Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fathers and Sons and an Appreciation of Thanksgiving

A few notes on the blog in tribute to my Dad, Dr. Rollin Walker Quimby, PHD. who was born on this day in 1921. Seems especially fitting to make a note of that fact on 10/10/10. Dad left us after a long struggle with alzheimers. Near the end, when asked what he did, he said he was a carpenter. I Bless him for that thought.

October 10 is also the day before Canadian Thanksgiving which we celebrated a day early on our farm this year, with the return of our son from University and a bounty of delicious food from our farm.

Now, I was raised with American Thanksgiving. In the States this is the big retail and advertising kickoff for the ever redundant and demanding, "Holiday Season". People line up at 5:00 AM to go shopping. On the other hand, in North America, Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving. You know, Starving pioneers thanking God for not being dead and a remembrance of the moment when we had an opportunity to make peace and share with Native people. It is a feast of Thanks which has been transformed into an opportunity to save NOW and consume store bought bounty. Thanks Cool Whip! Thanks Butterball!  Thanks Macy's!

Anyway, today was a lot like January in California.  Cool, cloudy, rainy and windy.  Like a Pacific cold front coming down from Alaska. It felt like Thanksgiving is supposed to. My New England genetics must be speaking to me.  

Susan worked on making a Thanksgiving feast from scratch with our farm produce in the kitchen which my So. Cal. son decided to overheat with the wood stove because he was cold. OK, it was 45 degrees, but it wasn't that bad! I wanted to say something...but I didn't.  I just repeatedly turned down the damper and opened a couple of upstairs windows so the heat could draft upstairs.  But I kept my "critical parent" mouth shut.

I went out to the barn where, for the past few days, I've been cutting 2x4's from the mill in Murray River and framing a horse shed.  And that's when my dad came to visit.

My Dad was a PHD who taught, analyzed and wrote about classical and modern rhetoric. He also loved to build things with wood.  He gave me a nail apron and taught me to hammer nails when I was 2. But having a serious rhetorical discussion on the theme, "What was I thinking when I left a mess in his workshop and mislaid his ball peen hammer" was dead scary by the time I was 8 years old.        

My dad built himself a workshop onto our suburban Santa Barbara home and it was stocked with tools.  We had a scrap pile of what I now realize was old growth California Redwood (you can't find it anymore). We had permission to make anything we wanted to in the shop.  I spent hours making toy boats, pistols, cars, rifles - anything I could imagine in his shop while I listened to Vin Scully call the LA Dodger games on a transistor radio. All materials were paid for no matter how many nails I used to make guns in the turrets of the dreadnoughts I built. But the mess I left and the tools I misplaced ruined those "mission accomplished" moments we could have shared.  His anger so often destroyed my joy.

Not anymore. 

I was in the barn today cutting 2x4's.  Taking pride in making them come out right.  Sketching plans and debating with myself - just as he used to do.  I'm doing the best I can, without a set of plans, just a set of imperfect mechanical drawings I've made. He often worked the same way.  And when he got stuck, he'd light his pipe full of Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco and "smoke at it" like a professor in the presence of a defiant student..

He would have loved this project - building a horse shed in our corral.  So I felt him with me today as I struggled to figure out the cuts, the build order, my frustration over not having any 2x6's on hand, my thrill at finding scrap lumber to solve a problem and my long moments pondering correct roof pitch, snow load and wind shear.  (What the hell do I know about snow load and wind shear?)

I relate all this so I can say, on his birthday, and on this, our first, Canadian Thanksgiving: Thanks for being there dad.  Thanks for giving me the tools to take on this life.  Thanks  for helping me today.  Part of what you taught me was to let my children make a mess. To admire their work and to keep frustration to myself when the 9/16th socket wrench goes missing. You taught me to give them the tools to make the life they want to build for themselves.

And finally:

My dad went to war in the Pacific in 1943 as a very young man.  If you were - or are - being raised by a veteran father, or a man who lost his work hug him when he gets angry with you.  He's angry because he's afraid for you. 


Anonymous said...

Lovely post, John. Such great memories, and oh, you made me laugh re: the rhetorical discussions over losing the hammer. Perfect!
You are so lucky to have had a father like that.

Knatolee said...

Lovely post. Here's to your Dad. Mine has been gone 18 years and I still miss him greatly.