My father is a master carpenter and he raised a family of hands-on kids. Some of us, like both my brothers, actively use their hands-on problem solving skills every single day in their chosen professions. They are awesome to watch. Others of us, like me, enjoy working with tools and occasionally build a nice project but mostly we putz in the garage (and love it).
As a family we used to build houses: the house I grew up in, the house my parents now live in, my brother’s fist house, and his second house, my grandparents’ house that my aunt and uncle now own, a house for my dad’s friend, a house we built and sold. Plus dozens if not hundreds of other projects: decks, bathroom remodels, window or door replacements, stairs, shelves, sheds, and on and on. I’m certain these experiences are by no means unique to our clan, but they are a central theme in our family culture and identity, and I feel proud to be one of the crew.
Out on the job site, there are days when the materials arrive. A bunk of lumber, bundled and banded into creative shapes from the lumber yard, is unloaded from the delivery truck to some corner of the site. Except it’s rarely dropped off in the corner; it’s usually dropped right in the way of where the work needs to happen. The bunk needs to be unbanded, sorted, and distributed to different locations around the site. 2×10 rafters go here, 2×4 wall studs go there, sheets of plywood stacked on the side, etc. This is a reality on the job site – the machines can only do so much and eventually it comes down to shoulders and backs moving each piece of wood from this stack over to that stack. It’s essential work, but it doesn’t provide much satisfaction. (About the only thing more tedious than moving lumber is moving and spreading a giant pile gravel, one wheelbarrow at a time.)
For some reason my family always ended up building houses in the winter. I’m not sure why. Maybe it took longer than expected to get through the permit process, but it felt like we were perpetually breaking ground in October, pouring concrete basements just before Thanksgiving, and doing the framing in the dead of winter. This meant those bunks of lumber were arriving in December and January – a lovely time of year in northern Illinois.
Once when we were working on my brother’s house, we realized one of the stacks of lumber was exactly in the wrong place. Maybe there was some scaffolding that needed to go in that spot. To erect the scaffolding, the lumber had to move. Absolute drudgery in the cold of January, especially since we’d spent the previous day putting the lumber in THAT spot. My brother, ever a good-natured man, was quick to identify the silver lining. “There’s heat in that wood!” Meaning the faster we lifted and carted the material, the warmer our bodies would feel. He finished his half-sandwich and jumped to the task.
Yep, that’s the epitome of working with my family in the heart of winter, and I found myself appreciating this perspective yet again today. It’s been a cold winter around the United States and Colorado has not been exempted. This afternoon I picked up a fresh supply of firewood and now it’s time to unload and stack it. Frigid temperatures today but I’m not too worried about being outside in the cold, because I learned many years ago … There’s Heat In That Wood!