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Men Pulling Logs

Getting in the Wood

An autumnal event of importance, second only to the filling of the meat-house, was the purchase and sawing of the wood.

Three sizes, remember - the 4-foot lengths for the long, low stove in the Big Room, 12-inch "chunks" for the oval sheet-iron stove in the parlor, and the fine-split 18-inch lengths for the kitchen. (Yes, they burned wood in the kitchen - not only wood, but oak and maple and hickory - the kind you buy by the carat nowadays!)

And what a fire it made! Two sticks of the long wood in the stove in the Big Room, and the damper open, and you'd have to raise the windows inside of fifteen minutes no matter how low the thermometer registered outside. In the kitchen grandmother did all her cooking with a wood fire - using the ashes for the lye barrel - and the feasts that came steaming from her famous oven have never been equalled on any gas-range ever made. (Gas-range! how grandmother would have sniffed in scorn at such a suggestion!) Even coal was only fit for the base burner in the family sitting-room - and that must be anthracite, or "hard" coal, the kind that comes in sacks nowadays at about the same price as butter and eggs. And even the wood had to be split just so and be "clear" and right, or grandmother would scold grandfather for not wearing his near-seeing specs when he bought it. "Guess they fooled you on that load, Mr. Van," she'd say. "It isn't like the last we had."

Don't you remember how you were hanging around the kitchen one Saturday morning kind-a waiting for something to come within reach, and grandfather's cane came tap-tapping down the long hall, and he pushed open the kitchen door and stood there, just inside the door, until the kettle started boiling over and making such a noise. And then he announced that he thought he better go out and see if there was any wood in market. (As if there weren't fifty farmers lined up there almost before daylight!) It was about nine o'clock and the sun had had a chance to warm things up a bit - so grandmother wrapped him up in his knitted muffler and away he went beneath his shiny silk hat. And because you stood around and looked wistfully up at him, he finally turned back, just before he reached the big front door and said: "Want to go along, Billie?" Of course you went, because there were all kinds of shops on the way up town to the wood market and grandfather always had an extra nickle for such occasions.
Can't you just see that wood-market now, as it used to be in the Long Ago - with its big platform scales - and its wagons of accurately-piled cord-wood marked on the end of some stick with the white chalk-mark of the official "inspector" and measurer - and the farmers all bundled-up and tied-around with various cold-dispelling devices and big mitts and fur caps? So far as you could tell then (or now, either, I'll wager!) every load was exactly like every other load - but not so to grandfather, for he would scrutinize them all, sound them with his stick, barter and dicker and look out for knots - and then make the rounds again and do it all over before finally making his selection - and I distinctly remember feeling that the wood left in market after grandfather had made his selection wasn't worth hauling away!

Load after load was driven up to the high backyard fence and its sticks heaved into the yard and piled in perfect order - and it made a goodly and formidable showing when Old Pete, the wood-sawyer, finally arrived on the scene. The time of wood-buying was determined partly by Pete's engagements - he went first to the Perkinses and next to the Williamses and so on in rotation as he had done for years, his entire winter being "engaged" far ahead. It did not seem possible, to boyish mind, that one man could ever get all that wood sawed and split, even if he was a great giant Norseman with the finest buck-saw in the country.

But each year Old Pete's prowess seemed to increase - and day after day the ceaseless music of his saw sounded across the crisp air - and the measured strokes of his axe struck a clarion note - until finally the yard showed only chips and saw-dust where that vast wood-pile had been - and the big barn was piled full to the rafters - the kitchen wood and chunks on one side, the big wood on the other.

Then Pete would come in and announce that the job was done - and grandfather would bundle-up and go out for a final inspection. Pete removed the pad from his leg (you remember the carpet he wore on his left knee - the one that held the stick in place in the buck when he was sawing) and together they went into the barn - and talked it all over - and Pete said it was harder wood than last year's and more knots in it and ought to be worth two shillings more than contract price - and grandfather finally allowed the excess - and Old Pete came in and got his money (in gold and silver) and a bowl of coffee and some bread - and went his way to the Jonesses or some other folks.

And you, young man - you surely hated to see that great Viking go - for he had told you many a wonderful tale at the noon hour as he munched his thick sandwiches - and no one could look at his massive head and huge shoulders and great beard and hair and doubt that his forebears had done all that he credited to them.

Somehow, Old Pete seemed more real than most men you knew - except grandfather, of course. There was something unexplainable in the man and his work that rang true - something that was so wholesome and sound. He wasn't like old Hawkins, the grocer - he'd as lief give you a rotten apple as not if he could smuggle it into the bag without you seeing him; and Kline the candy-man sometimes sold you old hard stuff mixed with the fresh. But Old Pete here - he just worked honest and steady - out in the open - at a fixed wage - and he did an honest job and was proud of it even if it was only sawing wood. He worked faithfully until it was done, and then he got a good word and a bowl of coffee and his wages in gold and silver - and went his way rejoicing, leaving behind him the glory of labor well performed blending with the refreshing fragrance of new-cut logs that sifted through the cracks of the old barn.

Acorns and Leaves

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