Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Firewood, the Big Guy, and a Poem
The Big Guy has been heavy in my head of late. Over the past decade, I’ve gotten very comfortable with hearing his words bellow out of my mouth. The wincing has stopped and most of the time I am either chuckling or actually agreeing whole heartedly with whatever wisdom I have shared on the behalf of the Big Guy.
Every now and then though, an instance or a moment passes where I swear somehow he’s pulling the strings to remind me of his lumberjack presence. It happened today during my 2nd block Brit Lit class with Elizabeth Henderson.
I’ll come back to that but first let me backtrack to the beginning.
Last Tues as the snows came to settle on GA, I had raced home to purchase a trunkful of wood from Mr. Ricky. My only concern about all the potential weather would be bad icing and power outages. The infamous Xmas Ice Storm of ’81 holds special reckoning in the Richardson Histories due to the 3 days without heat or power. So long as we had some wood, I knew Kim and the kids would be fine.
As I pull into the driveway, I can tell the temp has dropped about 5-10 degrees and the wind has picked up. It’s not nice outside but the wood has to go from the trunk to the front porch. Suddenly, I am reminded inside is another set of small hands that need to be helping. Jude was not amused.
The next twenty minutes is a series of hemming and hawing back and forth. Jude is throwing every excuse at me to be excused. He has sniffles, there are bugs in the wood, and it’s too cold. My replies grow curt and angrier at each comment. Finally I snap and then the Big Guy comes out.
“Son, we have to get this unloaded. We need this wood. Your mother and sister need this wood so they don’t freeze if we lose power. I am just as cold and tired as you but we don’t go in until this chore is done.”
Jude and I worked mostly in silence but it we got the job done. He did a good job with stacking the wood once I showed him how and was helpful running out to bring in more as the next few days passed.
It’s a week later and I am still fixated on that whole interchange. My We-Need-Wood Speech actually cracks me up at this point. It hit me a few hours later during my defrost mode why all those words came so easily to me.
I had heard them before.
This whole interchange between Jude and myself had happened numerous times before up in Young Harris during the early 80s only it was a six foot seven inch librarian/wood cutter having it out with his thirteen year old artistic son/free labor. History is all a circle.
Bear with me while I explain how Ms. Henderson ties into my Brit Lit class. As much as I love teaching Literature, I hate, hate, and hate poetry. It just doesn’t make connections in my brain.
Fortunately, I am co-teaching with Elizabeth Henderson. This lady is the real deal when it comes to understanding Lit and I have learned so much working with her. She is also great for suggesting new bands and authors so I am digging my 2nd block with her. I just wish our students would appreciate it. Lol
We are working our way through the Romantic Poets which is such a snooze fest for me. Ms. Henderson shared a poem out the Brit Lit book about chimney sweeps which led me to share about the most dreaded day of the year at my house where the Big Guy and I had to sweep out the chimney. I am not even sure if my students believed me but I had fun going over a forgotten memory.
Afterwards, Henderson and I started talking more about the joys of wood heat and laughing. Always the Lit Teacher, she recommended a poem by Robert Hayden. I politely listened out of respect to Henderson but its poetry so, you know. She was kind enough to print me a copy and I am very thankful she did. This may be the first time I have actually connected to a piece of poetry. Here it is
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?
Change out Sunday to Saturday and you have how the wood gathering, splitting and hauling process went at 5 Old Bald Mountain Road, Young Harris GA 301582.
As I folded up the poem to put in my pocket, it hit me what day it is.
I have been so absorbed in dealing with all the stupidity from my wife’s crazy ex, trying to keep one of my students from dropping out with four months left, and all the other noise in my life, I forgot about today. It snuck right up on me.
I miss you, Old Man. Doesn’t feel like 15 years and it’s still not fair. It may not hurt as much but your absence is still noted. I tell your grandkids about you daily and they love to giggle at how you kept Mary and me on the run.
Thanks for making me get up all those mornings to learn my lesson of how to keep my family warm even at my own discomfort. Thanks for not letting me get away with any the strange maladies I seemed to come down with right before going out to cut a load of wood. But I think the biggest thanks goes to using (of all the ways to reach out to me today) a goddamned poem to remind me that you are gone but you are always looking over my shoulder.
15 years and you are still teaching me. The poem is awesome