Splinters

Peacock Journal 2017

 

 

We were on our knees, my grandfather, my uncle and me and we each had an axe with a metal square on the opposite side of the blade. We used this to drive the nails into the tongue of the oak floor of the bakery. My knees hurt as did my puny twelve-year old arms but my uncle worked away and let out a pssst from his mouth every time he hit a nail. The nails were flat, long and triangular and didn’t have sharp points. My uncle kept his blue and white handkerchief on the floor and mopped his brow after every new board that we laid down. Both he and my grandfather drove the nail in with one hit–I took two and three and every once in a while I’d hear, “Boychick, don’t be afraid, drive it hard.” That was my grandfather who worked in a puddle of his sweat. It had a smell that I loved. He began schvitzing as soon as he kneeled down to work.

 

“Boychick, you do the next one by yourself, me and Sonny are going to take a break.” They walked over to their thermoses and poured iced tea and grabbed a scooper each dipping it into a barrel and ate and drank until I laid the board in tight and set the next ones for the three of us.

 

I asked what they were eating and they told me poppy seeds and asked if I wanted any and I refused. My uncle took his position on my right and my grandfather on my left and across the cavernous room the bakers baked and the ovens sent out heat towards us and my uncle had no smell but the sweat smell that was my grandfather made me want to do good and not only for the ten dollars a week he paid me but because of all his grandchildren I was the one chosen to work with him.

 

The smell of freshly sawn lumber is one of the greatest smells in the world. To this day I’ll go into a new construction job just for the smell. I got to cut the oak as well as hammer it. They taught me and trusted me and the job took the entire summer and the huge ovens had to be moved to finished floor and we had to rip up old flooring and that’s where the axe blade came in handy. Splinters–we all got splinters and we carried matches and sewing needles to take them out.

 

On the day before the last day we had finished the floor and were doing odds and ends when my grandfather and uncle took their usual break. “Come, Boychick, put down the hammer and join us.” I was trying to get a splinter out of my finger but it had gone deeper. My grandfather struck a match and burned the end of a needle and held my fingers with his steady hand and he scraped the skin and exposed the sliver. He flicked it out with the needle and my uncle poured me a glass of tea that I never drank and it turned out to be 7-Up and my grandfather held out the scoop of poppies for the rolls and said, “Nu. Try it once.” I did and the poppy seeds turned out to be chocolate shots.

 

 

 

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