Note: the following story is not recommended for anyone who:
- tends to “visualize and feel” what they read,
- has any difficulty breathing,
- has or is recovering from a heart condition or lower intestinal control,
- is within the last month of pregnancy,
- has had a vasectomy in the past 60 days or,
- has a weakened or compromised sense of humor.
Dad had what could be described as a contact-sport style sense of humor which roughly means, with little to no warning, you could find yourself as the media of his gag leaving you physically stressed and hopefully in a public manner. In his world, this is what friends and family do for (or to) each other.
That said, this is my long-standing favorite story about my father. I like it for many reasons. It demonstrated his sense of humor (kind of bent) and gives me some cover for almost any twisted idea I ever came up with because, you know, I can blame my genetic heritage.
When I was in early High School, my cousin, Mike (almost my same age) came to live with us for a few years. He was a big, good looking guy who thought he was quite a find for most of the girls in our world. The problem was, way too many of the girls around agreed with him and, so he was very popular and a bit cocky about it all. Stay with me on this because it does relate.
My dad used to have a side business cutting and selling firewood that he would drag me and Mike off to help him with. He didn’t have to drag very hard, because if we went along and helped, he let use play with chainsaws (and what could be cooler?) and the splitter. This story involves both, so I should describe them.
It’s most important that you know a few things about a chainsaw. You most likely know these to be medium-size hand-held machines with a long blade around which a chain of razor sharp teeth run at very high speeds.
You also know that moving chain teeth pretty much destroy anything they touches. Once, a tree I was removing limbs from suddenly rolled and twisted my saw into my knee. That day I learned that my knee was much softer that a bay tree trunk – kinda messy.
You should know that chainsaws, when revved up, along with the loud engine scream, vibrate like crazy? So much so that they can be painful to hold for long periods of time.
Of course all this just makes them wonderful for teenaged boys to play with. Mike and I both knew to stay far away from that chain when the motor was running.
Now, about the (log) splitter. This was one of the greatest toys for a couple of young guys like Mike and I. It had a heavy horizontal steel I-beam with a vertical wedge at one end and a hydraulic sliding steel ram at the other. The user muscles a log segment (up to about 2 feet long) onto the I-beam, presses a lever and the sliding ram forces the log through the wedge, splitting it – often with great creaking and groaning sounds of wood yielding to overwhelming strength. It was really cool.
So, this day found all three of us out on some guy’s ranch turning selected trees into firewood. My Dad was uphill chain-sawing huge limbs into segments short enough to feed to the splitter. He would roll these segments down the hill to where Mike and I were running the splitter.
It was a sunny day, with a nice Sonoma County slight breeze. We were sweating and working hard in the outdoors, making some money, helping dad, loving life, etc., etc. As this account unfolds, recall that as teenage boys from a great family, we knew and trusted Dad (as the adult in the group) to protect us from all harm and do his part to model good character and help turn us into men of integrity.
But here’s what actually happened.
It was Mike’s turn to muscle the logs up onto the splitter. He had his back to Dad, legs spread wide to maintain his balance against the heavy logs. He was making a huge show of being the big strong guy, grunting loudly and such. Once he had a log in place, I was on the other side of the splitter facing both Mike and my dad uphill, ready to hit the lever to activate the slide to drive the logs into that wedge and catch and stacked the split pieces. I also kept an eye on Dad so we would be ready for any more logs coming down the hill for us.
After a couple of hours at it, we were all breathing pretty hard when I saw Dad stop mid-cut. The chain had jumped off the blade, which is fairly common. It happens often so I didn’t give it a thought other than to appreciate the chance for Mike and I to catch up with dad.
It was a small task to fix a chain-jump, you turn off the engine and wrench a plate off near the base of the blade to reveal the sprocket that drives the chain, re-thread the chain onto a slot in the blade and tighten everything back up before replacing the plate.
However, it is a wise practice to simply take the chain fully off, replace the plate, restart the chain-less machine and rev it way up a few times to blow out the deeply nested saw dust. I happened to looked up at the right time to see Dad do this – producing a great cloud of saw dust. All of this was standard protocol indicating nothing out of the norm.
But then, as dad lowered the chainsaw, I saw a mischievous light appear behind his eyes that accurately predicted a smirk which was now growing across his chin and somehow, almost telepathically, I knew exactly what he was thinking.
Dad recognized that the stars had aligned to give him a priceless opportunity to bring Mike down off of his cool-guy pedestal. With the chain still off and the chainsaw motor puttering quietly in hand, he walked down to stand behind Mike who was lifting a large log onto the splitter, legs spread wide, his back to dad, facing me, while I fought desperately not to change my actions or expression to betray dad’s intentions and be ready to stop the ram in the next few seconds.
Dad, timed his attack perfectly as Mike set the log onto the splitter and I started the ram. He took the chainsaw in two hands, and kept it quietly out of sight between Mike’s legs and waited for the ram to lock the log against the wedge, so Mike could safely let go.
At the safest possible second, dad gunned the chainsaw and raised it quickly up to Mike’s crotch. The chainsaw screamed, but it was too late for Mike to react. The safe, but wildly vibrating blade had caught him right where you never – ever – ever – ever want a chainsaw to be, and Dad kept lifting Mike right off the ground. Arms and legs flailed. Mike’s screams could be heard even above the screaming chainsaw. Through his instantaneous panic, Mike was fighting to find footing to get off of that insane blade that must be tearing him apart, bursting all the adrenaline glands throughout his whole body. All of Mike’s short life must have been blurring before his eyes as he was being torn asunder.
I soothed Mike by throwing the switch to stop the ram and locking the ram and holding the log for him so he could focus on screaming and trying to climb up thin air to get off of that madly vibrating blade. Recall that Mike thought he was very much God’s gift to women and at this moment, in his mind all that was changing. His eyes were bigger than softballs (no pun intended. Well, maybe just a little).
Dad kept the blade just high enough chainsaw lift to make sure Mike could not easily touch the ground, much less push himself up off the blade and held him there for the required number of agonizing seconds. With arms waving and feet kicking, Mike was really riding that blade and gave no evidence of enjoying himself.
When Dad finally let him down and he was able to sprint off to safety, he turned to see – Dad and me laughing hard, a chainsaw with no chain puttering peacefully on the ground. A quick check verified that his vitals were still attached and he’d been royally duped, but by that time, it didn’t matter. There was more adrenaline in his veins than blood and he was busy trying to suppress what must have been a mild heart-attack. He was fortunate that he had previously had a bathroom break but still needed almost 45 minutes to stabilize his breathing and composure.
He’d pretty much lost all interest in splitting any more logs for the day. This was okay because Dad and I laughed so hard that we weren’t good for much more work anyway.
So, Mike recovered. He even later married and had children, much to our relief BTW, and other than emotional trauma, no permanent damage had been done; but he never really trusted my Dad again when a chainsaw was nearby.
He also grew up to become a commercial airline pilot and to this day makes us proud by toting lots of folks around the globe. If you ever get him as your pilot, rest assured nothing really bothers him anymore. His nervous system is non-upsetable after this whole stunt. We may well have broken something and he clearly thinks that flying every day is much safer than anything that involves a chainsaw.
He also had to endure many, many retellings of this story including the day when I retold it to our friends and family at my Dad’s funeral as the one big story that really left the image of my Dad’s sense of humor and idea of building a young man’s character.
My dad sure loved a good laugh and this was generally agreed to be about the best way to say our goodbyes and thanks for a life well-lived. He preferred laughing his way through life and certainly would have been annoyed had we not laughed with him at his funeral, so we did.
To this day, the sound of chainsaw screaming in the distance somewhere still makes me smile.
If you have an uncle who enjoys bad puns or annoying or embarrassing jokes, just be thankful that that is all he does.
Rest in peace dad. We miss you every day and your nephew, Mike, no longer wakes up at night screaming. Okay, okay – maybe sometimes, but not very loud.