Woodcraft 15: Tree Surgery

12 09 2014

I wanted to do something nice for my grandfather.  Since even someone as young as I could see that his one and only tree stood in distress, and since he liked trees so much, I decided to put on my white hat and ride to the rescue.  The day after we — my mother, my sister, and I — had arrived, I got an opportunity.

My mother, not being one to waste time, went at Grandfather during breakfast, saying, “Really, August, you mustn’t sit around all day, day after day.  We’ve got to get you up and on the go.”

“And what do you propose, Rebecca? That I go out and play, say, eighteen holes of golf?”

My mother wasn’t one to be intimidated.  “That’s not a bad idea.  If you’d learn to use your prosthesis, you could do it.”

“As I’ve told your mother-in-law and your sister-in-law many times, I can’t use that thing.”

“Sure you can, August.”

“Do you contradict me, daughter-in-law?”

“Yes.  You can use that thing, but you won’t.”

Grandfather got irritated.  Actually, he was already irritated because of the loss of his leg, and his health, and his old home, and his work.  He was being aggravated.  He snarled, “What do you know, you who have been here all of, what, eighteen hours?”

“I’ve known you for more than fourteen years.  What I don’t know from you yourself, I know from your son, my husband.  I know you have walked and walked your whole life.  In and around central Wisconsin, you’ve probably walked some fifty thousand miles.  I wonder if John Muir himself walked that far.”

“More, I dare say. Much more.”

John Muir grew up in central Wisconsin, in Marquette County.  As a youngster, he exhibited innovative resourcefulness.  As a young man, though, he quit his vocation as an industrial inventor and pursued his avocation: nature.  He walked from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico to experience the land.  Later treks took him throughout California’s Sierra Nevada, the Glacier Bay area of Alaska, parts of Australia, and parts of South America. He devoted himself to preserving wilderness, and forests especially.  His spirit inspired the formation of this country’s national parks, national forests, and wilderness areas.

“But what about you?” my mother asked.  “Don’t you want to walk still more?”

Grandfather didn’t answer.

“You have an appointment at the hospital today,” my mother said.  “I’m taking you.  And as long as we’re there for another physical examination, let’s try some more prosthetic therapy.”

“You mean, let me try some therapy again. You don’t have to try anything of the sort.  You don’t have to put up with the pain.”  Grandfather shook his head.  “Besides, the thing is downright ugly, and it’s not me.”

I thought a sawed-off leg was ugly.

“Well,” Mother said, “you still have to exercise.  It’s good for your heart and lungs, good for your circulation, good for your blood.  It’ll give you better energy, in more ways than one.  Do you want to golf?  Well, fine.  You can use a cart.”

“Don’t be silly, Rebecca.  Manfred plays golf.  I know next to nothing of it.  What little I do know tells me I would spend more time on the ground than would the ball.”

“You don’t know that.”

Mother had flatly contradicted him again.  Grandfather glared at her.

She added, “You can’t know that without trying.  You can at least try.”

Grandfather looked away.

“I know that’s asking much at this point.  Maybe golf isn’t such a good idea right now.  So…”  My mother thought.  “Let’s go swimming.”

“Swimming?” Grandfather exclaimed.

“Yeah!” Joanna said.

“Yeah!” I said.

“Swimming?” Grandfather repeated.  “You must be mad.”

“No, I’m not.  Swimming is an excellent idea.  Except for drowning, you can’t hurt yourself.  There’s no slam or bang.  You float.  And you work everything: arms, legs, heart, lungs, everything.  And it’s fun.”

Grandfather said nothing.

“You do know how to swim, don’t you, Grandfather?” Joanna asked.

“Yes, I know how to swim, thank you.”

“Good,” said Mother.  “I’ll take you swimming, then.”

“You’ll not take me swimming.”

“And why not?”

Grandfather looked at my sister and me.  Then he looked at my mother.  “I am not fit to be seen at a public swimming pool.”

“So?  I’m not exactly a movie star,” my mother answered.

Grandfather glared and all but shouted, “I will not frighten the children!  Not only am I old and ugly, I am now butchered and ugly!  I will not be a monster to children!”

Joanna began to cry.  “You’re not a monster, Grandfather. You’re … Grandfather.”

“It is a good idea, August,” said Grandmother.  “The children like the water.  Take them and go swimming.”

“No,” he said immediately.  Then, after looking at Joanna, he added.  “But I will take you for a ride in a rowboat, Granddaughter.”

Joanna brightened.

“We will not go to the swimming pool.  We will go to the Fox River.  We will go to the park and rent a boat, and we will go rowing.”  Grandfather looked at Mother.  “I will get your exercise rowing.”

“Fine,” she said.  “We’ll do that after we’re finished at the hospital.”  She then looked at me.  “And you, Grandson, you will stay with your grandmother and give her some young company while we’re gone.”

Now, I would have been pleased to go for a rowboat ride on the river.  I didn’t make a fuss, however.  Both my sister and I had learned early that making a fuss — anything from frowning to throwing a tantrum — was futile.  Both parents were, as it were, charter members of UFACIF: the united front against childish ignorance and foolishness.  Though they stood together as determined as any guerrillas in any movement in the world, they sought not to rebel, but to counter any of our rebellious tendencies.

Besides, I wanted an opportunity to do something about Grandfather’s tree.  He would be gone with my mother and sister for three or four hours, maybe more if they went out to eat.

They left the house a little after 9 o’clock.  My mother whispered to me as she went out the door, “Be nice to your grandmother, Kurt.  Not that you’re mean or mischievous, of course, but don’t make one demand after another on her.  Let her slow down and relax a bit.  Let her take a break.”

Well, within a matter of minutes of their departure, Grandmother set about making cupcakes for all of us.  In anticipation of our arrival the day before, she had already baked cookies and kuchen.  She thought, though, that we would really like cupcakes.  So, that’s what she did the rest of that morning, and working from scratch, as always.

I helped.  Never mind that I thought baking a task for she-females.  I helped anyway because I liked taste-testing things as we went by licking bowls, spoons, and beaters.

By the time noon came along, I had little appetite.  I did want to eat at least one, if not two, of the fresh cupcakes, regardless.  Grandmother had made two kinds: yellow and chocolate, both frosted in chocolate.  She declared, however, there would be no cupcakes for me without my first having eaten a decent lunch.

She had been used to cooking a dinner for consumption at noon.  With Grandfather away and with us visiting, however, lunch was in order.  She made a sandwich and heated some soup for me.  She had some soup, a “crust of bread” as she called it, a couple pieces of summer sausage, and a little cottage cheese.  Then we each had a cupcake.

She just seemed to take one without thinking it over; I had to debate the matter first.  Eventually, I went with the chocolate cake and frosting.

Afterward, Grandmother announced, “I’m going to lie down for a while now, Konrad.”  She always did that after the noon meal.  It lasted an hour or so.  “Go out in the yard and play.  Or, if you’d like, you may go to the park nearby.  Perhaps some of the local children will let you play a game of baseball with them.”  Baseball was a big deal among boys when I was a child, more popular than football, basketball, and hockey combined.

Back then, parents had no need to serve as recreational directors for their kids, and kids would rarely if ever think to ask their parents for help in finding something to do.  If a kid uttered the words, “I’m bored,” he or she did so in the presence of other kids, not any adults.  Saying such a thing to an adult ran the risk of being told in response either to study something for school or church, or to do some job or chore.

No, it was usually eat breakfast and charge out the door with a mother’s words following, “Be back for lunch.”  It was eat lunch and charge out the door with a mother’s words following, “Be back for dinner.”  Or supper, depending.  It was eat supper and charge out the door with a mother’s words following, “Be back before dark.”

At the time, mothers worried more about a nuclear missile landing nearby than about kidnappings, sexual molestation, drug dealers and dealing, and gang violence.

I thought more about Grandfather’s ash tree than about handling a bat made of ash.  Grandmother went to her bedroom.  I went out to the garage.

As expected, Grandfather had everything decent and in order, as if prepared for a military inspection.  His 1953 Studebaker pickup truck stood ready, and so, too, Grandmother’s new 1961 Studebaker Lark.

Certainly, not everything that Grandfather had owned in the way of tools made the move from Waupaca to Neenah.  He did retain an assortment for lawn and garden use, though, among a few others of general practical value.  I doubted that I would have any trouble locating something that I could use.

Finding a rasp, I said as if speaking to my father, “This’ll do.”

I went out to the purple ash tree, looked it over again, and then set to work.  My father had taught me that, to obtain the highest grade hardwood, a tree must grow straight and round, and a tree trunk must be as clear as possible.  I took the rasp in hand — both hands, actually — and started abrading up and down and all around.

I worked steadily.  I paused only long enough to check what I had done and what needed yet to be done.  Filing away all the bumps and bulges, in time I got that beat up tree trunk as round and as straight as a good rake handle.  It wasn’t that thin, of course, but I did have to remove much material to get a good shape.

I put the rasp on the ground and ran into the house.  I checked on Grandmother first; she had fallen asleep.  I went to the kitchen, opened a drawer, and selected a big knife.  I took that out to the tree and proceeded to go over my work, shaving the rasp marks off the trunk.

That done, I went back into the garage to search for sandpaper and pruning shears.  Obtaining both, I carried them to the tree.  I cut off a number of the lower branches so as to make a trunk without branches as high as I could reach.  Those went into the garbage cans near the alley. I filed and carved some more at the places on the tree where I had cut.  Then I sanded.  Using three grades of sandpaper, I went over the tree’s trunk until I had it as smooth as a good baseball bat.

I gathered up the shears, sandpaper, rasp, and knife, and backed away.  The first items went back into the garage, exactly where I had found them.  The last item went back into the kitchen, exactly where I had found it.  Grandmother continued her nap, so I decided to go out and explore the neighborhood.

woodcraft 7





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