Saturday, March 14, 2015

Loggers and a Toy Ukulele

Isn't it strange what trigger will bring lovely and poignant memories to the mind!

Last summer my son and friends of his, a family of four, visited us.  The family consisted of a father and mother and two little boys--ages 9 and 4--that were as cute as cute could be (but that story is for another time).  The mom is a professional musician and she was teaching her two little boys how to play the ukulele.  ... and that is the trigger for this memory.

I grew up in a logging community before the environmentalists, media and legislators destroyed logging.  I grew up with a dad who was worried about enough timber being left for his children but a dad who also worked in the woods.  The men and women I knew whose livelihood depended upon taking from the land also knew the value of giving back to the land.  I resented (and still do) deeply the corporate  media's distorted image of the people who lived in logging communities, the sanctimonious   environmentalists "I don't live on the land, I live in the city and I know how to take care of the land better than you" and the spineless legislators who legislated a way of life almost out of existence.  I still remember the "tree huggers" who were shipped out to the Pacific Northwest from back east, almost all of them young ruffians with no responsibilities, being paid by special interest groups, coming to the logging areas and being as destructive as they could:  tying themselves to trees; pounding spikes, wire and nails into trees so that shrapnel would be produced when the tree was cut down; and blocking the logging roads.  I remember one young logger asking one of the tree huggers, "What do you do for a living?  I log and you're keeping me from my job.  I need to feed my family."   The media's camera captured the tree hugger standing there with a surprised look on his face, not expecting someone his own age challenging him with a direct, honest question.  There was no answer from the tree hugger and the camera panned the crowd so that the picture-perfect newscaster could misrepresent the images on the five o'clock evening's news.

My heart was always with the loggers.  I admired them.  They had a hard job, a dangerous job, but it was their way of life and they left homes every morning with lunch pails in hand and cork boots on their feet, not knowing if a "widow maker" or a vine maple might be their undoing.  They played and worked and breathed the out-of-doors:  they saw deer and elk, bear and cougar; sights and sounds most people only dream about.  They watched the wily raven hop through a cab window, open a lunch pail, grab a sandwich, fly to a nearby tree and have a delicious lunch while the owner of that lunch pail  thought someone was playing a joke (a really bad joke).  They saw balls of fire whushing past their feet  and bolts of lightening striking through the sky and the rolling of thunder that shook the ground under their feet.  They also saw their friends die and having to ride out with the body after the day's work was done because an ambulance couldn't get to the logging site.

In the winter the loggers couldn't go into the woods because the roads were impassable and, in the summer, they worked "hoot owl", getting up at an ungodly hour to beat the heat.  Even then, the woods could be closed due to fire danger.  It is such a time as this that this particular memory of times past comes to my mind.

Two loggers made their way up to my parents' home one summer day after the woods had been closed due to the heat.  Both had the hickory shirts, the suspenders, cut-off pants, cork boots.  They got out of their rig and came to the door.  Both were greeted by mom as she put on the pot of coffee and brought out something good to eat.  The loggers smelled good as they came through the door:  bringing the smell of Douglas Fir and the out-of-doors in with them as they talked about the woods being shut down.  Dad came in and got the cups and spoons:  sugar was on the table and the cream was brought out of the refrigerator.  They sat around the table and talked and laughed.  I was in the front room, listening and watching, hearing laughter and growing concern in their voices--good, strong, friendly voices--talking over the events of the day, their families and worried about logging due to the  potential changes coming to their way of life.  One of the loggers turned around, grinned at me and then spotted a child's ukulele sticking out of the toy box.  He went over, picked it up, went back to his chair and started to play:  magic!  Four little strings, a neck, the body of a child's toy and the logger played jigs to dance to and sad songs to cry over.  I don't know how long he played but  time took its finger and etched into my mind this memory I had forgotten until our son mentioned his friends' children were playing the ukulele.

In February of this year, I was leafing through the Redmond Parks and Recreation's community activities and came across classes they were offering.  Lo and behold!  There on one of the pages was "Beginning Ukulele".  I  emailed a friend and asked if she would like to take the class with me.  Her response, at first, was "No."  Well, truthfully, she said more but none of it was printable here.  (and, no, I'm not crazy and yes, I am serious.)  About two weeks later, the week before classes were to start, she sends another email.  "What the heck."  So, on Thursday evening, we went to our first class and we each chose a ukulele to play.   I might add we giggled a lot as if we were children doing what we oughtn't.   The instructor sold ukuleles and his were a little more than we were prepared to pay.  I texted my son that night and asked him if he would ask his friend what a beginning ukulele should cost and what I should be looking for.  He texted me back with the answers to my questions and one extra response that delighted my heart and brought a smile to my face:  "Awesome!  Awesome!  Awesome!  Awesome!"  That next Saturday I went to every secondhand store, Good Will store, pawn shop in town looking for a ukulele.  I didn't find one but one of the ladies at one of the pawn shops told me of a music store in Bend that "just might" have what I was looking for.  That next Wednesday, Gene and I had to go to Bend and it made perfect sense to me that we should stop at the music shop.  They just happened to have a little red soprano ukulele--it was meant to be because it was red and it was just the right size and for sale at just the perfect price--so I bought it.  Since then, nothing has been done at the house--no soapmaking, no hardanger, no weeding (I might add no housework)--nada, nothing. The tips of my fingers on my left hand hurt like blue blazes,  there are string marks on the tips of my fingers as well as blisters (or callouses) and my fingernails are cut down to the quick but I cannot seem to put my little red ukulele down.

The first song we learned was "Octopus's Garden".  Gene went by me the other morning and said he'd sure be glad when next Thursday's class was so that I learned something else to play--anything else.  He said some other things, too, but I couldn't hear him as he shuffled off to his cave.  The second song we learned was "Be Happy".  There are scores of songs on the Internet and I've copied off quite a few of them.  I think anyone needing therapy should try the ukulele.  Not only is it creative, it exercises the brain and the fingers but, most importantly, it just makes a person happy to hear a ukulele.

I have this vision:  this summer, when the sun is starting to set and the night air is still, I'll go sit in my chair out in the lavender field .  I'll take my little red ukulele, have a tall, cool lavender lemonade on the stand next to my music strumming "Be Happy".  I will watch the sun go down and memories of past places and people--good, hardworking, fun loving people--that I have known and loved will visit me.  From a long ago forgotten memory of loggers and a toy ukulele to the sun going down and a bright red ukulele, I will remember... and be most grateful that they honored me with their presence.