Dad's home is the same one I was raised in way up in northern Minnesota. We are Iron Rangers. He burns wood to heat his house and stays physically fit from all the exercise it takes to chop and pile and constantly manage the fuel supply. My childhood chores involved "piling wood" and "throwing wood." Piling wood is the process of neatly stacking it after it's split so that it dries out properly. This is measured in cords. Throwing wood is when you take a bunch off the pile and "throw" it into the house to burn. Our home has a big wood box built around a basement window that's removed and used as a portal to transfer the wood from the outside in.
Dad doesn't only burn wood, he works with wood. When he retired he built his own "wood shop" that has an antique cast iron stove that he drove all the way to Canada to get. In the winter if you pull in to visit dad, he might have soup, stew or chili cooking on his stove while he's building something. In the summer, he likely has a fire going in a huge iron ring outside that he cooks over. The shop fridge is likely stocked with tons of drink boxes, beer, soda and sometimes fishing leeches.
There's a lot of equipment around the farm, many vehicles and tractors having names like "Old Brown." Kids always get rides if they stop by when the tractors are out. Dad used to move snow with a little red tractor when we were kids. Now that he's older he has a plow for a "work" truck so that he gets to sit in a heated cab while he gets his work done.
There's a big field behind his house where on special occasions he would get out an old wooden baseball bat and tirelessly hit us pop flies until every kid had a turn at catching one. He'd never quit until we actually caught one, we never ended on a dropped ball.
My greatest dad memory is when one winter our school bus got stuck. The weather was so horrible that the driver slipped off the side of the road. It wasn't unusual for a bus to get stuck in the winter on the rural routes, but this time it went into the ditch so badly that it was nearly laying on it's side. The kids were scared and knew it was going to take a serious rescue to get us out.
Within a half an hour of the accident, as we were all hunkered together in the cold, crooked bus, out of the blizzard comes none other than my dad!
He climbs right in and looks at the driver and says, "I figured there was a problem." Then he looked over the seats and said, "Don't worry kids. Another bus is on the way!" Then he gave a military-like roll-call, "Tari! Chuck! Jessica and Maija!"
My brother, my cousin, the neighbor girl and myself all got out and climbed into dad's pickup. "Sorry I don't have room for more kids!" he called out to everybody else. And away he navigated over the snow drifts, shifting carefully to avoid hitting our knees since four kids were piled on the bench seat next to him.
Dad is a terrific grandfather. He planted apple trees when each of his three grandsons were born. We fly kites in his field and my son is convinced that his motor home is not for camping, but instead a way for grandpa to drive around with a freezer and all the fixings for ice cream sundaes. Dad is a great sport about playing games with the kids, a particular favorite of the family is Old Maid. He's a terrific story teller. He'll also get the boys out of our hair by suddenly getting up and asking who wants to "fly" to the end of the driveway while he outstretches his arms and takes them on an imaginary plane ride.
In three days I'm flying home to spend a long weekend with childhood girlfriends. Dad is coming to pick me up at Duluth airport, and already planning what to cook for the two evenings I'm home and shaking off my jet lag. Dad's been a widower for nearly 20 years now, so it was hard when I married a German and moved so far away from home. The times we do get to see each other are really special and always packed with laughs. This year, my real father's day comes a few days late... and I can't wait!