The lessons learned working at a sawmill

  • Thursday, February 21, 2013

Saturday night while everybody was getting all excited about the coming snow, me I was getting nervous. Now don’t get me wrong, I love snow as much as anybody, as long as I can look out the window and say, “OOOh look how pretty”. The thing is I was thinking about Sunday morning, around six or so. Because that was going to be the time I walked out the front door to go cook breakfast at the church. And as anybody who has to get up and go that time of the morning will tell you, snow at six in the morning is not your friend.
I guess it wouldn’t be too bad, if you had a heater in your truck, but seeing how mine quit a few years back, the joy of a crisp winter morning traveling through the woods, well let’s just say I really wasn’t looking forward to it.
So here I am, way before daylight, my walking stick in one hand, Bible in the other, and my door won’t open, at all. And no matter how much yanking I do it won’t budge. The windshield, let’s just say it’s got about an inch of ice on it, and I’m freezing! Then I had a little flashback, this isn’t the first time, how many mornings had this happened on the way to the sawmill? So after a few “Love Taps” on the side of the door with my stick, I’m in. But then there’s still the windshield, no heat means no defrost, so now what do I do?
Back in to the house and hope I don’t wake up Mel again. And did I mention the steps were covered with ice, this is getting better and better. So I steal Mel’s tea pitcher, fill it with warm water and ease down the steps and bomb the windshield, and believe it or not — I’m off!
As I’m finally settling down and riding down the road, I get to thinking about all the other mornings I had to do the same thing just to get to work. I use to keep an old rain coat in my tool box in my old truck, and every evening I would lay it over the windshield, it wasn’t pretty but it kept the ice off. There were a lot of little tricks we learned like that working at a sawmill through the winter.
That’s like Ms. Carrie Greene; she worked out there for years, at one of the coldest spots in the mill. The first time I saw her, she looked like she weighed 300 pounds, but this was in February. By the time spring rolled around, and she had peeled out of some of those clothes, she might have weighed 100 pounds, soaking wet. She worked on the stacker, a building that was about thirty foot off the ground completely open to the north wind, but it never seemed to bother her. I asked her one time how she kept her feet warm, “Newspaper”. When I asked her how that worked she told me every morning she’d stuff newspaper in the bottom and your feet won’t get cold, I thought she was crazy, till the next morning, when I wrapped my feet in some, let’s just say from that day on, Dad’s newspaper’s kept disappearing.
The next trick I learned sounds even crazier, never stand by a heater, no matter how cold it gets. Trust me, if you get cold, lean up beside one, and then walk away, if you think you were cold before, wait a few minutes. I thought I was the only one like that for a while, that is till I saw my brother Joby doing the same thing one time. We were waiting on someone to fix a piece of equipment, and I guess it was around 30 degrees out there, when I looked at him and said, “You aren’t going over there by the heater?”, when he told me, “I’m cold enough now, I don’t want to get even colder.”
I thought about this and more as I was driving to the church Sunday morning, about the folks I use to work with and the times we had. But Monday morning Joby called me and told me some bad news. And I remembered another lesson a man taught me at the mill. Sometimes, when you get what you wished for, it’s really not what you wanted after all. Seems Mr. Norman Wall had passed away over the weekend. He was a good man and a good friend.
He had retired a good while ago, and on the day he retired we had a little get-together for him outside the gate. As he was sitting on the tailgate of his truck accepting all the congratulations and well wishes for a happy retirement, he looked at me kind of sad and said something I’ll never forget. “I’ve been looking forward to this day all my life, and now that it’s here, I hate it.”
At the time I was a younger man and I didn’t know what you meant, but now as I’ve gotten older, I now know what you meant that day.
Thanks Mr. Norman … and goodbye.

You can reach Robbin Bruce by e-mail at robbinbruce@yahoo.com.

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