Don’t Cut Your Head Off

CareI followed Hobie across the road to another piece of property where his garage sat tucked among the trees. “In here, Old Man,” he motioned. I’d been anticipating this moment for twelve hours. He’d led me to believe that our chore for the day would be epic.

The day before, he’d pulled out the chain saw and shown me how to start it and cut down a tree using the notch and back-cut technique. I didn’t know there were techniques to being a lumberjack other than yelling timber real loud. It wasn’t a huge tree, but it fell the right direction and, under Hobie’s direction, I managed to saw off all the limbs without losing one of my own. At the end of the day, he told me I would really like this other tool.

He pointed to a contraption in the corner that looked like a weed whacker that Gigantor would use. It was no line trimmer, it was gas powered and had a circular saw. Hobie rolled open one of the doors “I’ll grab the gas can; you grab. . .” he nodded toward the monstrosity.

I waddled after him toward a small field near the garage that was littered with heavy brush and young elder trees. “I’ve been meaning to clear this field for two years,” he said, motioning me to set the machine down. He unhooked the black harness from the engine and helped me fit the padded shoulder pads and buckle the belt around my waist. It was like suiting up for battle. “Now then.” he said. “go ahead and start it up.”

I pulled the cord a few times after prepping the gas line, when suddenly the engine kicked in making enough noise to send every squirrel running to Idaho. After a few moments he made a chopping movement to his neck. I cut the engine.

“Great. Still runs,” he said smiling.  The two of us lifted the beast and hooked it onto my harness. Now that I was wearing the thing, it felt balanced and not so heavy. I gripped the handlebars and moved it around.

“Now then,” he said, “cut those bushes close to the ground.” I nodded, and gulped. “And don’t hit any rocks – it’s liable to kick back at you, ” he winked and I belted out a nervous laugh. He walked behind me to pull the cord. “And one more thing.” I was open to any advice at this point. He rested his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t cut your head off.”

The whirling blade sliced through foliage like butter. It took down small trees in one swipe. I’d never known such power. It mowed down everything in its path. I looked up at Hobie at one point and caught him smiling. I smiled back.

* * *

That night we made a bonfire down by the lake. Hobie handed me a tank of kerosene and I drenched all the brush we’d cleared. Grandma brought down some marshmallows and we roasted them over the dying flames. Hobie told us about his Army days working for the Inspector General’s office. He really had a way with words. He’d been telling me about politics and the economy – topics I never cared about, but now they seemed interesting. He kept things simple. As I stirred the fire, he told us about seeing the world courtesy of the Army, and even spending Christmas abroad one year. “That was the loneliest Christmas Eve in my life. . .” With my back to him, I continued stirring the coals. I realized he stopped speaking mid sentence. I turned around and looked at him. His eyes were red and full of tears. Grandma rubbed his arm.

I nearly fell asleep staring at the cork-paneled ceiling of my bedroom. Much like the rest of the cabin, the nightstand, lamp, desk, and chair were straight from the 1950s – almost like a movie set. The cone-shaped lights near the ceiling still blazed and I realized I’d forgotten to flip off the switch.

I heard Hobie’s voice from the hall. “Goodnight, Old Man.”

“Good night,” I returned, wondering if I should call him Grandpa.

* * *

The next morning, the aroma of bacon and coffee woke me up. I pulled on my jeans and socks and ran a brush through my hair before heading out to the kitchen. Two slices of toast were just popping from the stainless steel toaster on the table next to Hobie. Grandma poured me a glass of orange juice. With sleepy eyes, I waited to hear the agenda for the day.

“We’re going to need your help this morning Buttercup,” Hobie said, eyes still on his paper.

“Me?” she asked, filling his coffee cup.

“Yes, I need you to spot. Jeff is going to water ski.”

NEXT: Magical Summer

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