The TILT Team is exploring fatherhood on the blog because a) Father’s Day is this month and b) TILT is largely about a complicated father and daughter relationship. Jessica started us off; now Julie’s taking her turn.
Fathers, Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Be Writers
By Julie Keck
When I was a kid, I hated being outside. This was partly because I didn’t like getting dirty and partly because I was allergic to everything: the soft warm grass that everyone rolled around in so freely, the beautiful flowers, the animals (even the cute ones, especially the cute ones), even the air (okay, it was the dust and pollen in the air, but still…) No matter how alluring the outside might look, every excursion into the wild of my yard or the adjoining fields lead to itchy hives, swollen eyes, or another asthma attack.
As a result I spent a lot of time in my parents’ air conditioned bedroom reading while my sister played outside looking for snakes to scare me with or climbing on whatever farm equipment my uncle had parked precariously on the edge of our hilly driveway. Despite my anti-nature nature, however, there were some things my dad wouldn’t let me out of, Saturday wood-stacking being one of them.
Many Saturdays started with my dad heading into the woods surrounding our house to look for trees that had fallen or were teetering on the edge. We lived in Southern Illinois on a patch of land in the middle of my grandpa’s massive farm. My dad grew up in a house less than a mile from where we lived, and he was very connected to the land. Even though we were only a 10 minute pick-up truck ride from the nearest tiny town and 30 minutes from the larger town where I’d eventually go to high school, we could go days without seeing anyone who wasn’t a part of our immediate family. And that was just fine.
Immersed in the world of the Little Women or The Little Prince (or, you know, other books with the word ‘little’ in the title), when I heard the sound of my dad’s chainsaw echoing through the woods, I knew that I only had an hour or so to read before my dad’s truck flew into the backyard filled with big pieces of tree. Good-bye, book. Hello, splinters.
Once in the backyard, my dad would start hacking the lumps into wood-burning stove sized hunks, his huge ax swinging over his head and through the wood with a loud crack, not unlike a mini-thunder clap. Then he’d throw the smaller pieces at me and my sister so that we could stack them into a neat pile along the edge of the woods near our back porch. My sister was pretty good at catching, but I wasn’t. Shocker, I know. Jen could catch and stack with the best of them, she even seemed to enjoy it. My best plan of attack was to close my eyes (I could only see out of one eye, so I didn’t want to scratch my good cornea or anything), open my arms, and hope that as little of the dirt from the wood got on my clothes as possible. You can guess how well that worked.
Crack-throw-catch-stack. Crack-throw-catch-stack. It was so hot out there. I was so tired. And the wood stacking was taking up precious reading time and, later, precious on-the-phone-with-my-friends time. It seemed to go on forever. But slowly, slowly the back of the pick-up would empty out, and finally Dad would toss over the last few pieces (was he aiming for our heads, or was that just me?), and we were done. Hooray.
You’d think that at that point I’d just want to go in and take a shower, but oh no – I wanted my fee for stacking that wood. Two quarters. Five dimes. A cooooool fifty cents. Dad would give us our quarters, load us into the pick-up (the back, if Mom wasn’t around), and drive up to town to Billy M’s gun shop. There my dad would shoot the shit with Billy about antique guns, recent hunting accomplishments, local gossip – or at least I assume that’s what they were talking about. I have no idea, actually, because as soon as we hit the door of the store, my sister and I immediately ran to the huge candy display near the cash register.
I really don’t remember anything about the store besides the candy. There may have been a random assortment of cold cuts behind a flickering deli counter. Maybe some bread? Definitely ammo. It didn’t matter, because I was focused on my goal: to get as much candy as possible for my money.
Jen was a little younger than me (still is), so she was more likely to blow her money on something new, silly, or expensive: ring pops, candy necklaces, candy cigarettes, one big brand-name candy bar. She’d grab something that looked good, run to the counter, pay for it, and eat it. The end. I was much more savvy than that. I’d skip past my favorite candy (Snickers bars or peanut butter cups), and go for bulk: tootsie rolls, life savers, dumdum pops (which I didn’t even like), butter scotch disks, candy corn. The more I got, the more successful my trip. No, I might not have gotten what I wanted, but whatever I got, I got a lot of it.
These decisions could take hours, the adding, the comparing, and my dad never rushed us. I like to think that he was watching us, proud of our price comparisons, our learning processes, our decision-making skills. More likely he was just happy to have some time to talk with his friend – it was his weekend, too, after all.
I remember being so proud when Billy would add up my treasures at the register, loading them into a little paper bag and handing them over. I have no doubt that he often gave me free stuff if I mis-added. Maybe my dad did enough shopping there to make it worth his while. Or maybe Billy was just a nice guy.
It didn’t occur to me until just a couple of years ago that my dad wasn’t trying to torture me by making me stack wood with my sister; he was getting us out of the house, encouraging us to be physical, making us contribute to the household, and teaching us a little fiscal responsibility to boot. Sneaky Dad. I wonder if he’s still doing this sort of thing. I plan to be on guard when I head home for my 4th of July visit. And if he asks me to do a little wood stacking, I’m keep my eyes open, wearing gloves, and upping my fee. Maybe to $1.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
Are you ready for more?