September 04, 2017

Door #88

When I first posted the simple poem below it was immediately mis-interpreted. Within minutes I began seeing congratulatory comments about retiring. I was quickly reminded of how careful we must be with our words. I am not retiring. I don't want to retire. I do not like the word retire. In fact my plan is to work myself into the ground at a ripe old age. This piece in fact, is about fighting back. It's about standing your ground and yelling at the top of your lungs when you feel someone pushing you from behind.

One of the centerpieces of my book shelf is, "Working," a book written by author Studs Terkel in 1974. "Working" is a collection of interviews with the working men and women of our country. Armed with a reel-to-reel tape recorder he would interview people from all walks of life trying to reveal how, "ordinary people" feel about their working lives. Since he's not here to interview me I guess I'll speak my piece on my own. 

Ironically 1974 is the year my wife and I were married and the year I began my "working career." The days of spending my summer job money on dirt bikes and Converse All-Stars was over. Raising a family with a high school education involves dedication and commitment. When you add in two sons it involves long hours and seven day work weeks; none of which I would trade for the world. 

Work to me is a privilege. There are millions of people in thousands of countries all over the world, including our own, who would give their right arm for a steady job. I've always had one or two. I see that as a gift, not something I want to toss to the curb. Retirement is not entitlement. To do something so hard for so long, so you don't have to do something, doesn’t work in my head. If you've spent a lifetime doing something you didn't enjoy I feel sorry for you. I have spent a lifetime collecting side splitting work anecdotes, all of which I cherish like a wad of $100 bills. The more I write this piece the more passionate I become about it. Hundreds and hundreds of unforgettable characters have crossed my path during my forty-three years of working. I can't express the joy I get out of knowing I carry a sliver of memory about all of them with me every day. 

Who built the seven towers of Thebes?
The books are filled with the names of kings.
Was it kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?…
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished 
Where did the masons go?… 
—Bertolt Brecht

I’ve always considered myself the most average man in America. Average height, average intelligence, average life. I see that as the greatest gift you could imagine. If I was above average I would have more to worry about losing. If I was below average I would always be searching for something greater. I feel like I enjoy the best of both worlds. I can strive for more but if I am happy living in the middle of the field why not enjoy the view in all four directions. Work keeps me honest. It helps me better appreciate what I have, while showing more compassion for those who are simply trying to poke their heads above water. Unless I’m broken I need a reason to set my alarm every night. I kid about being a shit-fixer at work. There is an army of us. If I didn’t have shit to fix I’d probably go stark raving mad. Yes, there’s plenty of shit fixing to do at home but the pay is much lower. And, sometimes at home I break more shit than I fix. 

I hope this short disclaimer helped to clear up any misunderstanding about me retiring. It’s not happening. When I’m ready I’ll be sure to let someone know.  


Not yet.

Right now, I just want to know what time to set my alarm for?  


Door #88

By John R. Greenwood

feeling out of place can happen to anyone
it creeps up on you without warning

a fiberglass cow loses its way
a barn, a pasture, a warehouse loading dock

take her to the fair and celebrity kicks in
I, on the other hand, lost at sea

retirement, a word I hate, stalks me
relevancy, a word I chase, eludes me

the next phase is a mine-field
avoidance prolongs the implosion

the scent of impending doom 
spreads a damp fog above

my scrappiness, like a Trump lie
doubles down, ready to start kicking and screaming 

August 17, 2017

Moving Adventure

Moving Adventure 
By John R. Greenwood

The Play Set's New Home! 
My cell phone buzzed Friday afternoon around three o'clock. It was my son Kevin. 



This is the way conversations between men begin these days. 

"Where are you?" 

When sons throw this one out at you right off the bat, listening to the tone of their voice is paramount. In this case it was more--I need an extra set of hands--versus I just ran off the road. Voice tone recognition is an acquired skill when you raise two sons. In this case I sensed a tone of immediacy and crossed fingers. 

"I'm sitting in the supermarket parking lot. Your mother just ran in to grab something. Why, what's up?" 

"I'm trying to get a crew together." 

Gulp, this sounds like more than, I need a hand moving the fridge.

"I bought a used swing set from a lady but I have to take it apart and move it" 

SuperFriend Jim and his life-saving equipment
Swing sets today aren't like the simple four-legged, two seater's I remember in other people's yards. Today's backyard play sets are more massive than the ones you used to find at the school playground. They come equipped with rock climbing walls and monkey bars, tree forts above and sandboxes below. Some cost more than my first car. For the son with three boys between the ages of four years and four months, a backyard play extravaganza could be considered a true necessity. Even though I had the day off and had planned to make some headway on my home repair list I knew this was one of those times when you respond with an immediate, "I'm in". Within the hour "The Crew" and their equipment were pulling up in front of the homeowners property like we were about to begin filming an episode of Extreme Makeover. Minutes later we had accessed the backyard by removing two sections of stockade fence. This allowed us to back right up to the play set. Then like a swat team we began unbolting and disassembling. Because the set was only two years old the hardware was in relatively good shape and everything came apart easily. Less than 45 minutes later three friends and one grandfather had everything apart and safely strapped to a trailer. Like a team of professional house movers we caravanned across and out of town on route to the swing set's new home. 


This text message from my wife sums up the Friday afternoon adventure perfectly:
"I was so lucky to be looking out the kitchen window to see the trucks go by the house with the play set. All of you men bringing a big surprise for 3 little boys. They will be so excited!! Love you guys!" 

Climbing Caleb
This was one of those events you dig out of your memory bank several times throughout your life. Whether you're the two or four year-old child or the thirty or sixty-something father or grandfather, projects that involve multiple friends and family like this one, you don't forget them. They stick to your brain like the taste of ice cream or the smell of a pine log campfire. I knew as I watched my grandsons absorbing the sight of this monstrosity rolling up in front of their house that someday after I was long gone, they would look back and smile on the memory. They will tell their sons and daughters how their father executed such a monstrous task just for them. While the world was going mad just outside this quiet little neighborhood, I was witnessing heaven and one of those small little priorities we all need to pay more attention to. The joy those little boys will have on that play set pale in comparison to the joy a father experiences watching them. My sons are good sons and better fathers. They teach their sons right from wrong and they make them laugh. They drive by the golf course to take their sons to the park or hockey practice. They wear worn out work boots so their sons can have fresh out-of-the-box sneakers. They make me proud. The friends they have accumulated make me proud too. 

Thank you Jim and Jeff for the friendship you've shown my son. Thank your wives and your own children too for sharing you on this Friday night after-work adventure. Thank you to both of my sons for putting your families first. Someday soon you too will be a grandfather looking back in admiration and joy on the life you've created. That's when the old work boot dividends begin to come in by the swing set full. 

Look out World! 


July 23, 2017

Greenwood Stick Farm

Greenwood Stick Farm
By John R. Greenwood

Greenwood Stick Farm 
I own and operate the, Greenwood Stick Farm here in the foothills of the Adirondacks. It’s a 3/4 acre farm speckled with maple trees. They vary in height, girth, and degree of decay. Decay, if you didn’t know, is a friend of the Stick Farmer. It provides a never ending crop.  

Stick Farming is in my blood. Ever since I was young I’ve been involved in Stick Farming. It began around the time I reached double digits. My first harvest was on my friends property high atop “The Hill” in my hometown of Greenfield Center,NY. His family lived on one of the largest Stick Farms in Upstate NY. It consisted of acre upon acre of mature old maples whose branches seemed to rain down in an endless downpour of cracks, snaps, and crashes. Stick Farming on the “The Hill” required the involvement of all family members. Outside stick-pickers were subcontracted at $5.00 per three hours of sticks picked. The older more tenured stick-pickers (big brothers) had the more cushy job. They got to drive the pickup around collecting the harvested stick piles. The fun part came when the truck bed was full (?), and we got to jump in the back and ride the side-rail of the pickup down the hill to the, “Pile”. Unloading a freshly harvested crop of sticks is a lot more fun than loading, and the ride back to the stick-field was also faster and more exciting. It inevitably included a spinout or two followed by a gravel spinning run up the back driveway. As I look back, it wasn’t work at all. It was the most fun a boy could have growing up. Stick Farming and Leaf Harvesting provided me with more blisters and enjoyment than you could ever write a check for. I relive those wonderful memories every time I drive by “The Hill”. 

Third Generation Stick Farmer Caleb G. 
Now, though The Greenwood Stick Farm is much smaller and less exciting, I still enjoy the sights and smells of a post-storm harvest of a maple-stick crop. The farm is in good hands too. My grandson Caleb has inherited the stick-farmer gene. The first thing he does when he gets here to the farm is open the barn (cluttered garage) and pull out his John Deere. Within minutes he’s happily harvesting the current crop of sticks. Endless circles around the yard reveal sticks of every proportion and in the process the lawn smiles greenly as the weight of the world is lifted from it’s shoulders. 

Husqvarna Addict hiding from his wife
When my son asked why Caleb was so eager to help his grandfather harvest sticks but seemed disinterested in harvesting sticks in his own backyard I gladly explained. My sticks are organic and grow naturally. The sticks in his yard were the result of a chainsaw wielding father who became addicted to the roar of his Husqvarna and didn’t know when to say when. Those sticks are less brittle. The feel and texture are not the same as those grown and harvested naturally via Mother Nature’s wrath. A true stick farmer knows and appreciates the difference.  

Bumper Crop!
I’m sure this piece will stir the emotions and memories of some fellow stick farmers out there. I want to share one last sentiment. Life is pretty special. The news that gurgles up these days would make you think otherwise. There comes a time in the day or week where we have to disengage our minds from the madness and chaos that seems as endless as a crop of sticks. If we don’t pull over and park for a minute, we will have missed the point of being here. Whether you derive joy from painting a landscape, riding a Harley, reeling in a bass, or walking the dog, it’s important to breathe the experience like it was your last. Happiness doesn’t need to include Disney or a Carnival Cruise. A pause on the way to the mailbox to savor the sight and sound of a passing flock of geese can soften a bad day. Wisdom doesn’t come from age, it comes from those little non-distinct pauses we take and how we absorb them. 

An old stick farmer once said,“Happiness can come before, during, or after the storm. The anticipation of a crack of thunder can heighten the senses. Viewing a lightening strike across town can make you appreciate the fact you're in the safety of your home. The rainbow that follows and the sight of a robin yanking up a juicy worm from the soggy side-yard should make you glad to be alive. The resulting blanket of fresh sticks strewn across your property should have you stomping in the puddles and smiling like a kid."

If not, you may have missed a turn. 

Go back and start again. 

Happy stick pickin’!  

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