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Cheryl Hughes: Axe

I might have told you this before—as I age, I find I tend to repeat myself—but when Garey and I began dating, 49 years ago now, he told me he was the Golden Glove boxing champion of Alabama.  He wasn’t.  That didn’t stop me from believing him, however, and bragging about it to my friends, one of whom asked him about it.  He thought it was hilarious that I actually believed him.  I was not amused.  He had told me that little factoid in response to my asking him how his arms go so muscled up.  Garey was buff when we first met.

It turns out that Garey was so muscled up because of all the farm work he did for his father, especially the summer he cleared 20 acres of eight-foot pine trees from a farm his dad bought.  The farm had been planted in pine seedlings years before.  Each tree was about 10 feet from the surrounding trees, and each tree had to be cut off at the ground so as not to puncture a tractor tire.  Garey’s dad was planning to turn the land into pasture for cattle.

There is something about working with an axe that carves muscles into the human body unlike any other manual labor tool can do.  My brothers grew up using chain saws, and they were and are strong guys, but neither of them ever had the muscle definition Garey had back then.  Even though he doesn’t use an axe much anymore, at 75, Garey still has an inordinate amount of upper body strength.  When he was in the trauma center after his accident, a couple of nurses came into the room to help him from the chair he had been sitting in back into bed.   Garey told them he thought he could push himself up and onto the bed if they could swing his legs around once he was there.  They both watched in awe as he did just that.  One of the nurses said, “We’re not used to manly men.  We’re used to baby men.”

Sometimes, when I want to be mad at my dad for whatever reason—I have a list—and I tell myself that I need to focus on more positive things about him, I see him as a young boy, running to meet the mail carrier in hopes that the package his Aunt Mat ordered from the catalogue store had arrived.  It was an axe, his own axe.  He made his living with an axe, a chain saw, a sawmill.  He worked that job until he retired at age seventy.

I’ve thought a lot about that.  About how Dad used what was in his hand to make a way for himself and his family.  There is an importance about using what you have.  I have a tendency to believe that dreams and fulfillment are out there for the taking, when really they are right here with you for the making.  It’s like what Solomon wrote, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

After watching what Garey has gone through with his leg in a stiff brace, I told him if I ever break my kneecap, he will have to carry me or push me around in a wheelchair.  I have almost zero upper body strength.  Even though I have always had leg pain, most of my body strength is located in my lower appendages.  My daughter, Natalie, who works out a lot, tells me I might think about working out with some small weights.  I am very short sighted when it comes to exercise.  There is so much repetition for repetition’s sake, and the results are so slow to show themselves that I give us before my hard work comes to fruition.  I want to feel like I’m accomplishing something, like my dad and Garey did with an axe, but the closest I’ve gotten to an axe is at that axe-throwing place in Bowling Green.  I could barely hit the wall.

You know, it’s really too bad I’m not like Samson of Biblical fame.  His strength was in his hair.  I would be set, because I have lots of hair.  I do need to do something to prepare myself for the aging process, however.  I don’t want to be totally helpless.  A few weeks ago, Garey brought some wooden axe handles back from his mom’s basement in Alabama.  Maybe, I could incorporate wooden axe handles into my exercise routine.  That’s probably as close as I will come to continuing my dad’s legacy or becoming Alabama’s Golden Glove champion.


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