Father Really Did Know Best

My father, like many of his generation, was a master at ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’.  We just thought he collected and kept useless junk.  All manner of parts and pieces grew in the dark corners of his workshop and garage; it crept into the yard and fringed the barn.  Sad looking carcasses of the automobiles that had served us well dotted (and still dot) the hillside, mostly out of sight from the house, thank goodness.

As much as it drove us all nuts, I have to admit that he could transform these castoffs into amazing and functional items, thus granting new life, while confirming the old adage, “a penny saved…”.

Many cars today have heating and cooling vents right near each passenger.  Dad’s solution for heating the covered bed of our GMC pickup was to make a tiny wood stove (yes, out of scraps…) with a chimney poking out of the back corner of the metal shell.  I’m sure people wondered about the smoke trail as we tootled down the highway.  But I have to say, we did stay warm!

It was the mid 70’s when we moved to the ranchette.  Translated, ‘ranchette’ means can’t make any money, but get to live with our horses.  Since there was no house yet, we camped out in a trailer and tents – Mom, Dad, we five kids, several dogs, and occasional relatives and friends.  Our solar shower consisted of a black 55 gallon drum, heated by sun and wood fire, with a hose feeding cold water into it, and another hose taking the heated water to the extra-large outhouse built over the septic tank.  It worked very well, though you didn’t want to be the first or the last shower-taker.  We all learned to take quick showers!  Having a well for a water source made us conscious of our water use and we always conserved.

By winter we got to move into a 30’ by 50’ cinderblock house, set into the hillside at the back.  Yes, all 7 of us.  The doors and windows were from my high school that had been demolished.  The interior walls were old curtains from a church.  Thankfully, the shower stall moved indoors!  Pot-bellied stove for heat, with electric backup.  No TV, which wasn’t appreciated at the time.  Now I realize that forced us to play games, read, create and actually talk to and laugh with each other.

We gradually harvested logs from the surrounding forest (careful selective cutting), which we skinned and let cure in the sun.  Dad designed a jig to trim two sides of the logs flat and one to scoop out the ends where the logs overlapped at the corners.  Slowly but surely, a log wall grew on top of the cinderblocks.  Passive solar wasn’t talked about much in those days (and nobody had solar panels), but my father knew enough to have lots of south-facing windows, including on the roof.

It has taken me five decades to wake up to the fact that he had a great deal of talent and ingenuity.  Though Dad has passed on, my mother and one sibling (with her husband and twins) still live in the house.  I have lived in a variety of houses, but realize I am happiest in small, simple spaces.  I conserve water and heat, buy mostly second-hand clothes, recycle everything possible, reuse plastic and cloth bags – all ways of living I learned from Dad and Mom.  Yes, I guess they did know a thing or two!

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