Saturday morning as the sun rose I was sitting by the bedside of my dying father and I had to take this photograph. The scene said so much to me about the state of things at that moment. I had brought him home 9 days earlier and with the help of hospice we were going to send him on his way from the comfort of his own home.
I put his bed in the living room so he would be surrounded with the things he loved and the sunlight could stream in around us all.
There is an African proverb that says, “When and old man dies a library burns to the ground”. These words have gone through my head for the past few weeks knowing the wealth of knowledge we were about to lose.
My father spent his entire life working. He went from high school to the Navy in 1951 during the Korean conflict. He traveled to many different ports, all of which were on the opposite side of the world from Korea.
Once out of the Navy he began working for the power company in Worcester. The building of Yankee Atomic brought his young family to Rowe and he began as one of the original crew. He and my mother bought a ramshackled house on Potter Rd. and he set about improving it. There was no running water, heat or foundation under the house. He’d work by day and every evening would work on improvements. Starting with the basics and moving to comforts.
He began a little menagerie of animals at the time as well. A cat, a couple of goats, a horse. He loved his animals dearly. He moved an old garage from miles away with the help of friends and placed it in the back of the house for their shelter.
All of his hobbies/projects were always on a grand scale. His love of steam came from a childhood spent on his grandfather’s farm that was along the railroad tracks where he watched the train’s daily runs.
He moved his family and animals to Fort Pelham Farm in 1967 and went on a quest to have his own locomotive but ended up with a collection of steam engines and steam-powered equipment that came to him more easily.
He received a grant for using a renewable energy source to power his sawmill with steam and spent a couple of years putting together an amazing network of machinery that allowed him to saw boards while also heating the house with the residual steam from the boiler. It was a sight to behold when running and blowing the whistle when everything was up to steam would let the entire town know what was going on.
While he was working at the plant and at his hobbies he enlisted in the Air Force Reserves out of Westover where he served for many years including active duty for Desert Storm as a loadmaster and in vehicle maintenance.
He retired from Yankee in 1988 and started up his little business making patio furniture keeping him busy into his seventies.
In his later years we talked a lot about weaving and the processes that were used in the woolen mills of his childhood. His parents and grandparents were all part of the weaving community as he grew up. After the flood of 1955 his father bought all of the looms in the weave room at Charlton Woolens for junk and they spent weeks welding pieces of the looms together to make a few running machines out of the many parts that they had. This was the beginning of Alix Woolens, a dream his father had. My father didn’t understand weaving but he knew how the looms worked and as I learned to weave he was right there learning with me, making sure my loom was put together properly and talking about the differences between what they had done and what I was doing.
He talked about weaving until his last few days actually. Partly knowing I was interested but also because I think it brought him back to something he was so fond of. A time when he was working with his father, figuring out how to make a complicated piece of machinery out of so many parts. Firing it up and having it work. He had such pride in that particular accomplishment and I think he was also grateful for his part in helping his father realize a dream. One of my earliest memories is going to my grandfather’s mill and listening to the looms run in the weave room.
So the library burned on Saturday. I have no one to ask about the mechanics of the house. I can only take a guess at where water lines to the barn might be. I have a vague understanding of the septic and sewer or where to buy replacement parts for the cupola on the garage. But I can look around me everywhere and see signs of him (some good, some not so good) and know his presence will be felt here for the rest of my life through the big things and the small.
I’m quite sure there will be many things that I will never understand, those projects begun and walked away from. A universal understanding by anyone who creates anything – sometime things just don’t work out the way you’d planned so they are abandoned. My abandoned projects are quite small in stature compared to the things that make up the amazing collection that is our backyard.
So rest in peace Dad, and thanks for being the crazy, eccentric, brilliant guy that you were. You made our lives interesting and I think you may have taught us to follow our dreams no matter how quirky they might seem.