the splitter and I thought hooray! And then he shoved over my woodpile. Apparently in my haste I wasn’t fitting the wood together correctly, and I didn’t build good bookends. And I’m not talking a little 4x4 foot stack, I’m talking at least 20 feet long and 5 feet high. That’s a lot of wood. And now I have to restack it. In the dark. In the cold.
I was pissed. Right then and there I made a Scarlett O’Hara vow that when I grew up I would live in a big city, in a condo, and would never mow grass, pull weeds, lay sod, cut wood, split wood, haul wood, stack wood, burn wood, hell I was going to have electric heat and never have to look at another tree again. As God was my witness I’d never deal with this outdoor crap again!!
I was so mad, I said it out loud. While my dad was standing there. I braced myself for him to lecture me on being lazy and doing it half-assed, and if I’d only taken the time to do the job right in the first place I wouldn’t have to be out here in the dark, etc. etc.
To my surprise he laughed and told me a story about how he made a similar promise when he was about my age, after stooping over in a field all day in the hot West Texas heat picking cotton, and then going home to a house so hot that he and my uncle dragged their mattresses into the yard because it was cooler to sleep outside. He said he vowed that no kids of his would ever be so poor that they had to pick cotton and sleep outside.
He didn’t use the whole parental guilt trip by pointing out just how good I had it, and if he asked me to take a few hours on Saturday to stack wood I should be grateful that I don’t have to do it all the time. While he talked to me, he built my bookends and I stacked the wood in the middle.
When we were done, I waited for him to push it. He just looked at me and said “now try to knock it over.” I shoved it and it wobbled a bit but didn’t topple. He just nodded and said “let’s go eat dinner.”
Looking back, he didn’t just teach me how to stack wood, he gave me a life lesson. He showed me how to build your stack with good support so you can’t be shoved over. He’s my stack support and I can’t be knocked over. A few pieces may fall but I know he’ll help me pick them up. ‘cause he’s my daddy.