When I was around the age of eight or nine, gas and heating oil got really expensive. I didn’t know about the oil crisis, of course, but the reality made its way into our lives in different places. My father gave up driving his monstrous green Ford station wagon (a Country Squire, if I remember correctly) and started a carpool at work, which meant we had a monstrous green Ford van in the driveway instead—the kind with seventeen rows of hard vinyl seats and a minimum of passenger comfort. My mother’s ’66 Buick convertible stayed mostly in the garage.
We also had a woodstove in our basement that suddenly started getting used. He may have had it installed just for the purpose of heating the house; I can’t remember clearly. Whatever the case, one of our new chores became wood-hauling on crisp fall mornings. In addition to his other Ford vehicles, my father had a (monstrous, green) Ford F350 stakebody truck, something I’d wager very few other dads parked in their driveways. Besides doing duty as a moving vehicle, frequent trips to the lumberyard (I come by this home renovation shit honestly), and hauling our camper in a homebuilt method which voided any manufacturer’s warranty, we used the truck on weekends to carry lumber back to the house. At some point, being the thrifty man he is, he answered an ad in the paper for a chainsaw and came home with the first model McCulloch built in 1939. It featured an engine the size of a dishwasher, and roared to life in the garage with the subtlety of a steam locomotive. He had a deal with someone who owned acres of forest, and let him cut dead wood off the property for firewood. He’d pack us kids into the cab of the Ford, heave the
dishwasher chainsaw onto the bed of the truck, and off we’d go for an exciting afternoon of hauling wood through the underbrush.
Time is fluid as a child of eight or nine, so I don’t remember exactly how long we were out in the woods with him on these trips. It could have been hours, days or weeks. I do remember countless trips back and forth from the truck towards the screaming, gnashing sound of the
dishwasher chainsaw, finding him sweating with the effort of holding 500 lbs. of bucking pig iron four feet off the ground. When we’d carried enough wood (and my father had worn his arms into useless jelly), we’d pack up the truck and head for home.
Evenings included my favorite chore of all, the nightly trip to the woodpile in the dark with a wheelbarrow. I’d lift the tarp, sure that I’d be consumed by rabid, angry snakes or raccoons, and fill the barrow with split wood, (He must have split the wood when we were sleeping, because I don’t remember that part) then bring it up to the basement window to heave it in to my Dad, who stacked it against the wall next to the hot stove. Then, I’d return out to the woodpile and get another load. In this quaint but character-building way, our family rode out the oil crisis of the late 70’s.
I gained a huge amount of respect for my Dad this weekend when I finished cutting the final section of elm tree in our backyard on Saturday. I’d rented a 14′ Stihl chainsaw after a frustrating failure to revive Dave’s on Friday night, and fired it up for the first time with a healthy sense of apprehension. This was no dishwasher, but the potential to self-mutilate was still as great. The first few cuts were tentative, meek stabs at the wood, but after a half-hour of familiarity, I was splitting fat chunks of the elm into bite-sized half-rounds for lining the garden. When I’d finished that part, I cut the other sections down into quarters for splitting in the fall (everything is still soaking wet.)
By the end of the day, my arms were tired, my back was singing Ave Maria, and only the timely intervention by my wife with an afternoon meal kept me from passing out next to the woodpile. But the majority of the felled tree is now off the lawn, and I made it through the day without severing a leg.