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July 2, 2010

Someday Morning

Above: This photo shows Jennifer driving Michelle through the jungle out back on a four-wheeler. The grass is so deep you can't see the ATV.

Someday Morning

When Jennifer's here, she's here, but when she's gone, she's gone and it's hard to get out of bed when I wake up early someday morning. I lie in bed trying to think of a reason to get up. Eventually, I tell myself that I'll get up and mow the grass. And it needs mowing. It is July, after all. The grass is 3' - 4' high and, if I'm going to mow it, there's a fair argument to be made that now is the time.

So I crawl out of bed and shuffle out to the barn and start moving things around to get the mower out for the first time this year.

I blow out the air filter with some compressed air and check to make sure it's got oil in it.

I check the blades and they're so dull it's hard to know which side to sharpen. So I pull the blades and sharpen them on the bench grinder. I'm no blacksmith, but I can put an edge on a mower blade and after a few minutes, I've sharpened them fairly well but when I go to reattach them, I remember that there's an issue with one of the blades.

I'm hard on the mower. Let's be honest. I'm pulling it behind an ATV in 1st gear and the mower tends to find stumps that the ATV never knows. Last year I managed to actually bend one of the spindles so that one of the blades is sort of cock-eyed and spins at an angle outside of the normal parameters.

So I decide I'll go ahead and tear it apart and see if I can fix it. I pull the part and put in in a bench vice but eventually I convince myself that it's damaged beyond my ability to repair it so I call Hank.

It's handy to know a good blacksmith. I mean, sure, I could buy a welder, but then you need a Mig welder and a Tig welder and a stick welder and a side grinder and massive hammers. And most importantly, I've never met a blacksmith in my life that had all his fingers.

Back in Mississippi, Jack Walker was my blacksmith. He was nearly blind and deaf and was missing a few fingers altogether and parts of a few more. I'd go out there whenver I had the flimsiest pretense and he'd always try to help me as best he could. I'd stand there and shout questions at him as he worked.

"Were you in the war, Jack?"


"Did you fight in the war, Jack?"

"I fought the Germans. Got shot too."

"Where'd you get shot, Jack?

"Look at me, son," he commanded, removing his welding cap.

I stared at the sight before me. A short impossibly old man, hunched over. Calloused hands. Peering up at me through coke bottle glasses. The years seems to be etched into his face. He looked something like a aged monkey that refused to die.

"You see how one of my ears is shorter than the other?"

I'd never noticed it, but now that he pointed it out, I could see the difference.

"Yes sir."

"The Germans shot me and the bullet hit me in the head, taking the top of my ear off. It knocked me down. I thought I was dead."

I just stand there waiting for him to continue. I am a 20 year old child.

"But the bullet just grazed me, you see? They slapped a bandage on it and sent me back to the front."

But then I moved to Colorado and I'd not found a good blacksmith until I stumbled across Hank last year.

Hank is as cool as the other side of the pillow. He has a shop up on this beautiful meadow with a Great Blue Heron sniping trout from a pond. His place is tucked back in the middle of nowhere, but not so far from me.

He fixed my mower when I broke it last year and I call Hank and tell him I'm coming and I roll up there in the Tahoe, past Fairy Trumpet and Snap Dragons and all the flowers that almost make the winters seem tolerable.

I'm hoping he remembers me, as I don't know feel like I know so many people in Colorado. I sort of wish he'd remember me and maybe tell me stories about the war like Jack used to, but he doesn't remember me at all so I hand him my part and try to tell him what I perceive as the shortcomings of this little assembly.

I observe that he's still got all his fingers which means he's either really good or new to the profession and I can't imagine that he hasn't been doing this his whole life..

And in two shakes of a sheep's tail, he's pounding away with an enormous steel hammer against an anvil and he's beating that poor part I handed him for all he's worth and his thumb is just an inch or two from where he's pounding that steel hammer down onto that steel anvil and I just can't watch. I cannot watch. I try to think happy thoughts. I don't want my bad vibes to somehow interfere with this man's ability to do his work without severing or mutilating his digits.

His shop is much the same as any blacksmith shop you've ever been in. He's got a press and several welders and countless cables and electrodes and lord knows what hanging from the walls. Benches line each wall and countless tools are strewn about the place, helter skelter.

I wish he was Jack Walker. I wish he remembered me...I wish he knew who I was. Maybe then he'd tell me stories like Jack used to tell me.

Jack never wore gloves. His hands were so calloused that he'd pick up a piece of metal with his bare hands and you could hear it sizzling...hear it cooking the flesh of his hands and he wouldn't flinch.

"Son," Jack continued, "we were so hungry in the war that we thought we'd die. We were marching across France toward Germany. And we'd come to a vineyard covered with grapes, but we couldn't eat 'em."

"Why not?"

"Because they might have poisoned 'em. And we'd march shoulder to shoulder...soldiers as far as you could see in either direction. And we'd be so thirsty we thought we'd die and we'd come to a stream but you couldn't drink the water."

"They might have poisoned it," I offered.

"And we'd have to cross it right there. You couldn't go upstream or downstream looking for a good crossing."

"Why not?"

"Because, son, I just told you we were shoulder to shoulder as far as you could see."

"This was in WWII?" I queried.

"No, son. This was the Great War. The War to End All Wars."

"You were in WWI?"

"Yes, son."

"But WWI ended in 1918. We went in in 1917. You'd have to have been born in..."

"In 1899, son. That's the year I was born."

And I was standing there talking to this guy...the only person I've ever met that fought in WWI. I was 20 and he was 90 and I just thought that was the coolest story I'd ever heard.

I wanted Hank to know me like Jack did. To know my family. To sort of take me in. But he didn't even remember me. Not that I could blame him. I'd only been in his shop once in my life and then for only an hour or so.

Mostly, I was just someone that had brought him something to fix in a hurry and he was forced to repair some arcane assembly from the Black Hole of Calcutta.

"Maybe you could stick it in the press," I offered.

"I could, but the press isn't very forgiving. It'd ruin it more likely than not."

Thats the thing about being a blacksmith. I don't really know much about it, obviously.

Presently, a man pulled up in a Jeep Rubicon and came limping in on a cane He introduced himself as Mike.

"Is your Rubicon a 2 door or 4 door?"

"It's a 2 door. I looked at the 4 door, but I do a lot of off-roading. I like the short wheel base better."

"You going 4-wheeling this weekend," I asked.

"Yeah, we're heading to the San Juan Mountains," he replied. "You do any off-roading?"

"Yeah...I've been over some passes...Georgia Pass, Webster, Imogene, Black Bear, Cottonwood....some like that. Not in Jeeps though. Mostly on dirt bikes, ATV's...sometimes in M37's.

"Oh you have a M37? Those are neat. My dad took me to look at a little jeep one time...they called it a "Peep". You know what that is?"

"If it was smaller than a jeep, then it was probably a Mighty Mite...a M422. They were aluminum and smaller than a standard jeep."

We talked for a while, as Hank ground, hammered, and welded in the background. Eventually, Mike allowed as how he used to live in Alaska.

"What was that like?" I asked.

"Well, we went up there for 2 years, and ended up staying 7. We loved it."

"Since you know about military vehicles....we used to ride across the snow in this little tracked vehicle."

"Was it an SUSV?" I asked

"No...I don't think so...it was little. Very small. One guy drove and I sat in the back. It was like riding a boat on the ocean."

"That was a weasel. Those are fun. I have some of those."

"You have a weasel?" he stammered.

"I have a couple, actually," I replied nonchalantly.

Hank finished working on his piece. Somehow, he'd managed to fix it while we talked and he presented it to me, glowing hot, holding it in his bare hands.

"Don't you own any gloves," I asked him.

He ignored me and set the piece on the bench.

"Since y'all are talking about military vehicles," Hank began, "and you said you live in Peaceful Hills...did you know that there's a guy over that that has a DUKW?"

"That would be me," I replied.

"Huh? That's your DUKW?" they stammered.

"Guilty as charged."

"You know I used to own that piece of property at the end of that cul-de-sac."

"The one on the left or the right?"

"The left."

"Hell. You owned the land where my next door neighbor lives," I replied.

"Well why didn't you say so? Pull up a chair!"

And somehow, a day without Jennifer changed into a day sharing old stories with new friends.

Posted by Rob Kiser on July 2, 2010 at 11:43 PM


Very nice.

Posted by: sl on July 3, 2010 at 12:43 AM

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