Scenes From a Jeep

Scenes From a Jeep

Monday, June 3, 2013

Wood Peace

That's a lot of wood. The Jeep came across this pile of recently felled trees stacked at a local saw mill. A nearby site had been cleared for construction, and the logs were being milled for use as lumber on the project. The saw mill workers were giddy with excitement, since it was the biggest job they had ever seen. However, my reaction to the giant log pile was a bit different. It triggered a flashback to the summer of 1980, a small tornado, a university professor, thirty international graduate students, several kegs of beer, and possible proof that all men could actually live together in peace. Care to read on?
I was ten years old in Baltimore, Maryland, and just getting my summer vacation started. The university professor in question was my father. Coming from New Jersey, he was a different kind of professor than was the norm in Baltimore. He too was starting his summer off right, introducing Jersey-rule stick ball to the neighborhood kids, and making his grad students, grown men, cry as he would hurl their thesis drafts at them, cursing with words that required a stoic Italian translator. Nothing, we thought, could ruin this summer of fun. But our summer plans were about to change...
We had seen plenty of Baltimore's afternoon thunderstorms, but this one was particularly nasty, taking out several of the 200-year-old oaks that dotted our neighborhood. Some say they saw a tornado come right up the street. Whatever it was, it ripped the trees out of the ground like you would pluck daisies from the garden. Two of the massive trees were in our back yard, and had fallen domino-style onto our newly built shed, which if I ever find a Jeep scene of a shed would merit its own story. Dad, the do-it-yourself professor, later paid the tree man only enough to cut the trees into large sections measuring 8 to 10 feet around and about 3 feet high. This is where the graduate students and beer enter the story.
For a few weeks, my brother and I did what you're supposed to do with giant logs. We built a fort, and covered it proper with a roof made of bark – there was plenty laying around. But the fort was doomed. Dad woke us up one Saturday morning and said “Fellas, it's time to split the logs”. I asked how we were going to do that, but I should have known the obvious answer that followed... “We have to go to the liquor store and get the beer”.  Never question the wisdom of a New Jersey college professor. He has a rare combination of accredited book knowledge and Animal House ingenuity that can be found nowhere else.
You see, Dad had told his graduate students that he was having a beer garden party at the house, and that they were all “invited”. There was just a little yard work to do first. He set up the kegs of beer, along with a variety of wood splitting instruments such as axes, sledge hammers, iron wedges, and something called a Monster Maul, which I believe is illegal in many states that are otherwise fine with things like assault rifles.
His plan was perfect. There are two things that a graduate student cannot refuse... free beer, and the request for help from the one man that holds their life in his hands, the professor. Dad had them cornered. They all arrived on time, like bugs to a light, and soon had a beer in one hand and an ax in the other. Genius.
Soon, the wood splitting and beer drinking began in earnest, each student trying to out-split and out-drink the other. My brother and I were ordered to stay and help. We could barely lift a Monster Maul, so our job was to hold the iron wedges steady while the students with sledge hammers swung those over our heads. As the afternoon wore on, their aim steadily worsened. I would try to balance the wedge and run before the hammer came down. I don't remember seeing my mother for much of the day. She probably couldn't bear to watch. It was the kind of scene that would today result in child welfare outrage, but we didn't care. Child Social Services wasn't as big a thing back then, and we were having a good time. And that's when I saw it... the potential for all men to live together in peace.
Present that day were representatives from all the world's major conflicts. Dad's students came from all over. There was an Orthodox Jew from Israel, and a Muslim refugee of the Iranian Revolution. There was an Englishman telling me “Stupid Irishman” jokes. When he got up to re-fill his beer, the Irishman came over and told me the same jokes, but his were about the “Stupid Englishman”. There were Russians that escaped the Iron Curtain, Germans, Greeks, Africans, Asians, and even the occasional American.
All of these representatives from warring nations were gathered together, having available to them all of mankind's most basic and primitive weapons... the stick, hammer, and ax. But there was not even a hint of animosity or threat of violence. But why? 
It was because there were three things there that day, any one of which by itself could prevent war and make friends out of enemies. But in his wisdom, or more likely by accident, Dad had all three at his wood-splitting beer garden party... there was a strong authority figure, a manly show-off job to be done, and free draft beer. World peace. Nailed it!