The old man was not, as a general rule, given to making New Year’s resolutions. They were, he believed, wishful thinking at best and a waste of time at worst. And in his long and active life, he had never suffered either wishful thinking or wasting time very willingly.
That’s not to say that he didn’t, over the years, wish for things. He was a child of the Depression and knew, better than a lot of folks, what it meant to do without. But he subscribed to the theory that good things come to those who are willing to work for them and lived his life accordingly.
And if there was any doubt, all it took was a handshake. His calloused and work-hardened hands were rough and showed close acquaintance with a shovel or ax handle. And the strength in his grip left no doubt that he had spent plenty of time with both, and many more besides.
The old man observed, over the years, that his theory applied just as much to play as to the work that put meat on the table and shells in his rifle. “Methinks you doth protesteth too much,” he said as he butchered Shakespeare and elk simultaneously one evening. The old man and the kid were packaging the season’s harvest, and when the old man started a job, he didn’t leave it until it was done to his satisfaction. “It’s late,” the kid said, “and I’m tired.”
The old man had heard that before, and his answer was the same whether they were building fence or starting on the last elk quarter. “If you’re gonna do a job, do it right,” he said, “and don’t start anything you don’t intend to finish,” he said as he tossed a roast the kid’s direction. “Package that.”
The kid should have known. He tried the same thing in elk camp, with similar results. “You don’t need that thing now,” he told the kid when he picked up the camp saw as they struck out in search of firewood. The old man held a well-used ax as he told the kid to leave the saw on the sawbuck. “This is all we need for now,” he said as he hefted the ax. The kid didn’t see how you could gather firewood without a saw, but put it back amidst many protestations.
The kid learned how to fell a tree that day. He also learned that the smell of a pine chip is best savored right after it’s cleaved from the mother trunk, sweet and big and tan, with the sound of the ax still ringing. He took his turn with the ax and learned the satisfaction in the thud as it bit into wood and the crack of dry pine as the tree quivered, then toppled exactly where you wanted it to fall.
And he learned that dragging dead trees downhill is a lot harder than it looks. He also learned why the saw hung on the sawbuck and how to stack the wood so it stays dry and handy. Years later and a bit older, the kid was using the same ax as he worked his way through a pile of wood destined for the home fireplace. A friend of his mother’s stopped by and the kid used the interruption for a chance to rest. “You swing a good ax,” the woman said as if she knew a little about that sort of thing. “I had a good teacher,” the kid replied and went back to work.
The old man sat in his chair as activity whirled around him. The kid now had kids nearly grown and lived far away. But for a few days, the house was full and the old man enjoyed the bustle of the holidays.
“Grandpa, have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet?” one grandkid asked. The old man allowed as how he didn’t see much point in that. He turned on the television, then turned it off in disgust. The world was different now, he admitted, but he wasn’t sure it was any better. “I bet none of those big-haired talking heads on the news ever split any firewood,” he muttered. Maybe, he thought to himself, just maybe I do have a New Year’s resolution.
“Hey girls,” he called to his granddaughters. “Has your dad ever told you about the time he learned to handle an ax? Well, we needed wood in elk camp, you see……”