RAMBLINGS • Chopping Locally

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Mary Herschelman’s column in the July 27 issue of The Journal-News began with a T-shirt message. I too enjoy message shirts, and I have a new favorite among my collection.

At the Atlas 46/Hardcore Hammer open house earlier this summer I purchased a Chop Local labeled black T-shirt. The saying is in white, with an orange hatchet, blade to the left and pointed down, above it, and a blue hatchet, blade pointed up, completing the frame underneath it. The hatchets are the length of my chest.

Underneath the frame in big white letters, USA is emblazoned. Sadly those letters are stretched a bit too much by my current anatomical shape, but that’s my fault, not caused by the shirt itself.

I like the shirt for several reasons. One of them is the colors orange and black. That means I can wear it to cover Hillsboro High football, basketball, and baseball games–if we have any while I’m still spry enough physically to cover them. Perhaps I’m enamored of those colors because of my long affiliation with the school; I only know I do like those colors while I barely remember those of my high school back in Pennsylvania until I walk into the Piasa Southwestern gym. They too are green and gold, and their uniforms resemble those of Marion Center sixty years ago.

I also like the T-shirt because of the play of words–Chop instead of Shop, though the grammarian in me says local should be locally. I suppose that type of judgement makes one unpopular with some, but it’s an occupational hazard, and I’m proud of that. Chop Locally might ruin the rhythm, though.

However, I like the shirt because of events that happened after I made the purchase when chopping action helped reaffirm my belief in my physical abilities, at least temporarily. Before the wind and rain storm hit Hillsboro in mid-July, my favorite slogan-shirt was one I’d bought in a general store in Hendersonville, NC, while visiting my sister years ago. Counter to my humble personality, it says “Let’s assume I’m right...and move on.” I know I act that way sometimes, but I’m seldom that assertive inside.

I resent the physical infirmities that the aging process has brought, though I don’t take the time to exercise to delay them. In much younger days I’d run if a coach was in person encouraging it, but I seldom ran out of season even though I knew it would be a good idea. I was one of those “...play myself into shape...” athletes. When I was older (after 20), that philosophy led to leg injuries, pulled hamstrings that I would have been wise to avoid. For a while after I became diabetic, Dr. Bob convinced me walking at a rapid pace for two miles daily would help, and it did–until life and its busyness became more attractive. Now I seldom walk, even uptown. Though I know I should, I’m not sure I could. It’s too hot, too humid, or too cold too often.

Shop locally? That’s about all I do. Once I was a confident driver; long distance trips were a treat. I remember riding a few times with Judy’s dad after he turned 50 and wishing I had the wheel. Once, 10 years later or so, he took her mom to the doctor, hit the gas rather then the brake, and knocked bricks off the office building. I thought then, “That’ll never happen to me.” It hasn’t yet, but I seldom leave town to shop. Kamryn, my 16-year-old grandchild, is a better driver with a permit than I am with a license with old reflexes. When a trip out of town is necessary, I prefer someone else drive. I hope no one stands in front of me when I park uptown. Buildings, beware.

Once I made gentle fun of Dean (Judy’s dad) when he kept bending finishing nails while working on a home-improvement project. (The jokes were gentle because I not only respected him as an elder, but he had a hammer in his hand and a spark in his eye.) The problem, he said, was vision; he couldn’t clearly see the heads of the nails that were his targets. He also warned me that it would happen to me, and it has.

When the big storm hit, I thought my property had escaped damage until I saw the tree limb lying in the empty lot I own next to the Christian Church parking lot. The lot came with the Noyes house I bought from Dawn and Steve when they moved to the Carlinville/Gillespie area five years ago. (They are back in Hillsboro now.) I bought the house for several reasons, but primarily I wanted to control who lived next to me. The Noyes couple and Judy and I were good friends; Hank and I argued about the Cubs often. After he died and Bessye moved to Morrisonville, Dawn’s family bought their house and I was happy to be close to the three grandkids.

After Dawn remarried, they wanted to move. After I bought the place, Kaylyn rented it. When she was ready to move out, Kyle needed a place, so I rented to him and a friend of his, Christian Scott. They are the present occupants; Kyle is to keep the yards mowed and trimmed as partial payment of his rent.

I’ve had several trees cut down on the property over the years. I like the shade trees provide, but I don’t like the damage they cause when limbs fall off in ice or wind storms. However, we’ve left a tall white pine in the non-residential lot. It shows signs of lightning damage, but the needles are still green, unlike the brown needles on the blue spruce cut out of my front yard three or four years ago. After the latest storm, Kyle asked what we’d do with the big limb that fell from the white pine.

I’d seen it on the ground and had plans to load it on my pickup to haul to the city’s pile of yard waste. When I told him that, he almost scoffed as he said “It’s pretty big; you’ll have to wait ‘til I can help.” The arrogance of youth had spoken.

That sounded like a challenge to me. When I pulled the truck next to it, I knew it was a challenge. However, I’m still country enough to know that pine is a soft wood, so I grabbed my seldom-used-these-days ax and started to chop.

When I was small, we lived with my grandmother, and she had a wood-fired coal stove. We had a slab pile next to the chicken coop, and Grandma, well into her 70s, would split the wood into size-appropriate pieces. As her little shaver helper, I’d carry the pieces to the wood box next to the stove. I know she was tougher (by necessity) in her 70s than I am, but I thought to myself, “If she could do it, I can too.”

I used an ax often in my younger days, though my mother had been apprehensive. A neighbor, Levi Houck, who seemed more like a father to my dad than my paternal grandfather did, had crippled himself as a young man by striking his own knee with an ax, and mom, a worrier more than a warrior, was sure that would happen to me. Still, while I was in high school, Dad took a job clearing pine trees from several acres for a nursery near us. He’d cut them down with a chain saw and I’d delimb them with an ax. Dad rented a pair of draft horses for a couple months to snake the logs to the hard road, then the logs were hauled away to be used as pulp. Dad had grown up around horses and relived his youth driving the team, which he housed in a neighbor’s barn; I wanted nothing to do with them. Working horses often pass gas. I didn’t even want to go on hayrides unless a tractor pulled the wagon.

I did become proficient with an ax, though, as a youth, but as many have, those skills became rusty because of non-use. Luckily, it didn’t take long for them to return.

I would have cut that limb up that morning (while Kyle was asleep–at least I hope he was sleeping and not watching and chuckling) even if I’d had a heart attack in mid-ax swing. I had to prove to myself I could do it. I had it cut up, loaded and hauled out behind the city shed before he made his first appearance of the day. Kyle has yet to mention the limb’s disappearance.

At least on that one occasion self-doubts were proven wrong.

I like to think I scored points that morning, not just for myself but also for all senior citizens.

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