Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wood curls and memories...

It's so funny what can spark a treasured memory.  Today I was playing with my new thumb plane using it on some stretchers, the curls of wood falling on the floor, the cats chasing them, the smell of the worked wood all brought back some exquisite memories of working with my Grandpa Scott in his woodshop.  He had a very crowded, well used woodshop -the workbench and tools worn smooth with use- in the basement of his house.  During the summers he was a lockmaster for Lock #14 on the Trent River in Campbellford ONT.  In the winter he worked in his woodshop where he built everything from cabinets to tables big and small and rowboats...all of his own design.  I still have one of his end tables and I treasure it.  But mostly I hold dear the memory of being his assistant which meant I played in the wood curls and handed him things like a hammer, screw driver etc.  We would chat and it always strikes me how incredible those times were.  I have no idea what we talked about, can't remember back that far but I was very very little and do remember how much I loved his company and how he never treated me like a little kid or that I was in the way which I'm sure I was.  The woodshop memories are all about the senses - the smell of the wood...he only worked with cedar which is the only thing that grew in the area, the smell of his pipe, the feel of his rough, work calloused hands when he would pat my head or take a tool out of my hand.  He also worked on his outboard motors so there was also always a very faint perfume of oil or gas that had been part of the motor.  One of the many remarkable things about my father and grandfather was that they never treated me as a girly girl, they respected me and taught me things like woodworking, fishing, boating and even hunting that I never forgot.  I even got to help him with the locks by helping with turning the giant key that opened and closed them.  When we weren't building something in his shop or working on the locks we sat on the porch (veranda) eating peanuts and feeding all the critters that loved peanuts too.  Grandpa would put peanuts in his shirt pocket and while we chatted chipmunks would climb in and out with the peanuts, or just sit in his pocket with their head poking out while eating.  Grandpa Scott only had one thing he always wore...Sears work clothes...green, worn but clean and pressed plus an ancient felt fedora that I wish had not gotten lost when he passed away.  It was all sweat stained and during our porch chats he would put peanuts on the rim - if the chipmunks weren't in his shirt pocket they were on the rim of his hat eating the peanuts, all the while we chatted, he would smoke his pipe and I adored him.  Birds would also come in flocks to sit around us as he tossed bread crumbs to them which is how I came to have a pet crow for all the time I was there.  

Then there is Grandma Scott who knew everything else.  She grew all her own food, there were no grocery stores anywhere around...if you didn't grow it, hunt it or fish it out of the river you did not eat.  So Grandpa, my Dad and Uncles (more spectacular men) hunted and fished.  Grandma did all the food growing and...here's the super cool part...knew how to tan the leather from the animals we hunted. 

Here's a great side story that knits the formidable talents of these two people together.  One night we all were awakened by the horrifying sounds of Grandpa's hunting dogs being attacked by a bear.  I will spare you the truly gruesome details.  We all woke up, Grandma took us kids and huddled in her room with us while Grandpa got his shotgun, loaded it, stepped out on the porch we heard two shots, Grandpa cussed, the bear groaned, smoke from the gun cleared and we all peeked out to see the bear face down in the driveway about 5 feet from where Grandpa stood ( the bear charged him with the dog still in it's mouth) and Grandpa landed both shots in the head.  He said "show's over, go back to bed" but in the morning we dashed out to take turns sitting on the sprawled bear.  We deeply mourned the loss of Betty, one of his favorite hunting dogs.  Then he took the bear away, eventually brought the skins to my Grandmother, we had more bear steaks (not my favorite) and we all had new bear fur vests in time. 

Grandma knew how to tan hides to make clothes, purses (with outrageous hand-tooled designs of her own!), and gloves.  She knitted, crocheted, grew food put it by for the winter and raised 5 kids (lost one early in his life) plus was a nurse in the local tiny hospital.  You can do a lot w/o TV and technology!  She taught me how to make the best pie crust ever and I still can!  Sadly I was a dismal failure at knitting and tanning leather but did learn how to crochet.  Given all the hype around Kate and Will's wedding it's appropriate to mention that my Grandmother was the Royal Family's most loyal subject.  No matter what was going on at the house, whether it was baking, making boats, gutting fish...if the Queen was on the radio everything stopped.  Grandma would whip out the fancy tea cups and we would get cleaned up and listen to the Queen.  When they did get a TV and the coronation came on it was a fancy dress day with high tea.  Another great memory!

How does it ever get better than that!  Those really were the good old days...and how very grateful I am to have had people like them in my life and for the wood curls today that brought back such treasured memories.

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