How to Have Fun Chopping Wood

For four or five years when I was growing up–say from the ages of 10-15–my family heated our house (not too well) with a wood-burning stove and my father and I would spend our Summer weekends amassing wood. We lived close to a Marine base called Quantico and as long as you had a permit you could cut all you wanted. So early on Saturdays we’d set out in our big old van and find a spot out in the forest and commence to deforesting a small spot.

My father would break out  the chainsaw and take down a tree before separating it into smaller pieces that I either carried or rolled to the van. Sometime in the mid-afternoon the van would be loaded down and packed full and we’d go back home where my dad would split the logs and then I’d have to stack them. It was hard, unrelenting work. We wouldn’t be finished sometimes until 6 or 7 at night when I’d finally stumble inside the house, famished, sweaty and covered in grime, sometimes with tears streaming down my cheeks, from me begging my dad to let us stop. He’d just laugh, split another log, and command me to pick up another piece. I’d cry some more, he’d laugh. It was literally one of my least favorite things to do.

IMG_1163All these years later, I get to be in my father’s position and I’m relishing it. We don’t heat our house with a wood burning stove–thank god–but we do have a fireplace and a storm this summer knocked down a very nice Maple tree. So I had a friend saw it into pieces on Friday and then it was time to move them up by where they’d be split and stacked. So I drafted my 4yo to help with the small pieces and that’s when I got to break out the horrors of my childhood on my son.

After lugging only three or four small pieces, he said he was done and then when I told him he wasn’t the fun began. B began to whine and then when I commanded him to continue he started to cry, and I laughed. It was all amusing, the logs he had to carry were so slight, the way he dramatically collapsed to the ground on his knees like Willem Dafoe in Platoon, I appreciated the similarities to my childhood, but also why my father couldn’t resist taking some pleasure in it.

The only difference between me and my father is I relented. A few more minutes of my son’s crying, and I let him off the hook. Perhaps it’s the difference in who we are or were, different approaches to parenting, or me just remembering how much I hated my dad’s grinning in the face of my suffering.. Maybe I’m just too lazy to keep on top of my kid. Either way, I didn’t even make him help me stack the wood I split on Saturday.

Part of that simply has to do with B’s age. He’s still a  little too young and weak to lug wood. So I will give him a break for now. If he wants to help that will be great. However, B better get ready because in a year or two, maybe three, he will be my chief lieutenant in these tasks and there will be no getting out of it. I had to do it and so will he, and if he cries while doing so I’ll try my best not to laugh.


The Vietnam War Never Ended (At Least for Me)

As a teenager in the 1980s, I was the ideal age for the onslaught of the Vietnam War-themed movies released almost rapid fire by Hollywood. There was Chuck Norris’s Missing in Action and all its sequels, Rambo of course, and then more serious fare like Platoon, Hamburger Hill, The Hanoi Hilton, and the surreal Full Metal Jacket. These were preceded by 1979’s Apocalypse Now, the best of the lot. I saw them all, and grew obsessed with the Vietnam War, in part its futility, but also with the imagery of these films.

Perhaps I’ve imagined it but it seems like there was always at least one shot in most of these movies that was in slow motion and depicted a soldier carrying a fallen comrade while sweeping orchestral music played and bullets whizzed by or a mortar exploded in a rice paddy–visceral, stimulating stuff. I identify with these celluloid scenes almost every morning that I take my toddler to school.

After parking, I lift G in his car seat in one hand and grab B’s arm and we first navigate the parking lot. In his seat, G weighs a good thirty pounds (or at least it feels like that) so I’m forced to lean him on my leg, limping like I’ve been wounded, but we keep moving. At times, B refuses to walk so I lug him under my arm, almost fully imitating this cinematic moment, except with miniature people (I try to dress my boys in camouflage as much as possible, too, so that contributes to the overall feeling).

Then we cross the street, up a walkway and in the front door. Next we hustle through a cavernous hall, down some steps and finally reach his classroom. I set G down on the floor and get B situated, we say our goodbyes, then it’s back through the same treacherous route for me and G until we get to the car and head off. Once again we’ve evaded the Viet Cong, but only until next time. Talk about futility. To quote the battle-hardened grunt whose in almost every one of these war movies, “Same shit, different day.”