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Firewood, Loaded or Unloaded

by N. Ray Maxie
N. Ray Maxie
"Put another log on the fire," is always a very good request on a long, cold wintry day. I know because I have always been enthusiastic about firing up the old fireplace. There is no nicer experience than to sit in front of a crackling fire, warming your hands and feet, while visiting with family and friends. At the same time, munching on roasted peanuts or maybe those good Texas pecans. Some might say it's even a good place for cuddling and snuggling, if you're bent on doing that sort of thing.

My family, for a hundred and fifth years, has lived in the great timberlands of Northeast Texas. Only two generations back, before rural gas and electricity came along, they depended entirely upon wood for all their heating and cooking needs. Today, my family and I choose to use a gas log instead of wood in our fireplace. Oh, believe me, I love to burn that wood and quite often still do so at campouts or bar-b-ques. But honestly, I think it must be man's basic primitive instinct to want to burn wood.

Born right after the Great Depression in Cass County Texas, I soon found that it wasn't exactly the greatest time and place to discover America. Sometime later, my family and I lived on the Rambo Oil Lease in the Rodessa oil field. Rambo was a large African American community and we had many friends in and around that area. One of them was an old black man named Fred Harper. He must have been in his late sixties or early seventies. Back then, a really "old" man to me. Many people just called him Uncle Fred. He had family living not to many miles away, but he chose to live alone. Fred kept a very neat and clean homestead. The yard was always immaculate and upon visiting in his home on occasion, I found it the same way. I believe that he had learned neatness and organization when he served in the US Army many years earlier. Some say that our military does have ways that seem to teach certain disciplines. Fred was a pleasant law abiding citizen.

Uncle Fred, every fall would manage to cut and split a large stack of firewood to serve him throughout the coming long winter months. He must have cut, split and neatly stacked about two cords of wood every year. Most everybody in that area then, was fond of stacking their wood between a couple of trees that were maybe twelve to sixteen feet apart. Otherwise, they had to dig holes and set two post about that far apart to hold their stack of wood. So, you can see that it was just much more convenient to use the trees for that purpose. Provided the trees were close and convenient enough. The two trees Fred used were only a few steps from his house. And he really had a nice, neat stack of wood between those trees. But, maybe it was stacked too close to the road running by out in front of his house.

The year must have been about 1950 or '51, in the dead of winter. Before long, Fred began to notice that more wood than HE was using, began disappearing from his stack Now Fred wasn't entirely opposed to sharing his wood with needy folk, only they needed to arrange for it in the proper fashion. Not steal it.

Fred knew, as did most folk that preparing firewood for use was hard work and it could warm you at least four different times. First when you felled the tree, cutting it into short pieces. Next when you chopped or split it into neatly stacked useable pieces, between two trees. Next when you later brought it into the house placing it in the wood-box near the fireplace. But, lastly and most importantly, when you laid a few sticks in the fireplace, got it to burning real good and sat back in your rocking chair to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Some of Fred's wood kept disappearing almost every night. At that time there was little law and order in that remote part of the county and he soon became impatient and intolerant of the indolent thieves. With all of that hard work he had put in slowly disappearing, he decided to try and stop the loss of his wood. Soon he hit upon a long proven and effective idea. An almost certain way to stop the thief. Fred took a brace and bit, e.i; an old fashion, manually operated drill, the forerunner of our modern day cordless electric drill. He drilled a quarter inch hole in several pieces of wood placed up on top of his stack. In each of those holes, he inserted one .22 caliber rifle shell. He then closed or sealed each hole with a little piece of the tree bark. Fred wisely made certain that he would know which pieces he had "fixed". He definitely did not want them to wind up in his own fireplace.

For the next night or two, the firewood thefts continued. Then, suddenly and noticeably they stopped. Everyone wonder why? But Uncle Fred knew why. And, to my knowledge, no one in the area ever reported an injury or death from .22 rifle bullets. But, knowing some people in the badlands area, they wouldn't have reported it if they had been a victim of loaded firewood.

Life goes on and Fred absolutely and effectively solved his disappearing wood problem.
N. Ray Maxie
"Ramblin' Ray" January 15, 2006
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