So it’s Sunday today, Valentine’s Day, dad’s birthday and who doesn’t like Sundays, Valentine’s Day and birthdays? Especially if they’re on the same day and it’s your birthday too!
My dad’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day, not always on a Sunday. He was born a long time ago, before my time. I don’t remember a big deal on his birthday, just another day except it’s Valentine’s Day. Maybe because he’d just as soon not have his birthday then with the hearts and cards and stuff, kind of like “A Boy Named Sue.”
Maybe some aunts and uncles and his mom would come over for coffee, pie, ice cream and to kid him. Mostly, we’d just get up, get downstairs where we didn’t see our breath, get the barrel stove roaring in the living room, head for the warm barn and the Holsteins, shoulder to shoulder, sharing warmth; heads rocking back and forth, excited eyes watching as we walk by with their silage and soy meal and don’t get in the way of a Holstein cow’s rocking head when giving them treats! Throw new hay down, grab a 14-quart bucket, a three-legged stool and start pulling teats and ol’ Clementine, Blossom and friends are very content and you’re very warm. Just like Valentine’s Day everyday!
I’d guess that’s how days kind of went when dad was a kid. Maybe birthdays and Valentine’s Days were just another day. Times were tough, but good, winters were hard, snow was chest-deep, winds howled, poor folks grimaced, smiled and carried on. “Happy Birthday Norm,” his parents said. “Happy Valentine’s Day Norman!” his mother said. “Having a nice day?” “Now grab the swede saw and ax and let’s cut some wood. Don’t forget the pick ax this time,” That was probably his dad although his mom was no softie either.
So dad went through eighth grade, like most then, worked in the woods with his dad until he was a teen, then both worked in logging camps around the Squaw Lake and Northome areas; worked together until gramma had enough of dad’s dad getting paid in the spring, investing in bar time for too many days, not going back home with dad. That’ll do it for an exhausted ex, not a softie! Us kids never saw a picture of grandpa John or heard his name mentioned. He didn’t exist after getting thrown out, I guess. Maybe he went back to Norway where men are men. Not! He disappeared down to Missouri. So enough of Bad John’s goings-on and gone on.
I think dad had good humor as he went about the business of logging poplar with his team of horses, Bob and King. He’d cuss at Bob when Bob quit on King, wouldn’t pull his share, jump half in the air and layed down for a break. He’d cuss and laugh and give both horses a break, roll a smoke, sit on a stump and talk horse talk until Bob felt bad, got up and pulled his share. King was boss of the two, not all three. At the end of the day, a railcar full of poplar logs on the Swatara siding called for that famous song, “My payday’s a comin’ down the tracks!.”
As I think back to working in the woods with dad those years, I mostly smile and be proud. We were partners, he was boss. Most of the time, he talked nice to me and I knew his cussing moments were for emphasis. He was born on Valentine’s Day! He dropped the trees, I measured, limbed and topped them. We worked together.
And so it went as we cut, limbed, topped, cut 8 footers, loaded the dray, headed for the landing, unloaded and back for another load. We talked some too. The good ol’ days.
A good day was in the late spring when the poplar sap was running, when I realized God made the woods so when it’s time to peel the poplar to make a little more money, it’s time for the mosquitoes to come out in hoards to punish us! And, when the sap quit running and we quit peeling and making a little more money, we’d get out of the woods and leave the hoards behind. Happy Birthday boss!