February 1991

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Harpending's Corners


Edwin N. Harris

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A Little Winter Story

I had regular chores at the home place, and in winter I enjoyed working in the woods with my father who had been a lumberjack in the Michigan north woods when he was a young man. In the afternoon when I left the school bus on Route 14A, I would trudge most of a mile up the hill to get home about 4, and then go out to the woodlot farther to the west where my father was cutting up wood for next year's firewood. On these late afternoons I would help him (with a two-man saw) fell enough trees for him to work up the next day.

To pay for clothes and school expenses, I looked for work helping neighbors, or when time was available I often headed for the farm of Uncle "Deak" Florance, my mother's brother-in-law. Roy Kelly lived on the next farm south on the Pre-emption Road. He was a talkative Irishman who gave me jobs such as all night stints stoking wood in the fire that boils down maple sap in a huge vat to make maple syrup. He used the fire pot of an old raspberry evaporator that sat west of his farm buildings, near the woodlot that seemed to me to be so far from other humans when I was alone out there in the middle of the night.

Roy was a great story teller and some he told, probably from old Irish folklore, did little for my comfort: Tales of witches, trolls, and evil in dark woods, was not what I needed for the all night job watching a slowly bubbling cauldron.

But I remember another story that involved Roy Kelly.

One day in 1932 I was with my father and two or three men with two teams of horses, each hitched to double-bob sleds that carried standard wagon boxes. We were trying to break a trail through deep snow to go three and one half miles to Dundee for supplies. The road seemed to contain more snow than the fields so we elected to try the fields. Our team, named Tom and Joe, middle-aged bays with black manes, were generally considered reliable in harness.

There was snow in the fields, too, and we came to a drift where the snow was a little over belly-deep to the horses. The team plunged into the drift but couldn't break through, and after floundering around for a while, "Old Joe" decided the whole trip was foolish, so he just lay down on his belly in the snow, with a finality of intention that defied threats, promises, great oaths, and yanking on his bridle. It did appear to me that we might have to prepare to camp on the spot until Joe changed his mind.

The bob behind us was driven by noisy Roy Kelly. Loud and profane, Roy tried yelling in Joe's ear. Joe just flicked his ears and shook his great brown head. His working partner, Tom, looked around at Joe incredulously and blew noisily through his lips. Well, Roy stomped around in the snow and finally announced "I'll get the goddam sumbitch up or kill him." So saying, he seized a wide, steel grain shovel from his sled box, and with a great yell whacked Joe across his rump with a mighty swing. The blow made a noise something between a bell's clang and the resounding splat of a wide board. The noise or the sting startled Joe to his feet. He sounded a weird neigh that must have been "Oh no!" for a horse. Then with loud flatuations Joe lunged forward, dragging the disgusted Tom with him. The day was saved, and we all proceeded to Dundee.

© 1991, Edwin N. Harris
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