Tokens from Earle

When my dad was a boy, he grew up wild and free in the ‘burbs of Parkersburg on the mighty Ohio River. The middle of three boys, he gave grandma fits in their house in the Beechwood section of town. It was a decent middle-class residential neighborhood that has since been bisected by the 7 lanes of Grand Central Avenue, one of the busiest streets in the state.

Back then though, it was just a little family section of town with small town drama and small town ways. Bucolic is the word for it.

There are some good stories from back in the day, when I wasn’t even a twinkle in a young man’s eyes. They used to go skinny dipping in the Ohio River. Sometimes they would swim over to Neal Island and steal corn and potatos for dinner.

One time they got caught by the overseer of the farm. He made them dig taters naked with the farmer’s daughters trying to catch up as they followed along gathering what the boys dug. Dad said they squashed as many potatos as they uncovered and sprinted back to the river when they reached the end of the row.

To be sure, there were as many hard times as good. Earle wasn’t good in the regimented schooling of the day and dropped out after eight grade to try to join the army for the Korean war. Can you imagine, a 14 yr old trying to enlist? Of course, they turned him out, despite the convincing forgeries he had. He spent some time working the riverboats instead, learning knots and the ways of men.

He spent years learning how to weld. Metal was his artistic medium, but usually with a very practical application. It gave him an outlet for his native curiosity to solve complex problems by creating a work in metal that was often more elegant than needed.

Like any good craftsman, he had a care for the tools of his trade. They were his bread and butter, to be sure, but they took on a presence and personality for him. He had the same hammer all my life. Used the same clamps and pliers until they were extensions of his rugged hands. The things he owned and used were special.

Recently, I found an old fold out ruler of Earle’s. The worn yellow wood stained nearly brown from years of sweat. I used it to measure out a garden box with my daughter. Then, I impressed on her the age and meaning of the cool folding stick, letting her unfold its still-stiff joints and mark out the spots for the hills of sweet corn we are planting. Now, I sit with wet eyes, thinking of dad and how he never met the grandchildren he would surely have spoiled beyond reason.

It has been 22 year since he died, and I miss him still. But, I have a few things to remind me, to mark his place in this world. I have some of his look. Maybe some of his compassion. A tiny bit of his work ethic. And today, I have a new connection between his granddaughter and a little yellow ruler.

I think he would be good with that.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. JoAnn Mchenry
    May 04, 2012 @ 14:34:01

    Really great story! One of my FAVORITE persons!!!! I too miss him!!! Love ya Jesse


  2. UnequivocalKate
    Feb 25, 2014 @ 17:26:19

    I love hearing stories about your dad. I feel like I have come to know him through you even though I never met him in person.


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