Looking Back

This blog features poems by a native New Englander and octogenarian, as he looks back on the stomping grounds of his youth -- Chaffee's Woods, Kent Heights, Beach Pond, Escoheag, Wood River -- and his army days in Europe towards the end of WWII.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dad & I

My Dad and I were very close
It was not simply happenstance
My sisters liked to do girl things
Like play piano, or to sing.
My brother still was much too young
And so it always fell to me
To help Dad out in work or play
But work or play ‘twas harmony.

I can’t remember when my Dad
And I became acquainted for
I was too young to think of much
I only knew he was just there.
I first remember as a boy
That Dad did take us all for walks
Out to Chaffee’s Woods we’d go
Mostly on Sunday afternoons.

And later on as I did grow
I remember how my Dad would
Make us bows of lemon wood, with
A round target at which to shoot.
And that was my introduction
To target shooting with a bow
Then it was that Dad taught me how
To make blunt arrows for us all.

Then out in Chaffee’s fields we’d shoot
At five pound sugar bags chock full
Of grass, or leaves, and set way out
To shoot at varied distances.
We’d plan on spending afternoons
Just shooting ‘til we all did tire
Or had sore fingers or sore arms
Where armguards did not fit too well.

And as I grew I worked with Dad
In planting a big garden that
Judge Bliss, who lived just up the road,
Had let us use, for no longer
Did he care to plant this old field.
This was a larger piece of land
Than the one in our backyard
And took a lot of work to plant.

But Dad went at it with a will
And I helped out as best I could
He had it plowed and harrowed too
Until the loam was broken up.
Then we hoed up all the rows
And planted seeds and marked them good
Then watered all right from the well.
Thus was our garden set to go.

We waited for the plants to sprout
Potatoes, beans, and celery
Along with corn and beets as well
Carrots, turnips, summer squash with
Winter squash, and big pumpkins
All but tomatoes did we plant
And these we staked in our backyard
Then wait we did for them to grow.

In two weeks time the plants did sprout
And then our work did really start
For weeds will grow as fast as plants
And must be taken out by hand.
So Dad and I went at it hard
And evenings after we did eat
We’d work right up ‘til it was dark
Just pulling weeds and thinning plants.

It was a hardship for just two
For my siblings could not help out
Two were girls, my brother too young
And so it fell to Dad and I
To bring this garden through the heat
Of summer and on into fall
But then when all we grew was in
A cornucopia we had.

‘Twas then my mother’s work began
Putting all these vegetables up
In jars until the racks were full
Potatoes, turnips, carrots, all
Were put in sand so they would keep
Throughout the winter into spring
But Dad and I could not relax
For we had other things to do.

Dad started on his Osage bow
He shaped it first then scraped it down
With broken glass, until he had
The strength he wanted, eighty pounds.
‘Twas then he added cow horn nocks
The string was made from three strands each
Of Irish linen twisted tight
Then looped and served around each end.

The string was then put on the bow
The bow was strung to test the curve
And check the poundage when full drawn.
He had it then, his hunting bow.
And while he worked upon his bow,
I made blunt arrows for the spring
When we would all go out and shoot
At sugar bags, set out in spots.

My Dad was always making things
A creamer and a sugar set
Each from a copper one-cent piece
And on the bottom of each one
The one-cent stamping was intact
He made an Indian headed brooch
Having a golden band around
Made from deer horn just for my Mom.

He could make anything desired
For his family or himself
I still remember inlaid wood
Worked on long, cold winter nights
Of a picture drawn on a board
Of an Indian in his canoe
Out on a lake at sunset time
With darkened pines as a backdrop.

Dad was inlaying every piece
Of different types of colored wood
And piece by piece that picture grew
Each piece cut with his jeweler’s saw
Then glued in place where it belonged.
He worked on this each winter eve
And when spring came the work was done
Who has it now, I do not know.

Now chestnuts were a topic that
My Dad would often speak about
How he gathered them up in fall
Just after the first frost had hit.
He always had a basket full
From trees that grew so straight and tall
In all the forests far and wide
The tree was common as the oaks.

There were all types of animals
That fed on chestnuts when they fell
From squirrels, deer, and turkeys too.
Dad’s mother also used the nuts
To make a stuffing for her birds
And sometimes made a chestnut soup
Or roasted them  before a fire
Others used them to fatten pigs.

But then a blight hit all the trees
And killed them all within five years
No more did chestnuts then abound.
The turkeys soon did disappear
The deer declined, while squirrels turned
To acorns as their staple food.
And lumbermen across the east
Did cut the dead and dying trees.

But I remember as a boy
My Dad bringing chestnuts home that
He had found when in the woods.
The tree had grown up from a stump
He thought the tree was six years old
And old enough to raise some nuts
Which he had taken just to see
If they would grow around the yard.

We roasted most, but two Dad kept
To freeze them both before the spring
Then when spring came he planted them
And sure enough  those nuts did root
They grew five years and each had nuts
Which we picked when the frost did hit
But that was all we ever had
They died from blight in the next year.

My father also had a great
Collection of all types of eggs
From shore birds, song birds, great horned owl
To hawks and game birds of all kinds
He drilled them out, got out the yolks
Then catalogued each set of eggs
This isn’t something done today
For taking eggs is not allowed.

Dad taught me most of what I knew
Concerning life out in the woods
Of how to fish, or hunt, or trap
Or just to listen to the birds
And recognize each one at once
By its singing, hoot, or shriek
For each owl had a different hoot
And each hawk a different cry.

Now Dad was a religious man
He read his Bible every night
And once I can remember him
Sitting in our dining room, and
Talking, once so late at night
When I should have been fast asleep
To missionaries now I’m sure
What came of that I do not know.

But in his bookcase we did find
Two pamphlets from some writers who
Came from the Mormons in Salt Lake
One was by Parley Pratt I know
“A Voice of Warning” was its name
The other now I don’t recall
But these two books led me to think
That Mormons were the ones that night.

My Dad and I did camp a lot
When I was just a little boy
‘Twas after our debacle at
Our tenting place on old Beach Pond
We camped a lot on the Pratt place
And once at the Bannister Springs
On land once owned by Welky T.
Now part of the Pachaug forest.

It was here that I first heard the
Flute like notes of the Veery thrush
At evening when the woods did ring
With its trebling notes that sounded
Like someone coming down the scale
My Dad then wanted me to know
This type of thrush lived in deep woods
And could be heard at evening time.

He also wanted me to hear
The three note tune of the wood thrush
That also sang when sun was down
And could be heard until the dark
But sometimes was so interspersed
With Veerys, that when these two birds
Sang in the dusk, the woods would ring
With songs we both did love to hear.

My Dad was always stressed a lot
When as a boy just growing up
He watched his brother as he died
A wagon wheel ran over him
His brother, though he hurt inside
Made Dad promise to never tell
What happened on that fateful day
He feared his father’s angry words

My father’s dad was mostly gone
Aboard the ship he called his home
So rarely did he see Dad’s mom
And when he did was often drunk
My grandmother then made the choice
That a divorce was best for all
And so she took that step, then found
She could not make it all alone.

And so she sent my Dad to stay
At St. Marks school for orphaned boys
Though not an orphaned boy as such
He was the oldest of the three
And was the one that best could cope.
So off he went, and soon was sent
On a youthful apprenticeship
To learn some form of useful trade.

And so my Dad’s apprenticeship
Was with an excellent goldsmith
Who taught Dad much of what he knew
For over seven years or more
But ere he finished, Dad did go
Upon the ship his father sailed
To work his way upon the sea
And so became the cabin boy.

I can remember how Dad told
Of sailing ‘round Cape Hatteras
Off the Carolinas coast, in
A gale that wracked his ship so hard
It kept his father working long
For as the ship’s carpenter, he
Fixed all wood damage to the ship
And Dad was glad at voyage end.

Three years after he’d left the ship
He joined Rhode Island’s cavalry
And went to Texas where he fought
Against Pancho Villa’s Mexicans
But soon that little war o’er
He then went with his cavalry
To fight again in World War I
With no horse but a machine gun.

Now when the war in France was done
He came back home and met my Mom
They soon were married, then they went
To honeymoon for just a while
And then when Dad went off to work
At Narragansett Electric
They started their own family
Of Sue, then Ted, Mary and Ray.

Now Dad was an old Yankee too
Who knew the woods, the streams, the ponds
For he had camped when he was young
Around the hills near Escoheag
He used to take the milk train run
From Providence to Greene, alone
Then backpacked the remaining miles
To Escoheag and there made camp.

But all the effort on Dad’s part
From his loss at his brother’s death
To the divorce of mom and dad
And then the time spent at St Marks
Then off on his apprenticeship
His sailing in a great, great storm
The wars in Texas and in France
All added to his great concerns.

And so my Dad had lots of stress
But none of this then did I know
For heart problems, a family trait
Was the main cause of early death
For Dad had chest pains now and then
But only did my mother know
She kept it quiet, while he took
The digitalis prescribed for him.

Now Dad began to slow it down
He did a little less each year
Especially at the Beach Pond house
No longer did he roam the trails
Or care to stay out fishing late
For horned pout which he loved to eat
Or paddle off in my canoe
He’d just sit on the porch and watch.

I should have known something was wrong
But being young I chalked it up
To older years and nothing more
For we, his children were of age
To take some of the burden off
His shoulders, and my mother’s too
We did our best, yet he grew worse
And the depression days didn’t help.

And so my Dad was near to death
When I returned from old Beach Pond
Called to come back by Mother’s note
So anxious ‘bout my father’s health
My Mom explained, and then I knew
My Dad’s condition was not good
That he could go at any time
Yet Dad insisted I go back.

I came back home in late July
And then we talked of what we’d do
For he was going, this he knew.
He gave to me his Two Nineteen
The Zipper made by Winchester
And said to sell the other guns
But keep the bows and arrows too.
“For you may want them at some time.”

A month went by and he got worse
There was no more that we could do
So he went to the hospital
They put him under oxygen
But he had been there just two days
When we received a late night call
That Dad was gone, we cried and cried
We’d lost our Dad, I'd lost a friend.

We buried him beneath the sod
Out in Rumford Cemetery
And bought for him a modest stone
That gave his name, date born, date died.
Was born in eighteen eighty-nine
And died in nineteen forty-two
But what that stone will never know
Is what a dad he was to me.

I often go to see his grave
My mother lies there now as well
My wife and I plant flowers there
Then we’ll visit other graves of
Relatives, who have gone their way
That all of us must go someday
And when it’s my time then I’ll see
My Dad again, with family.

Jessie Louise Cole and Raymond Hall Baker

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