The next day Lloyd gave me a crash course on log shaving or debarking, the technical term. The morning felt cool to my bare arms and legs. I hadn’t planned on dressing for more than a day and only brought with me an extra pair of cut-off shorts and a sleeveless v neck shirt. The sun wasn’t up yet and for me, this time of day is the most glorious, especially when God bedazzles us with a spectacular sunrise, along with my cup of coffee and my cigarette, I was ready to enjoy the peaceful tranquility of morning.
“You ready to get started?” Lloyd boomed out as if he were my Army drill sergeant back in Basic Training from eight years before. “The sooner we get going on this, the more we can get done before it gets too damn hot.”
I smiled at him. I could distinctly smell wood smoke wafting about us this early morning hour. “Good morning to you too,” I stated with sleepy eyed delight. “Is someone doing a campfire nearby?”
Lloyd let out a laugh. “Campfire? Didn’t you hear? Yellowstone caught fire a week or so ago from a powerful lightning storm that blew through Montana. There’s a forest fire an hour or so away from here. Hopefully, it stays there and don’t come here.”
The news sobered me up. This wasn’t what I’d sign up for. But, I wasn’t afraid either. I learned to fight fires from following Dad’s footsteps as a volunteer firefighter in West Richland many years ago. It was a short-term gig though. Apparently the newly appointed assistant chief and I didn’t get along and he fired me. Plus I briefly worked one summer for the Forest Service. I fought one fire near John Day, Oregon before going back to college.
“Yeah, that would be a bummer,” I said as I took a sip from the coffee. “Tamarack?”
“No, I believe they’re lodge pole pine. As long as the draw knife is sharp, it should shave the bark of reasonably well. If you run into a knot, work around it as best you can and then we’ll cut it out later when we fit the log to the cabin.”
I nodded at his lesson, though what I was actually referring to was the burning wood from the forest fire, not the logs he purchased from whatever logging outfit he procured these dead trees from.
He brought out a hatchet and straddled a log that was already positioned for shaving. Two smaller logs were underneath it, raising it above the grass covered ground. A large pile of dead fall laid nearby. “Now, Jerry, you start with this here hatchet, like this.” He swung it at a right angle into the bark until a chunk flew off and landed nearby. “Now you get this draw knife here and carefully slide it toward
you. Don’t get too aggressive or cocky, or you’d be going home without yours.” He laughed at his own wit.
I watched move the knife, whose blade was inverted, slide toward Lloyd’s crotch. I wondered if that was the best method but surmised it most likely was and had to be extra careful. “Can I stretch my back out further and slide it in?”
“I suppose you could. My back don’t stretch like that no more, but you being young and all, you can probably do that just fine. Like I told you, the sooner you can get started the sooner we can finish up before it gets too damn hot. Now, sometime after supper, I usually do a couple more just after the sun set. Then I turn in for the night.
What does your wife think of that?” I had no idea what she did in regard to this.
“She’s normally at work. She’s a night shift nurse at the hospital in Idaho Falls.”
I nodded, though I knew from my own experience, driving home in the early morning after working graveyard was no fun neither. “That’s a bit of a drive.”
“She has her car; that Eagle wagon over there. It’s four-wheel drive and can get her anywhere, and my truck if it’s even worse. If it’s even worse than that, which sometimes happens—look we we’re wasting time jawing like this. Straddle your ass to this here log and start shaving bark. I’ll go and see how breakfast is going. I figured, an hour and you should have this first side done, then I’ll help you move it
to the next position using this P-tool here.”
I switched spots with Lloyd and began shaving the log, doing as I suggested, nearly placing my entire torso over the log until I was nearly perpendicular and the slowly raising my body and moving the blade back at the same time.
After an hour, I felt sweat pouring from my back, chest, and head. The leather gloves I wore were wet inside from my sweaty hands, and the sun had just cleared the eastern mountain ridge and fully exposed us to what promised to be another scorcher of a day.
“Hey Jerry, come in and wash up. It’s breakfast time,” Lloyd announced from the front porch of the garage where my aunt and parents were converging.
“Be right there.” Mom told me and my sisters long ago, never waste an opportunity at a family reunion to eat. “You might not have anything left over by the time you get there.” I moved with a purpose, though the muscles in my back told me to take it easy. I quickly washed my hands and face of the dirt, grime and sweat. I didn’t remember seeing a shower in the WP that sat in the corner of the garage-like structure last night when I took my customary 3 o’clock whiz.
“Lloyd, where do we shower?”
I saw Lloyd’s mischievous expression on his face. “Lloyd, no,” Lana stated firmly.
“Oh, you can use the shower we have inside the travel trailer.”
It’s common knowledge in the Easley clan that when one asks a question, one should expect a smart-ass answer to come out from their mouths. “What were you going to tell me? Wait for it to rain? Or I’ll pee on you when you’re asleep?”
“Lloyd smiled. “For half an Easley, you catch on quite well.” Laughs came from his three sisters and Dad held an amused expression as I sat down next to Dorothy. Being it was Sunday, Lloyd said grace and then we dug into bacon, eggs, biscuits, and gravy, along with servings of Potatoes O’Brien.
I ate everything on the plate and then went outside with another fresh cup of coffee and a cigarette in hand. Lloyd came out a moment later. “As soon as you’re done with that, I’d suggest you get to crackin’s on them logs again.”
“That’s what I intended sir.” I slowly walked toward the work site, sipping on the black coffee, sucking on the cigarette, and thinking. I always thought. It’s generally what got me in the most trouble with Dad, and undoubtedly may well be the case with Lloyd too.” He better appreciate what I’m doing for him. I don’ see anyone else around here going out of their way to work. I butted out the cigarette then field stripped it because I figured if I didn’t’ Lloyd would have something else to harp over.
Just before I got back to work the family reunion closed as Mom and Dad took off with Mom giving me a hug, then my two aunts came out and hugged me as well before they got in to Brenda’s car, a Ford I think, and they slowly drove down the road and out of sight. I went back to work, finishing the side I started.
“Lloyd!” I yelled out at him. He was standing on the cement foundation doing some kind of measurements and looking angry. He looked up at me with a disgusted look. “Come help me with this log. It’s ready to be rolled.
His face lightened and he smiled. “Yeah, sure, I can do that.” I watched him approach and he grabbed his tool. There was one next to the log I was working on. The Peavey Logging tool worked like a crowbar except it had a gaffing hook that was hinged and swung back. I watch Lloyd use it and I followed suit. “Now you’ll need to learn to do this on your own. Either that, or if I’m busy, you just start shaving on another log until I’m done with whatever I’m doing.
“Anyway, you attach the pointy end over the log, you maneuver this pole under the log and leverage it over like this.” I watched him effortlessly turn the log over and smiled at this tool’s utter simplicity. The man who invented this tool, is probably saint and is enshrined in the wood cutters and logger’s hall of fame.
I continued where I left off, shaving on this new side. I t was a side pock-marked with nobs and knots. It became a clear lesson in the virtues of patience and perseverance. I ran out of the former halfway through, but didn’t quit, though I was frustrated and exhausted from the effort when I finally finished. I then grabbed my Peavey tool and rolled to a final bark side. My brain buzzed from the heat that cooked the back of my head. Lana came out to where I worked and handed me a tall glass of water which I gulped down in three swallows. “What time is it?” I asked her. I forgot to put my watch on this morning when I rolled out of bed.
“It’s 11:30. Lloyd? Let’s call it a day. We need to do some shopping anyway.”
Lloyd was still measuring the plumbing where presumably the bathroom was supposed to be. He wore a bemused expression and scratched his head, as if something weren’t fitting right. He looked up at her in mid-thought. “Yeah, okay. Something ain’t right here anyway. I’ll need to talk with Frank tomorrow and have him look at this foundation. The piping ain’t looking right.”
I dusted myself off and went to the garage and washed my face and hands. I even pulled off my shirt exposing my reddened back and neck and shoulders to Lana’s gaze.
“You got yourself a nasty burn there. You don’t go out in the sun much, do you?”
“Is it that obvious?” I knew the contrast was stark from my white back and the red burns I just described.
“Damn, Jerry, don’t you ever get out in the sun?” Llloyd asked in astonishment the moment he walked inside. Though only a box fan blew, it was definitely cooler inside than outside.
“Well, Lloyd you know as well as anyone that I am government property and we aren’t allowed to purposefully harm our bodies by being exposed to direct sunlight. When I’m out on drill I’m wearing my Kevlar helmet, my BDUs have the sleeves down and we aren’t supposed to wear sunglasses unless they’re prescribed. Of course that rule is violated quite often by everyone.”
“You didn’t bring any other change of clothes did you?”
“I didn’t know I was planning to stay here. So, no, this shirt and shorts are all I have.”
“You’ll need good work pants. Wranglers preferably, and a long sleeve shirt too. The shoes will work I suppose. There’s a thrift store in Idaho Falls we can go to get you some decent work clothes,” Lloyd surmised.
“Hey, whatever works, I’m easy.”
“You got a list made out for the groceries we need?”
“Right here, dear,” Lana replied.
“Oh, could I get like a six pack of beer and some cigarettes?”
“I get you your cigarettes, but there ain’t no alcohol here. I can’t drink and neither should you.”
I felt crushed by his mandate and wanted to rebut, claiming my first amendment right here along with the 21st Amendment were being violated. I stared at him long and hard before I replied, “Fine, Lloyd.”
I placed the shirt back on. I stunk of my body odor. “I’ll need pit spray too,” I told Lana referring my military jargon for underarm deodorant.
She gave Lloyd a confused expression. “Right Guard,” he clarified. She nodded and wrote it down.