Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Dad and the Sawmill

He eased the old pickup into the driveway, the tires scrunching to a halt on the gravel. Switching off the ignition he just sat for a moment, his body still feeling the vibration of the rutted road that led from the lumberyard in town seven miles up the hill to his farm.

He rolled up the window, pulled the door handle and swung his legs out to the driveway. The summer breeze felt almost cold against his back where he had sweated through his shirt. He shoved the door shut and leaned against the truck. Removing his battered straw hat, he mopped his brow with his sleeve. His thinning hair, damp from the day's work, was molded to his head, and his gold-rimmed glasses were flecked with sawdust and dried sweat.

Working at the sawmill hadn’t been his first choice. A lot about the last few years hadn’t turned out the way he had hoped.

He thought about the farm. The old farmhouse they had bought sat in the middle of acres of apple trees. Fifty yards down from the house the gravel driveway led to the old milk barn, the weathered corrals, and beyond that, pastureland. He had a small herd of dairy cows, a huge garden, alfalfa fields, but the cash crop was supposed to be apples.

He grew up poor, working on the family farm with seven brothers and sisters. After high school, he headed for the big city, Denver, and got a job stoking the furnace of the rooming house where he lived. He went to business college at night, and finally got a job as a billing clerk for Public Service Company.

He was smart, hardworking, and good with people. He was promoted, repeatedly, and within fifteen years he became the comptroller of the whole company.

A few years later, he left Public Service Company to start his own business. He was good at running a company, and he made money – for himself and for others. He and his wife and their adopted little boy lived in a large brick home in an upper-middle class neighborhood in Englewood. It was a good life, but as he grew older, he began to long for the country, for the farm life of his boyhood.

He sold the business and gambled everything on a 160-acre farm in Western Colorado. When most men might have been making plans for retirement, he traded life behind a desk for the physical challenge of running a farm. Over the course of their ten years on the farm, he and his wife made a profit only one year. This past fall the apple harvest was poor, and he needed to find an extra job to stay afloat. So he drove into town and applied at the sawmill.

He was fifty-five years old. I don’t know what they thought of him. Maybe they wondered what a man his age was doing, asking for a job that was usually given to teenagers. Pulling green lumber off the saw, or stacking it six feet high in the yard to season, was heavy work for a middle-aged man. But they gave him the job.

He was bone-weary, stiff from the heavy lifting and the hot sun. He still had the milking to do, and a downed fence to fix. His eyes swept the small yard, the huge cottonwood that towered over the place, and the little farmhouse where his wife would be starting to prepare supper and his little boy would be waiting for him. He could smell the fragrance of roses and lilac, and the hollyhocks and sunflowers leaned high over the white picket fence. He grinned widely to himself, and with a little nod of satisfaction, walked to the house.

I don’t remember how long Dad worked at the sawmill. I think it was just to get the family by until a better harvest came along. It may have been only a year or less. But he loved to work, and he taught me that there is dignity and blessing in providing for your family in whatever way you can.