Monday, July 30, 2012

Grandpa Luke and the 1/2 Cent Trees

We’re all guilty of falling into self- pity on occasion, believing we’ve worked hard all our lives, but don’t have enough to show for it. Allow me to share a story, which might help to put things into perspective.

As a child visiting my grandfather, who lived in Arkansas, I once chanced upon a conversation he was having with an old friend who’d dropped by. Grandpa Luke didn’t talk much to us kids. He loved us. We could tell by his gentle ways. But his words were few. He’d sit in an old wooden chair, its cane bottom long since rotted and replaced with strips of rubber he’d cut from an old inner tube – nothing went to waste around grandpa’s house – and smoke his pipe, his eyes as distant as Pluto, his mind contemplating concepts far beyond our reach.

The visitor talked of the old days when he and grandpa worked together. Their job was to go into a valley, chop down a tree, clear it of its branches and foliage, and drag it back up the hill. For each completed log, they received ½ cent. 

I don’t know how many finished trees a team could successfully bring to the top in a day, but my guess would be not that many. Even if you proved to be a human dynamo who could register ten trees, we’re still only talking five cents, and that would have to be shared with your partner. It’s easy to imagine why grandpa might be reluctant to drive into town and spend that nickel on an ice cream cone.

It wasn’t just luxuries our ancestors did without, but even simple pleasures that we hardly give a second thought to these days.

There’s more to the story. Later, grandpa walked the visitor to the dirt road, which ran past grandpa’s property. I couldn’t tell what was going on, but I’m pretty sure grandpa pulled out his wallet and gave the visitor some money. When grandpa came back, he again sat in his chair and resumed puffing on his pipe. Then he did something unexpected. He pulled the pipe from his mouth, leaned over, and motioned for us kids to come closer. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s true I did that all right.” Jabbing the air with the stem of his pipe toward the dirt road, he continued: “But he didn’t.”  

I’ve mentioned Grandpa Luke before in another post. It’s sad that I never realized until my adult years how much that old man meant to me, and just how instrumental he was in shaping my character.