The Tree House



     When I was a liitle guy, my Grandpa asked me to help him build a tree house, for me. I was too young and ‘under-experienced’ in life to realize that what we were doing, just for me, was his way of assuring that he could have me by his side. For him, AND for me.  I didn’t know at the time that when he said, “I want you to help me.”, that I was the one receiving the help

     It was my job to pick out the perfect spot, though I realize now that with little nudges, such as, “Do you think that spot will get enough breeze?”, or, “Do you think this is far enough away from the house, so we can get away from everybody?”, he was guiding me to where he already knew it should be built. He could see the ‘big picture’…the tree house was already planned in his mind.

     We used as much scrap lumber and parts as we could find lying around and somehow, just the thing we needed would magically appear…in his garage or hidden under the porch.

    I was so small  that I had to use two hands to swing the hammer. Every nail I drove would have its’ head still sticking out of the wood and most times would be a little bent. Grandpa would take the hammer from my tired hands and say, “Here, let me hit it once so I can say I did something.” He would ‘rare’ the hammer back and with a quick, concise swing he would drive the nail the rest of the way home. Then he would say, “There, you did it!..and now Grandma can’t say that YOU did all the work!”

     When I tried my hand (and arm, and eye) at sawing boards, I never could quite cut all the way through. And more likely than not, my saw cut would be wandering around the line that he had drawn across the wood. Grandpa would say, “Let me see that saw for a minute.” He would look down the length of the blade with one eye closed, bend it back and forth a couple of times and say, “Uh HUNH!. Let’s see what THAT does.”

     His hand now guiding mine, with a few deft strokes, the un-needed end of the board would drop off and he had managed to get the cut back on line. He would say, “You got a good start on that, but sometimes the saw tries to take you where you don’t aim to go. It strays from the straight and narrow without some strong guidance.  Sometimes you gotta back up and just remember where you’re going. Let it follow YOU the right way, because you know better than the saw.”

     Of course, at the time, I was not aware of the lessons that he was showing me. I didn’t realize it for a long time.

     Right before Grandpa died, when I was already an adult and still not fully cognizant of his influence, he took me to his wood shop and told me he wanted me to pick out any tools I wanted. He said, “Some of these tools just won’t listen to me anymore. They need a good strong hand to guide them.”

     Grandpa had 5 sons and twice as many grandsons and my first thought was “Shouldn’t this all be split up between his sons first, and then, I’ll wait my turn?”

     That was when the importance of the moment struck me. No, he wanted ME to pick first.

     I had a hard time, not only choosing the tools I wanted to cherish, but also with coming to grips with the reason for this opportunity.

     Neither of us were as young as we were when we built our tree house, and time was taking more of a toll on him than it had on me, so far. He called it “seasoning”, not aging.

     I chose a small hand plane because I knew that his hand had closed around it many times. His hand had guided it to remove the last roughness from a board until it was finished to the smoothness of glass. He told me that when you use a finishing plane you have to think of the wood as you would a friend whose shoulders were tense and tight from holding too much of the world on them. A firm but gentle touch is the only way to properly smooth the rough spots. “Take your time, anything worth doing is worth doing right.”

     I also chose his folding ruler. It was one of those wooden rulers that folds into a six inch rectangle that would fit in a carpenter’s pocket and unfold to a four foot straightedge. He had this a long time before tape measures were the standard, and when it was unfolded, his initials were carved into the wood. His philosophy about the ruler was that without a good guiding line, and a point to strive for in precise increments, nothing would make sense…there was nothing to build upon.

A measure and a straight-edge.

     The first essential tool for building something that would be true, and hold together, and fit.

And a finishing plane.

     A small tool that, in the right hands, with the right touch, would remove all the splinters and burrs that were hiding the soul of the wood.

I find that his words have often come back to guide me.

     Many times I have strayed from the mark and remembered that I needed to look down the edge of my life to see where I had wavered. To start the ‘saw’ in a new ‘groove’ that was straight and true. And it has been certain that without a designated starting and finishing point, and a straight line between, it is harder to make the ‘saw’ go where I know in my heartand soul that it needs to go.

Thank you, Grandpa.

BTW, the above picture is NOT our tree house. Ours was better…and bigger, as I recall….

~ by rkpowers on March 19, 2010.

5 Responses to “The Tree House”

  1. I think that’s the best parable yet Randy. Just beautiful.


  2. Randy, thanks for the great picture of Grandpa. That is the first I have heard about the tree house. You know that our dad did the same thing with Alex. I have a great pic of me and Alex in that tree house, of course, after we sprayed if for bugs. Love you brother!!!


  3. This is a favorite; so heartwarming & perfectly unfolds in hindsight your realization of your Grandpa”s wisdom. He’d be awfully proud of you !
    Very, very sweet.


  4. How beautiful, sweet and funny. I love your GRANDPA!! “Here, let me hit it once, just so I can say i did something”…PRECIOUS.

    I love your blog, site and photography. Bravo!
    Very sweet memories.


  5. When Dad walked into a room, I often would see him eye the plane of a doorjamb or a beam or any wood piece. He would run his hand along it, if possible, as if he were testing the pulse or the soul of the wood. You have captured him beautifully, Randy. I will always remember his hands. They worked hard to provide for all of us and, as you have said so well, his Spirit is still providing. Thanks for this…..Aunt Shirley


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