Mention a logger, and most people instantly imagine a huge, rough-mannered desecrator of forests, maidens and all things holy. In the words of a folk song made popular a few years ago by Jimmy Rodgers and other folk singers:
I can tell that you are a logger
and not just a common bum,
for nobody but a logger
stirs coffee with his thumb!
Today, though, logging is rapidly becoming a thing of sophisticated machinery and computers, local songs and stories still paint a wild picture of the old-time logger, his girls and his towns. Some of these narratives are uncomfortably accurate, rooted as legends often are actual occurances. But Daddy was different.
By the time I was 10, I had heard all of the tamer logger stories and quite a few of the not-so-tame ones. Even at such a tender age, I realized my father wasn't exactly the common woods variety of logger.
Lean and tall as the trees he helped harvest, Daddy was bigger and stronger than Paul Bunyan in my eyes. With his wavy black hair and huckleberry blue eyes, little wonder that Mama would bundle the three of us children into the car late at night and go looking for him when he wasn't home on time. On those occasions, we'd always meet him somewhere along the way with one last load of logs, heading for the mill, and then home for a few short hours of rest.
Mama lived in daily terror of his truck crashing into a ravine or river under a full load of logs. Except for ravines and weak bridges, though, she really needn't have worried about Daddy. The girls who followed the logging camps couldn't have held a candle to Mama's snapping black eyes and luxurious dark hair, and if she didn't know this, Daddy did.
I adored Daddy, as only a small, wide-eyed daughter can love her father. He was my own shining knight, and his faithful steed was the giant truck he drove. The earth fairly trembled when Daddy's truck approached, and we could hear him coming home at night while he was still five miles away.
Unlike most of his fellow loggers, Daddy didn't smoke or drink, and I can't remember anyone ever questioning that. I suspect, though, that in his early logging days, his huge fists helped convince anyone who dared suggest he was less than a man for not cultivating these two habits. Fight he could, and sometimes did, but not with malice or aforethought.
If a cocky newcomer to camp made the mistake of challenging Daddy, he could expect to be thoroughly trounced, much to the delight of the other loggers. No bully, Daddy would help his opponent up afterwards, and treat him like a friend from that point on. Strangely enough, the men he had whipped were his totally committed and very respectful friends.
Daddy had a certain set of principles which he disciplined and protected as zealously as he did his children, and his fists were as swift as his temper when anyone threatened either of the two.
Among his principles were a kind of dogmatic, stubborn respect for his truck, his country, women, (those who were "ladies" in his judgment, at least) and the woods.
His children consisted of three of us: my older brother and greatest tormentor, a sister who was between us in age and often in fights, and myself, the youngest and a girl, despite Daddy having ordered a boy when my turn came. I tried with all my might to be that boy Daddy had wanted, and often ended up in great trouble because of my efforts.
As a scrawny, long-legged 10-year-old, I stayed one summer with Daddy while he worked away from our home. My brother and sister stayed with Mama on the farm in the lush, wet Willamette Valley of Oregon, while I rode gloriously to camp with Daddy. The vicinity where he was hauling logs was along the Oregon coast, and his trailer sat among those of his co-workers and their families in a pleasant grove of trees.
The morning after our arrival, I was busily sweeping out Daddy's trailer when the camp boss sauntered by, accompanied by a weathered fellow-logger. Winking at his companion, the boss remarked, "Well, looks like Lyle got himself a woman!"
With candid 10-year-old earnestness, I exclaimed, "Oh no, sir! I'm only his daughter," much to their delighted (and well-concealed) amusement.
I basked in the thrill of that remark for the entire summer, imagining myself resembling the sexy, much older looking starlets I admired in the movie magazines hidden under my mattress. I was careful to square my shoulders to better display my 26-inch bust, and kept my likewise 26-inch flat-tummied waistline sucked in whenever I walked about the trailer camp. So began the end of my efforts to be a boy.
I often rode with Daddy on his hauls that summer and was awed into unusual silence by the huge diesel-engine Autocar truck which was Daddy's and the bank's (rather than belonging to the lumber company he worked for). The truck was red and white and her name, "Hardly Able" was lovingly painted on her doors. She was hardly "Hardly Able." A huge monster whose length seemed to measure a city block when loaded, and whose cab felt like a tower to a small girl, she could roar up and down narrow, incredibly steep logging roads with gleeful vigor.
Bouncing along in the big seat alongside Daddy, I would strain to see over the nose of "Hardly Able" to where the road was, but in vain. Her enormous muzzle seemed to swallow the entire road, and every curve in the cruelly winding logging roads revealed steep ravines on one side or another. On these roads, Daddy strained and swore at the wheel, wrestling the huge truck and her load along.
Watching as he skillfully shifted gears on the dual transmission and coaxed just the right RPM from the Herculean engine, I knew that driving a log truck was no pastime for a small person.
Occasionally, in a relaxed mood on a straight road with no load, Daddy would let me shift a gear. The gear change that he accomplished with a sure flick of a wrist forced me to brace my feet on the lower dash and use both arms in a frantic skirmish with the transmission. Usually, Daddy would end up having to tap the gear into place after I had ground on it too long. After a rare, successful execution of a gear change on my part, I would be overwhelmed with elation, thinking I had saved Daddy from some terribly tiring chore, I didn't realize that for him, a gear-change was like scratching behind an ear.
Daddy didn't smoke or drink, but he could turn the air purple with his language. It's probably not too surprising that I picked up a few of his favorite expletives and used them with great solemnity. No doubt, to others, the sight of a wraith-like 10-year-old girl using large swear words she didn't understand was highly amusing. Although daddy had a huge and versatile sense of humor, it didn't quite extend far enough to cover this area. While the other loggers whooped with glee, he would scold me with a look of hurt bewilderment.
"Don't you want to grow up to be a nice young lady?" he'd ask in a grieved tone.
This became the source of our one big disagreement from that time on. Inheriting his stubbornness, I wasn't about to admit that I was wrong, and so continued to be a swaggering mini-logger in language. Becoming a "nice young lady" seemed like the most boring idea in the world to me.
Daddy had a very strict behavioral code concerning things that men and ladies did or didn't do. At the very top of his list of musts for men was hunting. This was the only aspect of his personality that pained me. I dearly loved animals and, along with Mama, mourned their deaths for any reason. Hunting seemed senseless and cruel to us.
In Daddy's opinion, men did not eat soup or chocolate ice cream. They did not wear cologne, and never, never wore hats. For weddings and funerals, Daddy would ruefully wear his one good suit, and easily be the handsomest man attending with his shining bare head visible above the rest.
Among his requirements for ladies were two particularly vehement ones. Ladies DID wear their hair long and shiny clean, and ladies DID NOT swear. With my cropped head and logger language, I'm afraid I never quite made the grade in that department with Daddy. Not that summer, anyway.
Considered a bit of a visionary but some, Daddy had a real love and respect for the forests and believed in selective cutting and clean logging practices. This, along with his painfully honest personality, often led to clashes with the bosses of the larger timber companies. Consequently, Daddy usually ended up hauling for the smaller outfits whose operations were small-scale enough not to require strip logging.
He'd get a sad, faraway look in his eyes, and say, "Someday, there'll be big towns and houses here instead of these trees."
I'd look wonderingly at the vast, sweeping forests stretching up the hillsides and back down to the valleys, and try to imagine houses instead of trees.
Sensitive and gentle despite his great size and strength, Daddy loved pointing out a rare wildflower or bird to me, and took delight in escorting visitors into the logging woods to show them the beauty of the forest environment.
When a dread forest fire occurred during the hot summer months, Daddy was the first one on the line, and would fight the hated fires without food or erst until the last spark was out.
In one of central Oregon's most notorious fires, which leveled thousands of acres of timberland, Daddy fought night and day for 36 hours without food or rest. Finally, he was joined by another group of firefighters, and one of them had with him some Limburger cheese. Daddy was so ravenous, he ate the smelly stuff, and for years afterwards, marveled aloud at himself for having done so.
"Limburger cheese" became the family funny words and their very mention was sure to inspire delighted laughter from everyone except Mama. She couldn't forget the days and nights not knowing if Daddy was dead or alive during that awful fire.
The years passed all too swiftly. I grew up, finished school and left home to work in San Francisco. Coming home from the City from time to time, I ached with the knowledge that Daddy was no longer a young man.
From my full-grown height, he no longer seemed like Paul Bunyan, and his hair was turning to silver. His hearing became poor, no doubt from the roaring of the trucks he had driven for so many years, and his back pained him. His logging days were far behind him.
His special magic never changed, though, and no young man could ever measure up to Daddy in the eyes of his youngest daughter ("... my baby daughter ...") who was finally resigned to being that "nice young lady" he had spoken of, complete with long hair and cleaned-up vocabulary. At 20, I still adored him with the ferocious love of a 10-year-old heart.
Today, all of that seems like a lifetime ago. Mama lives alone now, in a small house in town. The lovely farm in the valley has been sold. I'm married to a man who did measure up, and we have a baby son of our own. But the years have never dimmed the image of Daddy, my tough-fisted, tender-hearted knight with his great red and white diesel-engine steed.
During those almost-20 years since I was 10, as society's emphasis has shifted from brawn to brain, from ruggedness to education, I've remained proud of the memory of Daddy, that most contradictory combination of toughness and sensitivity, of quick-fistedness and kindness, ever found in mortal man --- that fast-disappearing phenomenon known as "a logger".
In a couple of years, when our little boy is old enough to understand, I'm going to take him on my lap, and bringing out my private treasure box of priceless memories, I'll begin by saying,
"My Daddy was a logger..."