This morning, as I sat on my front porch with the smell of crisp autumn leaves in the cool air, I heard the strangely soothing whine of a chainsaw in the distance. At first, the chainsaw softly buzzed around the remote regions of my subconscious brain. Then, steadily, the buzzing crept into my consciousness, and I was immediately overcome by feelings of nostalgia for my childhood.
My childhood home wasn’t on a big city block or in a quiet suburban neighborhood; rather, my childhood home stood alone on a densely wooded land of mature and majestic trees. In the fall of the year, when the chilly air whispered of winter’s imminence, like a squirrel storing up acorns for his winter meals, my dad began to store up firewood for our winter fires. He walked his property to uncover the trees that had recently fallen prey to disease, old age or strong winds. Then, Dad and his trusty chainsaw diligently worked together to give the dead, old trees a purposeful, new life. In my dad’s hands, the sturdy, aromatic wood from the felled trees slowly turned into reliable fuel for our wonderfully warming winter fires.
For several months of the year, on Saturdays, the song of my dad’s chainsaw was a constant and familiar presence around our house. Whenever I heard the chainsaw whir into action, I raced outside and followed its stream of notes through the thick woods. The notes grew louder and louder until, eventually, I discovered my dad and his grounded tree in a distant, undiscovered section of the property. After a brief greeting and a quick evaluation of the downed tree, I sprang into action helping Dad load the huge logs (the small twigs surrounding the logs, to be certain) into the back of his old, rusty trailer.
With each log and twig loaded, the trailer groaned under the weight. When the trailer could hold no more, my dad and I admired our accomplishments then set out to tackle another chore from his long Saturday “to do” list. As Dad crossed items off of his list, I eagerly followed him around and offered my help wherever possible. I dragged a spindly stick from the woods as my dad carried a stack of logs to the woodpile. I tossed tiny pebbles into a great rock pile as my dad dug huge stones from the earth around our house. I gingerly tugged tender weeds from future garden beds as my dad powerfully cut through compacted soil with his heavy mattock. And, finally, with love, kindness and a deep desire to make his Saturday a little easier, I brought my dad some hard-earned refreshment.
Some Saturdays, Dad asked me to bring him a glass of water, but for the most part, he never asked. There was a point, after my duties of dragging sticks and tossing pebbles were complete, when I just figured that, like me, my dad might need refreshing. I slipped away from whatever job we were currently doing and ran inside to get his much deserved ice-cold beverage. Once in the kitchen, full of excitement and determination, I declared to my mom that Dad was in desperate need of a Sundrop. Yes, a Sundrop -- the sweet, citrusy, bubbly nectar of the Southern gods. And, yes, he was in desperate need.
I carefully selected a cup from the kitchen cabinet. Because I knew how much my dad loved NC State, I selected a bright red, plastic cup from a recently attended NC State football game. I filled the wolf emblazoned cup with ice, which I arduously crushed by hand. Then, I lugged the heavy 2-liter bottle of Sundrop out of the refrigerator and poured the revitalizing, syrupy liquid to the very tip of the cup’s rim. Finally, with a heart overflowing with love and a plastic NC State cup overflowing with Sundrop, I delivered the cool nectar to my dad.
With great pride, I handed the drink to my dad. He always acted very surprised and very grateful. I liked to believe that, just before I arrived with his drink, while in the backswing of splitting a stubborn log, Dad had just been dreaming of a cool, revitalizing thirst-quencher. Relieved, he stopped splitting wood or digging rocks. He leaned up against his faithful Jeep and took his first sip. I sat next to him and watched his face as the exhaustion from his face slid down his throat with each sip of Sundrop. I beamed, proud of myself for the respite that the moment allowed my weary dad. After a few deep gulps, Dad offered the cup to me. I took a sip and then we passed the cup back and forth until only ice remained in the cup. As Dad wiped his hands on his pants and slowly resumed his chores, I offered to go make him another drink. But, since there was little time for extended breaks on Saturdays, he typically declined my offer.
When my parents built their house in the late 70s, the land was full of beautiful, old trees and thick, red clay that steadfastly clung to the huge rocks that littered its surface. The land was rough, rugged and overgrown. In his old, brown, convertible Jeep, my dad routinely drove around the property to the various areas that needed some type of taming. I often joined him in the passenger seat. Dad would venturously drive over the bumpy terrain, as I bounced and giggled our way to the destination.
One potentially fateful day, Dad bounced me right out of the old Jeep’s open door. As the distance between my eyes and the rocky ground grew shorter and shorter, I felt my dad’s strong hand around my ankle. With all of his daddy might, he jerked me back into the jeep and saved me from, if not death, at least a pretty bad headache. The only thing that Dad said, as I recovered from my near-death experience, was, “Let’s not tell Mom about this.”
After 39 years, the landscape around my parents’ house has changed dramatically. The property has been efficiently, creatively and beautifully controlled. My dad no longer drives his newer (but still old and rusty) Jeep over the terrain because what was once rocks and clay is now lush grass and colorful perennials. My dad no longer cranks chainsaws and swings axes on Saturday mornings because, according to him, 70-year-old arms are better suited for swinging a golf club. And, my dad no longer enjoys thirst-quenching glasses of Sundrop because my mom no longer purchases sugary sodas for him. Apparently, sodas aren't good for Dad's waistline.
But, maybe next time I visit my parents and my dad is surveying the fruits of his almost-40 years of labor around the property, I will sneak inside and make him an ice-cold, refreshing cup of Sundrop. Then, we can sit outside and pass the plastic cup back and forth until only the ice remains. And then I’ll say, “Let’s not tell Mom about this.”