By Hayden Carruth
The first chainsaw I owned was years ago,
an old yellow McCulloch that wouldn't start.
Bo Bremmer give it to me that was my friend,
though I've had enemies couldn't of done
no worse. I took it to Ward's over to Morrisville,
and no doubt they tinkered it as best they could,
but it still wouldn't start. One time later
I took it down to the last bolt and gasket
and put it together again, hoping somehow
I'd do something accidental-like that would
make it go, and then I yanked on it
450 times, as I figured afterwards,
and give myself a bursitis in the elbow
that went five years even after
Doc Arrowsmith shot it full of cortisone
and near killed me when he hit a nerve
dead on. Old Stan wanted that saw, wanted it bad.
Figured I was a greenhorn that didn't know
nothing and he could fix it. Well, I was,
you could say, being only forty at the time,
but a fair hand at tinkering. "Stan," I said,
"you're a neighbor. I like you. I wouldn't
sell that thing to nobody, except maybe
Vice-President Nixon." But Stan persisted.
He always did. One time we was loafing and
gabbing in his front dooryard, and he spied
that saw in the back of my pickup. He run
quick inside, then come out and stuck a double
sawbuck in my shirt pocket, and he grabbed
that saw and lugged it off. Next day, when I
drove past, I seen he had it snugged down tight
with a tow-chain on the bed of his old Dodge
Powerwagon, and he was yanking on it
with both hands. Two or three days after,
I asked him, "How you getting along with that
McCulloch, Stan?" "Well," he says, "I tooken
it down to scrap, and I buried it in three
separate places yonder on the upper side
of the potato piece. You can't be too careful,"
he says, "when you're disposing of a hex."
The next saw I had was a godawful ancient
Homelite that I give Dry Dryden thirty bucks for,
temperamental as a ram too, but I liked it.
It used to remind me of Dry and how he'd
clap that saw a couple times with the flat
of his double-blade axe to make it go
and how he honed the chain with a worn-down
file stuck in an old baseball. I worked
that saw for years. I put up forty-five
run them days each summer and fall to keep
my stoves het through the winter. I couldn't now.
It'd kill me. Of course they got these here
modern Swedish saws now that can take
all the worry out of it. What's the good
of that? Takes all the fun out too, don't it?
Why, I reckon. I mind when Gilles Boivin snagged
an old sap spout buried in a chunk of maple
and it tore up his mouth so bad he couldn't play
"Tea for Two" on his cornet in the town band
no more, and then when Toby Fox was holding
a beech limb that Rob Bowen was bucking up
and the saw skidded crossways and nipped off
one of Toby's fingers. Ain't that more like it?
Makes you know you're living. But mostly they wan't
dangerous, and the only thing they broke was your
back. Old Stan, he was a buller and a jammer
in his time, no two ways about that, but he
never sawed himself. Stan had the sugar
all his life, and he wan't always too careful
about his diet and the injections. He lost
all the feeling in his legs from the knees down.
One time he started up his Powerwagon
out in the barn, and his foot slipped off the clutch,
and she jumped forwards right through the wall
and into the manure pit. He just set there,
swearing like you could of heard it in St.
Johnsbury, till his wife come out and said,
"Stan, what's got into you?" "Missus," he says
"ain't nothing got into me. Can't you see?
It's me that's got into this here pile of shit."
Not much later they took away one of his
legs, and six months after that they took
the other and left him setting in his old chair
with a tank of oxygen to sip at whenever
he felt himself sinking. I remember that chair.
Stan reupholstered it with an old bearskin
that must of come down from his great-great-
grandfather and had grit in it left over
from the Civil War and a bullet-hole as big
as a yawning cat. Stan latched the pieces together
with rawhide, cross fashion, but the stitches was
always breaking and coming undone. About then
I quit stopping by to see old Stan, and I
don't feel so good about that neither. But my mother
was having her strokes then. I figured
one person coming apart was as much
as a man can stand. Then Stan was taken away
to the nursing home, and then he died. I always
remember how he planted them pieces of spooked
McCulloch up above the potatoes. One time
I went up and dug, and I took the old
sprocket, all pitted and et away, and set it
on the windowsill right there next to the
butter mold. But I'm damned if I know why.
From Sunday's Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World. "When Hayden Carruth died this week at 87 from a series of strokes at his home in upstate New York, American letters lost another colossus," writes Mary Karr. A World War II veteran, he "came home to battle -- in prose and verse -- for causes ranging from nuclear disarmament to ecological farming. Like Robert Frost, he drew on the rural landscape and characters." The poem above "opens when the admittedly 'greenhorn' speaker is given an old chainsaw...unlike Frost's wise old country titans, these men fight with modern machinery in a climate where they, too, face becoming rusty and obsolete."
Did I mention that the theme of the Bat Mitzvah that my family attended on Saturday night was M&Ms? Well, it was, and there were huge vases full of M&Ms on the tables, and an "M&M bar" with plain, peanut, peanut butter, etc. M&Ms in giant jars with fill-your-own bags, and later make-your-own-sundaes with M&M toppings...in short, my kids probably ate 1000 M&Ms each. So I should not have been surprised when Daniel woke up with an upset stomach, thus throwing our plans for the day into disarray -- we'd been planning to go downtown, then to the Melting Pot to do more pre-Bar Mitzvah research of our own.
Instead we stayed home till the end of the first quarter of the Redskins game, since Adam needed to watch 15 minutes of football for his P.E. class -- I never got P.E. homework! As is typical when we are actually watching the Redskins this season, they promptly dropped 14 points to the Eagles. So we did the smart thing -- we stopped watching! We went hiking at Cabin John and stopped at the card store and the food store, and didn't even put the game on the radio till we were on the way home. And lo, the Redskins pulled out the game! By then older son was feeling better, so it was a successful afternoon.
We were going to watch Jurassic Park because we hadn't seen it in ages, but then younger son remembered that he'd forgotten to practice the violin all weekend, and by the time he finished that and everyone had taken showers, it was late. Instead Paul and I watched I Am Legend, which I enjoyed more than I'd been expecting. I'd been told that it was both very bleak and somewhat horror-movie-ish, both of which are fair criticisms, but Will Smith is really terrific and his dog should get a nomination for best performance by an animal. I'd also been warned that there was lots of religious symbolism, but it certainly isn't any worse than The Poseidon Adventure -- okay, the ending where Anna believes that God has sent her to the nice community with the church is pretty hokey, but Robert himself is the Christ figure and he's not a religious man, this isn't paralleled with theological apocalypse like The Sarah Connor Chronicles (or, from what I understand, Supernatural), so it really didn't bother me from that standpoint.
My lovely husband bought me the CVS Halloween Barbie! And I really hope it's true that Patrick Stewart may be on Doctor Who! And I got Crazy Glue all over my fingers trying to recycle a refrigerator magnet and glue it onto the back of something else, so next time please remind me to get the stick-on stuff and spare my poor abused hand from a potentially exploding tube!