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Hash Browns, Side Pork, and Cold Whole Milk

January 26, 2004

Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad. The performance was live in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a song I learned in second grade about the Erie Canal keep running through my head throughout the show. I don't recall the words, but I do remember sketches in the songbook of rather handsome men in boots with sleeves rolled up high and shovels and piles of dirt and sweaty brows and a hot sun. I've always had the impression the people in Erie work hard.

I admire hard workers, always have. When I was young, every Saturday (except in the winter months) before 6 AM, my father walked on into our bedrooms while we were still asleep and hollered, "GIT UP! Time to cut wood!" And we rolled out of our beds, my brothers and I, and pulled on torn up old Levis and flannel shirts and workboots or hightop sneakers and stumbled down the seventeen steps to the kitchen where my mother waited with buttermilk pancakes or French toast, hash browns, side pork and cold whole milk. We sat around the big dining room table trying to wake up while my father read the paper and Mom refilled our glasses and asked did we want more pork or pancakes? The old Ford pickup was burgundy—my father named it "Ruby"—and we climbed up into the back and rode in the cold or wet or humid air out to the back woods of Wisconsin, to the eighty acres my parents owned somewhere in Chippewa County.

We spent the day there filling the truck bed with the wood my father split, stacking wood in piles between trees, running off to find wild blueberries when we got caught up, looking for lizards or deer remains or traps, hoping secretly to stumble upon a lost safe deposit box or a human body. We cursed at each other, and threw rocks and smoked a cigar we found in the glove compartment of Ruby. By the time we'd return, there was more wood to load so we loaded it until our forearms were scratched up and our backs ached like all getout.

On the drive home, my father rolled the windows down and whistled the song Spider John sang on Saturday's show—"Midnight Special." Riding high on cut wood, hanging on to the sides of the truck for our own lives, we sang along, throwing in our own words when we weren't sure, hollering "EVER-LOVIN' LIGHT ON ME!" at the intersection in town, feeling but not acknowledging it was the work of the day, the hard hard work, that got us singing, that brought a whistle to our father's lips and a wild-eyed grin when he took that last hill a bit too fast and we screamed and nearly went flyin'.

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