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Grandpa’s Tale

August 19, 2015

Grandpa used to tell me this story. I don’t know whether it’s true or not. My grandpa wasn’t a man known to lie but this story sounds apocryphal, the kind that emerges from collective memory.

This happened when he was a young man, growing up in the wild Northwest. By his own account, he was a bit of a maverick then, driving a car he built himself and playing second fiddle in a local western swing band. He was sixteen. Back then, he thought he would never have anything in common with his dad. He was certain that when he was old enough, he would leave town for good, leave the state for good. Farewell gray skies and disapproving trees; hello sunshine and California beaches.

Maybe that’s where his mind was when he hit the mailbox at the end of Bill Trimble’s drive with his car. His father was furious. His father did not have red, hot rages. He had cold calculated anger. Grandpa sat in his room, waiting for his dad with terror. The door opened and his father’s unsmiling face appeared.

“I need your help in the shop,” he said.

Grandpa followed him to the woodshop. His father didn’t say anything. He handed Grandpa a piece of wood. There was a crude shape penciled on one side.

“Cut along the lines and sand the edges thoroughly.”

Grandpa was terrified. Badass though he was, playing second fiddle in a western swing band, he was still scared of his dad. His dad left him alone and he set to work.

He was determined to do a good job. Maybe if his father saw how hard he had worked and how well he had done, he would be more forgiving. He cut the wood along the lines and was halfway done sanding it before he realized what he had done: he had just carved his own paddle.

Sure enough, his dad returned and beat the tar out of him with the paddle.

“I’m not angry,” Grandpa said. “I had it coming. The worst part was the embarrassment. I wish I’d done a better job with that paddle.”

Grandpa did make it to California eventually. He doesn’t say much about it now. He does often say, “I was born in the Northwest and that’s where I’m going to die.”

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