If it weren’t for Popper, I sure as hell wouldn’t been out in the woods today, cutting up twelve inch rounds of hardwood firewood, with a 36 inch bow saw, in the middle of a 350 acre Western North Carolina cattle ranch. If my older brother didn’t use one, I probably never would have never even used a bow saw.
Popper and I did a bunch of stuff together, besides building metal grain bins in Nebraska; but it was with the grain bins where Popper probably taught me the most. Sunday nights, in the parents’ house in Lincoln, Popper’d lay in bed going over every step of that week’s bin job, making sure he was ready, with everything he needed. Then early Monday morning we’d drive the truck and trailer out to a Nebraskan family farm, where we’d spend a week erecting a steel grain bin or silo in the farm yard, usually next to the pig lot. For help, we had the Yost brothers from our church, and then we’d use local farm kids to fill out the crew.
After two years college, I decided to take a year off, went to Rochester, in upstate New York, where Popper was finishing up his two years Conscientious Objector work as an Inhalation Therapist, living in this old house which was scheduled for demolition. The living room floor was two inch tongue-and-groove oak flooring, which, pounding finish nails every two inches, we used as a frame for each of us make a hammock. Popper made his hammock out of eighth-inch nylon parachute rope, tying square knots every two inches, and then dropping epoxy on the joints to keep them from coming loose. Popper’s hammock outlived him, and probably could outlive two or three Poppers. I made my hammock out of leather shoelaces, which were much heavier, and I’ve long since lost track of it. We took the hammocks hitch-hiking, first out to the West Coast, then hitched back through Colorado, on our way to Europe.
The most memorable night sleeping in our hammocks was in a peach orchard outside Pallisade, Colorado, just east of Grand Junction. When we walked up onto Interstate Eighty in the morning, Popper stuck his thumb out at a highway patrol car. I kidded him about it all day. That night, riding through a blizzard with a somewhat inebriated sheep-buyer, between Vail and Loveland pass, we hit a car head-on. Popper was in the front seat, saved from serious harm by the stuffed army pack on his lap. I broke my ankle bad enough to put an end to our European trip plans.
Cutting wood today with my 36 inch bow saw, the way the heel of the blade kept slipping to the right, made me think of Popper: not the ugliness of the saw-cut, but figuring out a way to correct it: I decided to start angling the cut way to the left, so by the time it got to the bottom, it came out straight. Popper loved to figure things out. And he was always able to do so; this trait made him, later in life, a good cabinet-maker. For a few years there, Popper and I did a bunch of bow saw wood cutting, on the San Francisco Peninsula, over the hill from Palo Alto, up the hill from our friends’ house in La Honda. We had axes and wedges, and a five-foot, two-man cross-cut saw, but we mostly used a 42 inch bow saw. We cut up the stumps from huge redwood trees which were logged a hundred years earlier, and split them into beautiful, tightly-grained redwood beams, which Popper’d mortise and tenon together, making handsome, rope-bottomed, swinging couches. We were cutting in a state park, but bow saws are quiet, so no one bothered us.