Thursday, January 31, 2008

Grandpa's Broadaxe

Both sets of great grandparents were Swedish immigrants who came to the US from Östergötland in the 1880s. They settled in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and, like many immigrants, were dirt poor. Grandpa, who spoke broken English with such a thick accent that I always had to ask dad for a translation (I was about six), would give my brother and me a nickel or dime if we’d sing Swedish songs for him. So of course, we sang ‘til we were hoarse.

Early in their marriage, my grandparents lived in a one-room log building, a footprint of 13’ x 15’, with no insulation (did I mention this was in Michigan?), no indoor plumbing, and no electricity, along with 3 children, until dad was 7 years old. Then grandpa built a tiny farmhouse for the family which eventually was wired for electricity, but still no indoor plumbing, and 3 more kids entered the fold.

Grandpa worked for the WPA and cut & sold timber while the kids attended school in a one-room schoolhouse, to which they walked through 10 feet of snow, even in summer I’m told, and while grandma cooked on a cast iron stove, washed clothes by hand, and chased bears away with a broom. It amazes me that I am only one generation away from such a remote and primitive existence.

After grandpa died, my dad was given his broadaxe, (which originally belonged to my great-grandfather, Axel), a tool that was used for shaping logs. The person using the axe stood atop the log and sliced along its edge with the flat side of the blade, walking it down the length of the log until one side was hewn flat. Prior to this, a series of stop cuts were made about every 6" into the side of the log, which made it easier to follow the chalk line.

Dad related a story about the time grandpa laid open his own foot with a double-bladed axe while cutting timber. The outside of his foot and his boot were hanging like bark peeling off a tree. Of course, folks back then were a lot tougher than they are today, so he and dad walked back home, grandpa got cleaned up (because you never went to the doctor's dirty) and dad drove him to the doctor's office, in a snowstorm (of course!), 12 miles away.

I hope grandpa's axe will be handed down to me someday and you can bet it will be displayed in a place of prominence in my workshop.