21: A Tree Limb

24 01 2013

Restless even in sleep, I woke early the next morning.  I could tell by the window light that the sun had not yet risen.  I got out of bed and looked out the window to see the morning star yet shining brightly within the rose and indigo of the awakening day.

I dressed and walked out of the bedroom.  Grandfather was up and in the bathroom.  Grandmother was up and in the kitchen.  That was their practice: like my mother’s parents, they went to bed with the chickens and got up with the chickens, even though my father’s parents didn’t have any.   No rooster crowed outdoors, but many songbirds sang loudly.

I walked through the kitchen, heading for the back door.  “My, my, Kurt. You’re up and around early.”

“Good morning, Grandmother. I couldn’t sleep anymore, so I thought I may as well get going.”

“And where are you going?”

“Out back.”

I stepped into the yard, anxious to have a look at the purple ash tree.  Hoping for a miracle, I also sought an answer to my prayers.

I had both heard and read the story of Aaron’s rod.  At some point during the forty years the Hebrew nation spent in the desert, a group representing a large faction of the people protested the authority of Moses and Aaron.  Evidently, this group of 250 leading citizens, as led by three others — Korah, Dathan, and Abiram — accused Moses and Aaron of being dictators, tyrants, despots.  They wanted more say and better representation, to include officiating in the religious rituals, and so they threatened rebellion.

The thing of it was, the Lord is the One in charge, and He doesn’t take kindly to rebels.  He is the King, and He had appointed Moses to be prime minister and Aaron to be archbishop.  So to speak.  In other words, Moses was the leader, and Aaron was the high priest.  An entire constitution of ethical, civil, and religious procedure was being written, which we now call the Mosaic Law.  And that was the way it was to be.  An earthquake came to bury Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.  Fire came to consume the other 250 leaders of the opposition.

And the Lord told Moses, “I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel.”  He told Moses to collect twelve rods from the Hebrew nation, one from each of the elected leaders of the twelve tribes.  The rods were to have the names of each leader inscribed.  He told Moses to place all twelve rods, along with Aaron’s, in the Tabernacle overnight.

By the next morning, as it is written, “Behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.  And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord unto all the children of Israel, and they looked and took every man his rod.  And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony to be kept for a token against the rebels, and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from Me, that they die not’.”

I hoped to see that Grandfather’s tree had also gone from death to life overnight.  I looked, just as the rays of the sun shot from the northeast to shine the tree.  Nothing.  It stood completely wilted.  Dead leaves fell in the breeze to the ground.

I was crestfallen.

Grandfather came out of the house.  He swung on his crutches to the place I stood.  “What’s the matter, Konrad?”

“I prayed for your tree,” I said.  “I was hoping for an answer this morning.”

“Ah.  And do you have an answer?”

I merely pointed at the tree.

Grandfather nodded.  “So I see.”

“I’m sorry, Grandfather.”

We stood together in silence for a time.

Then Grandfather said, “Well.  It’s soon time for breakfast.  Come inside, Konrad.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“No?”

I shook my head.

“Come with me, then.”

I followed him into the garage.  He went to the work bench, selected a pruning saw, and handed it to me.  “Go and cut the tree down.”

“What?”

“You heard me, my grandson.  Go and cut the tree down.  Cut it as low to the ground as you can.  Then cut off all the branches above the first fork in the trunk.  That’s above the first fork, not below.”  He handed me a pair of pruning shears.  “Then cut the branches into small pieces and put the slash into the garbage cans near the alley.  Bring the trunk of the tree to me.”

I held both tools, but I stood still and stared at Grandfather.

“Go ahead, Konrad,” he ordered.  “Get to work.”

I went back to the tree, and he went back into the house.

I was waiting for him, sitting in my chair on the patio, when he came out the back door after breakfast.  I stood as he approached.  The trunk of the ash tree leaned against his chair.  Taking it, I held it out to him with both hands.

Grandfather looked at me.  I know he could tell that my eyes had been crying, that he could see the tear stains on my cheeks.  He took the wood and said, “Thank you, Konrad.”  Then he looked at the ash from one end to the other; he hefted it in his hand.  He nodded.  “Have you worked up an appetite for breakfast?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

“I understand.  Well, then.  Go inside and clean up.  Then speak with your grandmother.  Tell her I require a lunch prepared and packed for us.”

“Packed?”

“Yes.”

“We’re all going on a picnic today?”

“Not all.  You and I.  You and I are going out today.”

“Where?”

“Later.  I’ll tell you later.  Go and help your grandmother make the lunch for us.”

He placed one of his crutches on his patio chair.  With the other crutch and carrying the ash, he hobbled into the garage.

I went into the house.

Grandmother didn’t ask many questions about why Grandfather and I needed a lunch to go.  Perhaps she had long since learned not to ask too many questions of her husband.  I believe, however, that she was pleased we were going to do something.  Something, anything, was good.  She wanted August to liven up, to live life again.

Joanna had gone out to see what Grandfather was doing.  She came in and passed through the kitchen without saying anything.  In a minute, she passed back through carrying a paper grocery bag that seemed to have stuff in it.

“What have you got, Joanna?” Grandmother asked.

“It’s a secret.”

“A secret?”

Joanna went out the door without saying anything else.  We watched her go into the garage.

Mother came into the kitchen.  She had been cleaning the bathroom after everyone’s morning use.

“Something’s going on,” Grandmother said.

“What?”

“We don’t know yet.”

Joanna stepped out of the garage, closing the door behind her.  She came into the house.  “Grandfather says you are to move our car out of the driveway,” she told Mother.

“What?” Grandmother asked.

“Grandfather says…”

“I know, Joanna.  I heard you.  But why?  What is your grandfather up to?”

“It’s a secret.”  Joanna looked at Mother.

She shrugged and said, “Okay.  I’ll move the car.”

That took only a matter of minutes.  Mother again came to the kitchen and took a stand at the door to the dining room.  Grandmother stood near the sink.  I sat at the table with the lunch near at hand.  Joanna was at the door to the utility room as if she were standing guard, keeping us from going out the back door of the house.  We stared at her.  She just shrugged her shoulders.

Eventually, we heard the rumble of an engine.  It wasn’t the one in Mother’s Chevrolet; she hadn’t left it running on the street.  It came from the garage, and then from outside the garage.  Next we heard the sound of a horn: two honks.

Joanna spun around and ran out the back door.  The rest of us followed.

Outside, we saw Grandfather standing next to his Studebaker pickup truck, it’s engine idling, the door to the driver’s side open.  “Konrad, where’s our lunch?”

I ran into the house, grabbed it, and ran back out.

“Whatever is going on here?” Grandmother demanded.

“Konrad and I are going for a walk, woman.  That’s all.”

“A what?”

“A walk.  You know.  Something I’ve done all my life?”

“A walk.”

“Yes.  Like this.”  Grandfather starting doing just that.  He pulled a staff from the bed of the truck and held it in his left hand.  At the top, there was a crook.  He hooked his thumb over it and held the staff in a firm grip.  He then walked toward us, doing so on a peg somehow attached to his left leg.  He limped, of course, but he walked over to me, took the lunch into his right hand, turned, walked back to the truck, and put the lunch inside the cab.

Joanna clapped.

Grandfather held his right hand out toward me.  “Come along, Konrad.  Get into the truck.”

“But August…” Grandmother began.

Grandfather waved, giving her that pooh-pooh signal.

I walked over, looking at him, and then at his staff.

He held it out so I could have a better look.  “What do you think?”  He held out his left leg and gave his new peg a rap with his new walking stick.

“That’s the ash?”

“It is the ash. I cut the trunk into two pieces. The upper portion I made into this cane.  The lower portion I fashioned into a different kind of tree limb.”

“What do you think?” I asked.  “Father says that artificial limbs are to be made of willow.”

“Your father isn’t here.  And this is what you gave me.  This is better.”

I nodded.

“You made that out of that beat-up ash tree?” Grandmother asked.

“And out of some straps and padding and the rubber off a big plunger.”  That must have been the stuff Joanna carried to the garage, Grandfather having collected it earlier. None of it was visible. Grandfather had everything except the wood inside the left leg of his pants, the cuff folded up and tied with a string at the top of the peg.  “Konrad helped.  He did a lot of the preliminary work.”

I shook my head.

Grandfather put a hand to my shoulder.  “Konrad, allow me to paraphrase something said by Henry David Thoreau.  To see a tree reappear like this, instead of going to the fire or some equally coarse use, is some compensation for having cut it down.  Don’t you agree?”

I didn’t answer.  I didn’t know how to answer.

“I’ll show you.  Get into the truck.”

“Where are you two going?” Grandmother demanded.

“Out.  Back to our forest. Konrad hasn’t yet experienced a virgin stand of trees.”

You’re driving?” Grandmother asked.

“Of course I am.”

“With that peg leg?”

“Why not?”

Mother offered, “August, let’s all go in my Impala.  There’s room in the car, and there’s room in the day.  We can all have an outing, and I’ll drive.”

“Yeah!” Joanna yelled.  “I want to go, too!”

“Granddaughter,” Grandfather said, “I took you rowing on the Fox River and into Lake Winnebago the other day.  Remember?  Now it is time for me to do something with your brother, just the two of us.  You can come along another time.  Soon.”

Joanna nodded.

Grandfather added, “Go into the house and open the refrigerator.  Inside, you’ll find a brown paper bag containing one of your grandmother’s quart-size canning jars.  Bring it to me.”

Joanna ran off.

“At least take the Lark,” Grandmother said.  “It has the automatic transmission.”

“We’ll take the truck,” Grandfather insisted.  “It’ll do better on the forest trails.”

“But your leg…”

“You’ve been wanting me to do something like this for weeks.”

“Your blood sugar…”

“I’ll manage,” Grandfather insisted. “I can do this.”

Joanna brought the bag with the jar in it.  “What’s in it?” she asked.

“Shhh.  Another secret.”

 

woodcraft 8

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