Rough Days in Chain Saw History…

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I recently read Sherman Alexie’s short story, “War Dances,” which included some of the most humorous material I’ve read so far this year. Alexie, a Spokane Indian, writes a lot about his alcoholic father and his foibles. He wrote a short poem about one incident:

“When I was nine, my father sliced his knee
With a chain saw. But he let himself bleed
And finished cutting down one more tree
Before his boss drove him to EMERGENCY

Late that night, stoned on morphine and beer,
My father needed my help to steer
His pickup into the woods. “Watch for deer,”
My father said. “Those things just appear

Like magic. “It was an Indian summer
And we drove through warm rain and thunder,
Until we found that chain saw, lying under
the fallen pine. Then I watched, with wonder,

As my father, shotgun-rich and impulse-poor,
Blasted that chain saw dead. “what was that for?”
I asked. “Son, my father said, “here’s the score.
Once a thing tastes blood, it will come for more.”

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Alexie goes on to explain the many embellishments he made to the actual story to satisfy the demands of his poem, but it is a funny story and good poem nonetheless. It reminded me of a somewhat similar “incident” during a childhood visit to my Granddad’s property in West Virginia…

Granddad lived on several acres, in a house on top of a small hill. His land was sizable enough that a lot of maintenance was required to keep the brush and trees from overgrowing. My brothers and I were frequently recruited (i.e. Dragged kicking and screaming) as cheap labor to help with many projects. One year, my parents presented Granddad with a small riding tractor/mower to help with his seemingly Sisyphean labors. He also owned a small yellow chain saw that I can still picture in my mind’s eye. It was at best a temperamental machine, and I seem to recall my Dad and Granddad frequently tweaking it’s “fuel mixture” (does that even make sense?) to get it to work more reliably. I should say that Granddad was a master of practically any machine or tool and an ‘amateur’ inventor to boot, so I think it must have been frustrating to him when he couldn’t get one to work right. To my young eyes, tools not subject to repair by his ministrations could only be considered fundamentally flawed.

On one particularly hot and humid afternoon of brush clearing, the chain saw stopped working and, despite the best efforts of both my Dad and Granddad, stubbornly refused to restart. (it had a pull chord (like an old lawnmower) that was used to start it up – one of my more vivid memories of Granddad is of him yanking that chord, often in frustration, and not just on the occasion of this story). These efforts at resuscitation signalled a break in our forced labor and we walked back up to the house. Eventually, my Dad came walking up the road to the house too, laughing. Seems Granddad had ended their efforts when he threw the chain saw down in disgust, hopped on his tractor, and intentionally ran over it. (update 10/11/11: my Mom thinks this story is apocryphal; I will solicit my brother for his eyewitness testimony…)

Well, at least he didn’t shoot it with a shotgun. I thank Sherman Alexie for causing me to resurrect this memory. One never knows where a short story will lead, and what one will get out of it…

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