The Woodpile
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The PRESS BOX

 The Woodpile

By Maria Daddino

 My mother and Aunt Millie were sisters—inseparable sisters—the Yin-Yang of “sister-dom.” They sewed together, cooked together, cleaned together. In fact, the “Dolly Sisters,” as they were lovingly called, did just about everything together, including raising me!

 And for 90-plus years, they never lived farther apart than upstairs and downstairs from one another.

 My father and uncle “tolerated” this unique relationship because, deep down in their hearts, they knew that they really couldn’t do anything about it. Long before it had become common knowledge, my mother and aunt had perfected the “good guy-bad guy” routine, and together they were a fearsome combination—the quintessential “Queens of Guilt!”

 When I bought my first house, my father and uncle began to vie for my attention. They loved to help me and because I was creative and loved projects, things worked out fine. Each had his individual talent and I always knew who to ask to do what.

 Uncle John had the patience of a saint and was a perfectionist. My father did not pay too much attention to time-consuming details, but he did get things done very quickly.

 Between the two of them, I had the best of both worlds.  

So, when I ordered my first cord of wood and Uncle John heard the cost of the stacking fee, he volunteered. For years, I had the most perfectly stacked woodpile. The wood came off the pile in a logical sequence and all the logs were exactly the same size.  

It was almost a work of art. The downside was that it took Uncle John several days to do it.  

One year, Uncle John had surgery and my father offered to stack the logs. While it wasn’t quite the masterpiece that I was accustomed to seeing, my father did finish stacking the logs in only a few hours.

The fall that year was quite warm and because there was no need to light a fire, I hadn’t bothered to bring in any logs from my woodpile.  

Christmas Day arrived and I was putting the finishing touches on my dinner as I had done so many times before. But this year it was different. This would be my first “solo” celebration since my divorce had become final. My entire family would be coming, including my former husband, and it was very important for me to show everyone that I could do it all on my own.  

The Christmas tree touched the ceiling and was filled with glittering decorations. The table was set with my good china and crystal. The crown pork roast was in the oven and the house smelled as only a home can on Christmas.  

The only thing that needed to be done was to light a blazing fire.  

I asked my oldest son, Tommy, to bring in logs for the fire. When he didn’t come back, I sent out my middle son, Bobby, to see what was keeping his older brother. And when both Tommy and Bobby didn’t come back, I sent out Michael to see what his big brothers were up to.  

When Michael finally came back in, he told me that his brothers were having a hard time getting the logs off the woodpile because they were “stuck” together. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I grabbed my coat and marched out into the bitter cold, sure that my mischievous boys were up to something.  

But there my sons were, nearly turning blue, trying to pull logs off the woodpile. And, incredulously, they had just figured out that someone—it couldn’t really have been grandpa, could it?—had nailed the edges of the woodpile together, allowing only the logs in the center to be removed.  

As winter progressed, I began to think of the woodpile as “artistic” as it reminded me of a thick rectangular frame, with oval matting, waiting for a picture to be inserted into its empty center.  

Both my father and uncle are gone now and when my sons and I sit beside the fire, reminiscing and telling stories, we realize it is not the perfect memories that put big smiles on your face but the colorful ones.

 

Maria Daddino writes the “From Fourth Neck” column for The Southampton Press Western Edition.

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