by Nicholas P. Snoek
Jack doesn't need to spend very much time on the regular school assignments so he's taking some courses by correspondence that aren't regularly available in a small community; some German, some Latin, and he works ahead a year in math. And he reads, and reads, and reads. Such a craving for input!
There is some talk of his skipping a grade but, probably because the teachers realize he does not relate that well socially, it is not done.
He sends away for a taxidermy course, which holds his attention for quite a while. It adds another dimension to his walks in the woods with the .22 rifle.
Jack has long legs and he has a habit, when going down stairways, especially the roomy wide ones at school, of making great bounds, using the hand rails to launch himself over some fifteen steps at a time. Enjoying this, thinking about it at night when he's falling asleep, often leads him into dreams of flying. He pushes off from some sort of railing and, instead of coming down to the bottom of a landing or half way down some steps, he keeps going. Or he stands teetering on the edge of a high flat roof, and when the urge becomes overpowering, lets himself fall forward, describing a down sloping curve and just missing the ground as he sweeps up again.
First he swoops down, and then, by means partly of giving up will, surrendering himself to some power above, and partly by sheer imagination and faith, he starts to rise, and then he flies on and on, over buildings, over trees, over the town. It's wonderful, so free, effortless! He can go anywhere, and look at anything. What freedom! What clarity! But it's so hard to remember, when you wake up, what has all happened.
One day he meets Daniel Sogun, a young fellow who has been skipping grades for a while and is now at the same level as Jack, although he is two years younger.
With most boys it can be said they're always moving, and sometimes thinking; with Daniel the opposite applies, he is always thinking, and sometimes moving. Even philosophical Jack is more active.
Daniel's father is a pharmacist and he's a talker, a member of the town council. Jack's dad is a doer, definitely not a talker. He is totally dedicated to the almost quota per day application of the Puritan work ethic -- it's not at all unusual for Siem to get up at five and work till late, ten or eleven. It sometimes makes Jack feel a bit guilty, to not help out more.
Daniel is the only son of aging parents. He has the large round headed freckled chubbiness complete with upturned snub nose of a young boy, with the bearing, attitude, and mannerisms of an old man. His parents are quite a bit older than the Spiets.
Dan has thin brown hair, a very round protuberant forehead, blue eyes, small hands and feet. Quite solid in the chest. A little shorter than average, he nonetheless carries a lot of presence. He can be totally inflexible when he takes a stand on a question of principle. And that happens with annoying frequency.
His dislike for participating in sports is such that somehow he has managed to get himself excused from physical education classes, first by convincing his parents about its being a total waste of his time, and then by pretty much refusing to go.
He uses something vague about his back. Jack would like to be in that position. It would free up valuable time. But Jack's father isn't on the town council. Too bad.
A class in Effective Living is set aside so that two officers from the Canadian military can give a pep talk on joining the Armed Forces. The ROTP, an officers training program.
The two are in uniform, and the short one with dark hair and a crew cut does all the talking.
"This is about your future, boys. We're suggesting you consider the military as a career. And I think the best prospect you could possibly aim for is to be an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. So we want to tell you about a plan that gives you an opportunity to get your university degree and at the same time establish yourself in an excellent career. Now, I know you boys would rather be anywhere else than in school, but..."
"I resent that." Jack breaks in, with a firm strong voice.
The man is startled, and so is everyone else. He pauses for a moment, then "Well, my apologies to those of you who don't feel that way. However, let me continue. We want to tell you about a way to have an income while you pursue your education."
Jack is quite interested in this opportunity. At the end of the talk he goes up front, to confer with the speaker.
"I'm sorry about interrupting you, but I get really fed up with people assuming we're all of us morons with nothing in our heads but sports and cars."
"That's alright. I guess I just assume everybody feels the same way about school as I did."
"This plan sounds interesting. Have you got some literature I could take home?"
"I can give you these two brochures. If you want to know anything else, just talk to your counsellor."
"Great. Thank you."
On the way to the next class a couple of the other students express their support for Jack. They also felt the officer was patronizing, in making that remark.
This does seem to Jack like a good chance to get his education without being a burden to Mom and Dad, so he talks to them that evening and tells them all about it. He's surprised at Mom's reaction.
"Victor, one of the reasons we came to Canada, and one thing we really like about Canada, is that there is no conscription here. And one part of our lives that we don't want to see any of our children go through is what we experienced in the war. So forget this. There is nothing good or noble or honorable about the army. It's nothing but a way to get yourself shot."
"But Mom, there's not likely to be a war before I get my degree, or even by the time I get out again."
"Your degree will take four or five years after high school. You'll have five years of service after that. We could easily be in another war by that time.
Besides, there's something else you should think about, and that is, the way you feel about authority. How do you think you're going to react to being told exactly what to do and when to do it, no ifs ands or buts."
"Oh, I don't think I'd have to worry about that too much. They're not going to do a lot of that while I'm getting my education."
"That's what you think. Regular soldiers go through a pretty stiff basic training, so don't think officers get any less. I expect your summer holidays will be spent doing that sort of thing. Knowing you as I do, I'd say you'll spend a good part of your time in the stockade. How do you feel about that?"
"You've got a point there. I guess I should think about this some more."
Jack decides on the whole Mom is probably right. He doesn't relish the prospect of having others make his decisions for him, and if some sergeant is going to force him to do some stupid thing just to enforce obedience, there's no telling how far he might go in reaction to that.
He talks it over with Dan, who points out "Vick, you know you don't believe all that garbage about `what a good and honorable thing it is pro patria mori' -- they're going to look for some heartfelt old fashioned patriotism from you, and you're just not going to be able to deliver."
They agree the idea should be abandoned. It's not right for either of them, for about the same reasons -- they would not do well in military life.
Daniel is not mister charming and like Jack, he's anything but popular. He is however, extremely bright, and he and Jack soon start to spend more time with each other. They are quasi-outcasts together, and they regard the bulk of the student body with the detached amusement with which an anthropologist might observe some exotic tribe of crude natives.
As a matter of fact, the other students seem to treat them more or less the way such a tribe might behave towards two anthropologists, with a mixture of awe and mistrust, according them a grudging respect, but not knowing quite what to make of them. Jack and Daniel appreciate and actually enjoy this legitimizing of their offbeat status. It helps them develop and strengthen their identity, although that identity is more or less defined in negatives.
It puzzles Jack that the two of them actually have little in common. What seems to throw them together is being so different from the rest of the students. But they're far from identical. Daniel is very precocious; Jack is radically original.
Jack tends to figure everything out from scratch; a sort of zero based mental structuring. He sets himself a problem and follows it through logically until all of a sudden, feeling silly, he recognizes that this has been done already. He re-invents a pump, and a typewriter. A lot of his efforts turn out to be just exercise, exercises in spatial and pictorial thinking, with nothing to show for his trouble. He remembers, in the barn building episode, how he would work on a problem, trying to figure it out on his own, and then the men would tell him, hold on, here's the way that's done. It was worked out ages ago, probably by somebody in medieval times.
It's summertime again. And Jack, although he is actually too young, has realized that Viktor's papers make it possible for him to lie about his age with some conviction! So he asks for a job at the mill. He has had enough of the sporadic hours and dusty hot conditions that come with haying and field work. The person he talks to is the owner of the sawmill two doors down, a short pear shaped man with a red nose and a loud voice. A Mr. Culke. A drinker, and a man who lives his life to the fullest.
And sure enough, Jack gets a job piling lumber. No questions about his age. And he's not asked what he can do. Be here at seven in the morning. You'll be piling lumber.
He doesn't even have to get on the road to go to work, he can simply cut across the neighbor's back field and walk right through the log yard and into the sawmill.
Pulling lumber is not easy. Some say it's the only job in the mill that requires some intelligence, but Jack doesn't believe that. If there's any truth to it the intelligence must be of some other kind than he's familiar with. He enjoys the work, even if it is hard. It's constructive, and it pays well. And, it's a man's job.
He likes the man talk, too. It's very different from the talk in the meat shop and the slaughterhouse. Tougher, more worldly, almost contemptuous of anything educated or cultured.
Jack doesn't participate a lot, but he listens closely, learning what he can. These are the doers and the builders, right at the bottom end of productivity. Without men like these, all the planning and calculating and investing that others do would come to nothing! Like the prime numbers in math, these are the prime movers of industry -- and no prime motion means no motion. It all starts right here, right here at the bottom.
But the pace is fast, and the green lumber is rough and heavy. Jack is really tired at night. He doesn't have a lot of time for reading. But he reads anyway, and often he has a hard time getting up in the morning.
There's a gangsaw in the mill, and when it starts up it shakes the soft river bottom land so much that sometimes it wakes Jack. When his bed shakes, he knows he will be late for work unless he runs off without even a bite to eat! That's hard!
A gangsaw is a machine to cut up a cant, and a cant is the type of beam you get when you take the outside cut (a slab) off a log, from two sides, so that two sides are still round, and two sides are flat. The gangsaw consists of a heavy frame holding a series, or gang, of tightly stretched bandsaw style blades, usually two inches apart. A motor drives the frame up and down, with a forward motion on the downstroke, the downcut alternating with a free rearward rise so the cant can be fed into the machine at a fairly constant speed. Two sets of horizontal rollers under hydraulic pressure, one in front and one behind the saws, keep the cant from bouncing around.
Bandsaw cutting is different from headsaw cutting. The blade is much thinner, and the teeth are solid, not removable. They are part of the steel band itself. Once the basic shape is manufactured, the teeth are swedged, or compress-shaped, right out of the solid steel. The kerf is small or narrow, and when these teeth get dull the whole blade has to be sent off to get refurbished.
Jack's time with Dan is mostly a weekend affair now. They play a lot of chess. And they take long walks.
Dan's father is a member of the town council and is not so much an alien being to Dan and Jack as the other members of the family. Dan has a younger sister, she's about six years old. He doesn't like her much; he tolerates her. And he doesn't care much for his mom. She seems neurotic to him, to Jack too. Jack wonders if Dan has had any physical contact with his younger sister, because he's quite evasive about male-female relations. He typically changes the subject whenever the discussion goes that way. Has to be some reason for that.
The two boys both have a special place in their respective families, being more or less lieutenant fathers to everyone but the real fathers. Daniel wields a veto on most family activities. In Jack's case it's partly by default, he more or less assumes a role vacated by Dad. It isn't at all unusual for Siem to say not a word during mealtimes, and he seldom looks at anyone he speaks to. A typical way for him to get something across to the rest of the family is to stand at the kitchen window, rinsing his mouth after eating and to say what's on his mind as if he were talking to someone outside.
Then Mom implements or deals with whatever it is, as a mediator or executor. He often gets up very early, five, to go to work, and works till late at night, eleven. His absence as father, in several senses of the word, is one reason Jack jumps in, becoming father to the rest of the kids. But not in a playmate style: as a strong shoulder, a resource, a lower court.
Jack usually leads in saying grace, and he shares with Mom in the supervision of the other children. Sometimes Mom even confers with Jack on dealing with Dad!
One day Dan and Jack are wandering in the school yard.
Dan, "Vick, what if this world is the creation of a junior god. Or maybe, several god kids creating just for the fun of it. And one of them says `Let's make some nice little planets around an itty bitty sun, and put some cute little people on it.' You wouldn't expect a lot from kid gods, would you? They can be excused for messing things up: they're just playing, they're only learning this creating business. Evil in the world, all the metaphysical problems we bump our heads against. It's all just the result of god kids, play learning with sand castles."
Jack "That's kind of interesting. But wouldn't the parent gods be concerned to fix up those worlds?"
"Why? They might not even notice. The toddler gods out in the back yard, making marks in the mud. Who cares?"
At the mill Jack gets to know Krom Latijn. He's a very tall Dutchman, about six seven, who piles lumber alongside Jack, and talks to him constantly. Blue eyes, balding and spare, with a Roman nose, and huge hands and feet. Sort of Ichabod Crane, but with some dignity, and very much an old country Catholic. A decent sort, salt of the earth.
He plies Jack with questions about school, and Jack helps him with the language. Krom tries to lead Jack in moral and religious issues, but refuses to countenance any talk of human evolution. Even Church reform upsets him.
It's Friday evening. Jack has been uptown, and was walking around the block, going nowhere at a steady pace as he often does on weekends, searching the faces of everyone he sees, looking for he knows not what.
He feels his life is empty. He isn't going anywhere. He isn't close to Dan, he isn't close to Krom. He has no friend with whom to share his thoughts and feelings. There is no one like him. Why is that? How can that be?
And he has come home and gone to bed, sunk in a brown study. He tosses and turns, thinking back over everything that has happened. What is it all about? What is it all for?
/// "Hello, Jack. How are you?"
It's Deborah. "Okay, I guess."
"So enthusiastic! What's troubling you? Come on, we may as well get into it. You know what's been on your mind."
"I'd like to know why I don't have any real friends. Other people seem to do that without much trouble. And I would like to know something about human evolution. Can you help me with that?"
"I can try. First, about friends.
You have difficulty relating to people for two reasons. One is that you have a different view of the world from that of the person you're trying to relate to. What you say and think does not seem real to them. And what they think and say seems unreal to you. That sounds a bit drastic, I know, but it's quite true.
The other reason, and it partly flows from this one, is that neither of you has the generosity and flexibility, the love required, to bridge that gap. If you could learn to see the God in others, so that what attracts you is greater than what repels you, so that you sympathize or empathize with them, it would go a long way towards solving your difficulty.
You have to love away the difference, and that can be partly inspired by recognizing the sameness. The soul in you must respond to the soul in the other."
"That sounds awfully saintlike and imprecise. Where do you start, how do you work on it."
"The first thing is to be aware of what is wanted. Just concentrate on making that a part of your thinking, and the rest will come more easily."
"You talk about the soul in others. Do you mean the soul the way the Church teaches? That each person is given a soul when they're conceived, and it's unique to them, it is their part of God the Father?
And how does that relate to the question of man's body and its history? Can an animal body have a divine soul? Or do we have animal bodies?"
"Easy, Jack. Not so fast. Well, it's more complicated than that. I'll try to use words familiar to you to explain it as simply as I can.
At conception there is a gift from God the Father, but it would not best be called the soul; it's more like a personality. And that's where uniqueness is really significant. The developing embryo already has identity of a sort and it comes mostly from this gift. No one is like any other, each one is singular.
Later, at about the age of seven, when the child's mind has developed to the level of reason, and the first moral decision is made, there is another gift from the Father, and it can be called a Thought Adjuster. It's a fragment of Him as well, and being indwelt with this gift makes one a son of God in a special way.
Now, in working with this endowment, in communion with this part of God, a person learns to make moral determinations and ethical judgments. And in doing that, he starts to grow a soul. You are not given a soul: you grow it, you cultivate it.
Remember, you do not just go to Heaven, you grow to Heaven."
"Wow, that's kind of scary! Where is my thought adjuster? Why am I not aware of having one? Or do I?"
"Of course you do. Very few people develop to the point of being conscious of their thought adjusters, and it's probably best that way. The effect of being guided too directly would be to lessen the willingness to accept responsibility."
"I see. But what about the body? What about what I said concerning the human body?"
"The human body has evolved from simpler forms, Jack, but I think we've done enough for tonight. Just rest easy in the knowledge that all this is designed for your good, and as long as you do your part it will all turn out.
There is a grizzly-bear foreman who seems to have a problem with Jack, although it's a puzzle to Jack. One day, suddenly...
"Look you young asshole, if you don't keep that table clean we'll get somebody else to do it. And you should be wearing mitts like everybody else. If you get a big sliver you won't get compensation, I'll see to that!"
Jack straightens up, and is about to say something to the effect that the table is clean, has been clean, and will be clean, but Krom whispers "Let it go, Victor. Let it go. Don't say anything, or he'll fire you for sure."
So Jack says nothing, and keeps on working. That seems to be the right way to handle it. Krom explains that the man has a daughter who hangs around with high school boys, and she's been doing... what she shouldn't. It's the only way to be popular. So, the man hates high school boys.
The mitts referred to are large coarse leather ones, worn by all the workers in a mill, even the sawyer if he touches the logs at all. Jack has sensitive skin, but doesn't like having anything on his hands. So he has taken to piling the rough lumber without wearing mitts, and he soon finds that the constant abrasion of the wood has calloused his hands to such an extent he hardly has any problem handling the wood that way.
The `table' is the surface behind the edger. The layers that are cut off a log after the first slab is off, have bark along both outside edges. The edger is a machine with a lubricated arbor, a spinning shaft held in two bearings one at each end, on which there are circular saws, smaller versions of headsaws, on collars which can slide from side to side, spaced so as to provide the right width between them, from four to twelve inches, sometimes several at a time, to cut boards out of these post-slab slices.
What comes out the back, then, is two strips of irregular wood with bark on one side, and one or more rough boards or planks. A board is one inch thick, and a plank is two inches.
It's important to get all this out of the way quickly, edges into the burner conveyor, and lumber onto the right stack, so there is room for the next cut, otherwise things jam up and jackknife. That causes the next lot to bind in between the saws. When that happens they burn pretty fast, the noise is terrible, the smoke is awful, and the smell is enough to drive you crazy.
Perhaps the foreman pulls some strings.
Or maybe Jack looks like promising material... In any case, several weeks later there is a tall grizzled but balding man spending the day at the mill, just watching. And Jack learns that this is Mr Maurence, the man who looks after the log supply.
A couple of days later it becomes apparent what he was doing there, when Jack is told to come to the office after work.
There's a bottle of whisky on the floor between two desks. Mr Culke is at one desk. Mr Maurence sits against the far wall.
Mr Culke, "Vick, how would you like to work in the bush with my partner here?"
"I don't think so, Sir."
"Okay. Well, Monday morning you be here at five thirty. You'll be setting bull hooks. The guys in the bush will explain it to you. Any questions?"
"Where will this be, and how do I get there?"
"It's a timber limit above Blind Bay. The company pickup will take you and three others."
And that's that.
Jack wonders if Mr Culke has a real or a feigned hearing problem. Perhaps this is how things are done in the lumber industry. You may say how you feel if you wish, but you will do as we tell you. Something about this earnest and honest hardness appeals to Jack. He can't help feeling a grudging admiration for this man.