My old dad was a real character in the absolute truest sense of that word. Stories about him and his life are still part of the folklore around Northeastern Arizona, though he went to his Maker years ago. I approach most stories about Dad from a bit different angle than most anyone else, cause after all he was my Dad! I remember thinking when I was a small lad that my dad could do anything. I've come later in life to realize that isn't particularly peculiar, but I believed my outlook, and indeed my dad was better'n anyone else's. |
For instance, I recall the incident in my youth when I was around twelve years old which involved my dad, my mom, an old locust stump, many of the neighbor kids and myself. The locust stump, nearly five feet in diameter, was all that remained of what had once been a magnificent tree, which to my childhood view had nearly reached to the heavens. We had hunted blackbirds in it's branches with our Daisy BB guns, and had spent countless hours in it's shading and protective foliage during hot and humid summer days.
At the repeated behest of my Mom, the tree had been sawn down by my dad and a hired Indian using an old crosscut saw . To save on their backs, it had been severed at about 4 feet in height. They'd had to notch the tree on the north side to make sure it fell that direction as it was only about twenty feet from the northeast corner of our house. Even though I missed the tree, the flat surface of the old stump was an ideal platform for a herd of kids with over ripe imaginations to act out life as we saw it. On occasions we would clammer up onto that old stump and scour the countryside for marauding Indians coming to attack "fort stump". On other days it became the deck of a great schooner plying her pirate trade with me brandishing a wooden sword as it's captain. Other times we might use it in a game of "king of the mountain", each of us vying to be the one to gain and hold it's height.
But then for some reason I've never understood to this day, my Mom decided the stump had to go. My mom was like that, - always wanting her yard to look nice and not seeing the beauty of that old stump like I did. Well, my dad ignored her request to remove the offending protrusion until the decibels got too high and then he finally devised a plan. I knew my dad could get rid of that stump, 'cause like I told you earlier, my dad could do anything! First we dug around the edges of the old stump down to one of the massive roots. Because neither dad nor myself had a great zeal about the task, it took us several days, working only about 30 minutes a day to get a hole roughly 4 foot deep dug on the east side of that old stump, exposing a massive root about 12" in diameter. We chopped and sawed and cussed another day or two until we finally got through that one root. Then Dad hooked up the old John Deere tractor to that stump using a giant logging chain. Then while myself and several of the neighbor kids looked on he carefully took up the slack. He opened the throttle on the old green giant and the chain came tight. The tractor strained, nearly dying and yet the stump held firmly. Dad then backed up a couple of feet and slipped the clutch back on the old single cylinder beast and hit the end of the chain on the run. The front of the tractor came several feet off the ground and I remember watching my dad ride that bucking mechanical leviathan. Black smoke belching out of its stack, dirt flying from the rear tires as they tried in vain to get traction and I remember thinking, "my dad, boy he can do anything!" But alas, the stump didn't budge even a little bit. Over the next couple days the same procedure was repeated on another root on the north side of the stump. The digging, the chopping, the John Deere, and the stump defying all of our efforts to eradicate it. I'll have to admit, my faith in my dad did waiver just a tad, but down deep I knew he'd figger out a way to do the job. Dad never left a job unfinished, - unless of course it was a job that shouldn't be finished anyway. Well, the old stump sat idle for several weeks, like some injured old creature with torn limbs and misshapen torso but proud and defiant. I'm sure, thinking back on that experience from the lofty platform of old age that we could have repeated our "dig, chop and pull" technique a few more times and completed our task. Patience, however was not one of the virtues of either myself nor my Dad. I know as well, if it'd been up to my dad and myself, we'd have called it a draw and left the remainder of that old stump as a monument to the resiliency of nature. But, of course, Mom would have none of that, failing to see once again, the "bigger picture".
Then one day my dad came home with a wooden box about two feet square with the faint writing on the side, which read "ACME POWDER COMPANY". Dad was about to introduce his baby boy to the magical world of dynamite!
I still remember the awe and wonder I felt when dad let me hold a stick of the lethal stuff. Every young boy should at some time in his life hold a stick of dynamite, if nothing more than for bragging rights among his peers. Well, now I really did know that my dad could absolutely do anything! He tied five sticks of the marvelous explosive together with some bailing twine, carefully pushing a cap with a fuse of about 3 foot long attached to in into the end of one of the sticks. He then got down on his belly and pushed the stuff as far back in the hole we'd dug on the north side of the stump as he could reach. He worked it with great care until he had it about centered on the stump, explaining to me that this would be the best location for the force of the blast to loosen the stubborn roots. We then back filled the hole until only the end of the fuse was sticking out of the dirt. Dad had his old chevvy truck parked near the barn about 30 yards east of the stump and instructed us kids, (by then about 10 of my friends had gathered to witness this grand experiment), to climb under the truck and watch from there. Well, dad lit the fuse and ran as fast as he could and crawled under the protective cover of the truck bed with us. We waited for what seemed an eternity, each of us sticking our fingers in our ears in anticipation of what we just knew would be a terrible explosion. We watched the smoke from the fuse until it disappeared underground and then it was lost in the breeze which was blowing out of the north. We waited and waited, and Dad was about to climb out and go see what was wrong when it happened! The ground shook, the dirt blew about 50 feet in the air, the cattle in the corral stampeded to the far end of the runway, the chickens flew around madly in protest, and we kids cheered the show. It took about 30 seconds for the dust and dirt to clear, by which time we were approaching what we were sure would be a massive hole where the stump had been. To our amazement, the old stump which I had so enjoyed as a stage for the dramas of my childhood, had now become something alive and ornery, and was completely unscathed!
Well, as I may have mentioned previously, I knew there wasn't anything my dad couldn't do, so I anxiously awaited his verdict as to what we would employ next to see that stump gone. I'm not sure what I expected, but I knew that Dad knew that mom wanted that stump removed, and that neither he nor I would have complete peace until it was accomplished. Besides, it had now become something personal, - a macho sort of thing that only those with a male ego would completely comprehend.
Well, at least the explosion had cleaned out the hole under the stump so that I could crawl completely under it. The cool dark recesses of that spot, along with the vivid memory of how it had been excavated made me wish for a time that it could stay just like it was, -but I knew it couldn't. As I talked with dad about what his plans might be for this wooden locust nemesis, I saw a particularly resolute glint in his eyes that I'd never seen before. I knew somehow despite my youth that dad was about to teach his kid a lasting lesson on completing a task. We went to the granary where dad had the dynamite stored and counted out the remaining sticks. There were 13 gleaming, beautiful sticks of the stuff, along with one length of fuse and one cap. Dad let me help him tie the sticks together this time and I knew this was a rite of manhood that I would cherish forever. Dad had done a bit of farming the year before and had several sacks of left over fertilizer around the granary, most with holes chewed in them by the ever pervasive mice. One sack which I later learned was Ammonium Nitrate was about half full of what I'm guessing was a 100 pound sack. My dad let me carry the dynamite to the stump while he followed carrying the heavy partial bag of Ammonium Nitrate. Dad once again got down on his belly and snake wiggled the top of his torso into that wonderfully cool hole below the stump. I handed him the bundle of dynamite in which he had placed the cap and the fuse. He then carefully placed that potent package in what I assumed was a strategic spot in the bowels of that locust stump. He dragged into that hole the bag of fertilizer, which he had laid within easy reach. I never really knew whether he put the dynamite inside the bag of just placed the bag over the explosive. (I wish now I would have asked him.) Then he carefully backed out of the hole, placing the fuse strategically along the root line until it was about a foot above ground level. We then shoveled and compressed the dirt carefully around the charge, and then not so carefully tamped and back filled the remainder of the hole very solidly until it was completely full. By the time we finished this little job it was about ten A.M., and I assumed we would be lighting the charge immediately. But somehow my Dad knew he needed to do a bit more preparation. There were several windows on the North and East side of the house and dad gathered some old barn tin and plywood and we spent the next hour carefully covering the windows. I've always believed he was more motivated by a bit of healthy fear of Mom than by a worry about breaking the windows. Of course to do the latter would certainly have been, shall we say, displeasing to mom who really did consider our home her castle. Finally around noon we were all ready. By this time a huge contingent of the neighborhood had gathered. You should remember that this was a while before everyone had a television set and my dad was about to supply the entertainment for the whole of Taylor. I was so proud to be the son of this great guy, who handled dynamite with such ease and who seemed to know always what to do.
It came to my mind once again, while all those kids were gathered around me, seeing me as somewhat of a hero for having actually handled the dynamite that my dad could do anything. We knew the routine and we all gathered under the old truck which I noted that dad had carefully parked facing away from the epicenter this time. I recall that Dad had told Mom what to expect, though I don't think he had a clue, and she of course remained in the house to make sure nothing went awry in her domain. Well, we hunkered down, dad lit the fuse and scrambled back to be with us under the truck. We were pushing our hands against our ears with all our might, anxiously anticipating the exact moment that we had joked as being "Zero" hour. Again, an eternity of burning fuse, of the worrying that it had gone out, that the charge might have been set wrong, or a dozen other concerns that can haunt the mind of a little boy. Finally, once again the thundering blast! This time the whole truck seemed to rise off the ground. My ears hurt in spite of the manual ear protection I had placed there. We later learned that some of the cows in the corral actually broke through the east fence and disappeared down the road towards Clad Willis' house. The dirt and dust was so thick that the sun was blotted out and there was an eerie darkness and a silence which was very unnerving, interrupted only by rocks and debris which seemed to continue coming down forever. My dad, seemingly unconcerned, climbed out from under the truck and headed for what had now become a huge hole about ten feet in diameter and five or six feet deep. The offending stump was nowhere in sight and I remember thinking that it had been vaporized like something Superman would have done with his X-Ray vision and Kryptonite powers. Finally I did spot some fairly large portions of the stump on the roof of the house, and what appeared to be a piece about the size of a milk bucket in the road some fifty yards to the north. Short of that, it seemed the thing had gone to Stump Heaven, or where ever it is that stumps go when they die. Dad, I could tell didn't quite share my feeling that the stump had been vaporized, but then after looking around for several minutes he was left without any other explanation. Mom came out the back door and was using some rather interesting adjectives to let my dad know what she thought of his stumpectomy. I share here the edited version of what Mom uttered, directed to dad, but heard by much of the neighborhood. "Vern, you could have blown up the house with your foolishness!" "Don't you know that someone could have been killed?" I remember thinking that my dad was probably aware of both of those possibilities as well as several others. However his fear of any potential mishap was far exceeded by his absolute need to see that stump gone. Nothing Mom could say took the grin off his face as he proudly circled the hole and admired his handiwork. It was about that time that Gary Solomon, a neighbor friend who somehow had missed the experience of being at ground zero came running across the field from his house which was a block to the Southeast of our house. He was hollering something and pointing toward Roy Perkins home, which was on the other side of our house from where we were standing. When he got closer we figured out what he was saying. "What's that big thing in the field over there by Roy Perkins house?" Well, I'm guessing that at this very moment my dad knew what that "big thing" was. I watched the smile disappear, and a strange look slowly stole over his face. Almost as one we ran around the house to see what Gary was shouting about. And there it was,-- that gnarled old locust stump minus only a few appendages here and there was lying in the field some seventy yards from where it had spent it's life. It looked to me, like what I would have thought an extracted molar from some long extinct dinosaur should be like. The top of the stump had buried itself about a foot in the ground and the roots pointed upward like a malformed octopus reaching for the heavens. To add to the almost surreal event, there was still a bit of acrid smelling smoke drifting lazily out of its bowels. Well, we traced the route of that stump, which we later figured weighed in at nearly a half a ton. It had left its birthplace at the moment of the explosion and had traveled high over the very center of the house in which mom was setting. We calculated the trajectory as being at least fifty feet high and as I mentioned about seventy yards distance to the southwest. I think we all knew what could have happened if the distances had been reversed. The stump could easily have taken a bit higher trajectory and a bit less in distance, which would have placed it squarely in the center of Mom's castle. None of us "menfolk" ever verbalized that possibility and hoped that Mom wouldn't think of it. I chose to believe that Dad planned it exactly the way it happened, though I've never been able to explain that strange look on his face. We later got the old John Deere and with a great deal of struggle and the help of several neighbors were able to load that stump and haul it off to our field on the east side of Taylor. I recall that experience taught me two great lessons. One is that dynamite and Ammonium Nitrate are really cool. A bit of knowledge I used to some fantastic effect in later years but that will have to be another story. Second, and perhaps the most important thing I learned that day, -
MY DAD CAN DO ANYTHING!!!
© Paul D. Hatch
This poem may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.
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