Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pop Tuttle

If you've taken the time to read many of my stories it may seem that I only remember things that made me laugh. It may also seem that I mainly laugh at other people being hurt. I can understand how a person would get those ideas, but neither is correct. I laugh at a great number of things, it just so happens that slap-stick comedy is a common denominator. Almost everyone loves to see someone get hit in the face with a pie. That is why I share those kinds of stories. I also remember a number of things that weren't all that funny, but were memorable for some other reason. The following tales are an example of those memories.

My Mom's Dad was called Papa by almost everyone he knew by the time I was born. It was his grandfather nickname. My Dad refused to call him Papa as he thought is was ridiculous (he goes by a very traditional 'Granddaddy' himself). He decided instead to call him Pop Tuttle. That name stuck for most of the adult population that knew him. We grandchildren always called him Papa, but after Dad came up with Pop Tuttle he was usually called that.

It may seem an odd thing to mention at the beginning of a story. You may very well be thinking “Papa, Pop Tuttle, whatever... just get on with it!” I see what you mean, but here it's important. Someone may very well come across this one day and suddenly realize that my Papa was Pop Tuttle. He wasn't world famous, but hundreds of people knew him around here. That's why it's important to mention. So, just to clarify, my grandfather on my mother's side was called Papa by the grandchildren and Pop Tuttle by everyone else. So, yes, Pop Tuttle was my grandfather.

Now that we have our naming conventions worked out we can move on. Papa was an excellent grandfather and a wonderful man. He was 'retired' shortly after I was born, but he loved to get things done so he never really stopped working. He had been a carpenter for many years and had a wood shop where he liked to go and work almost every day. If you were kin to Papa you could just about count on getting something out of that shop every Christmas.

He didn't just work holidays though; for his grandchildren he was always open for business. One of the first things I ever remember him making me was a set of nunchucks (they are two round hard handles connected by a flexible material. Ninjas use them all the time!). I was probably around six years old, and we had just moved to Williston and were living across the street from Nana and Papa's. Several of us grandchildren were over at the house that day. He made nunchucks for all and we wandered around the neighborhood swinging them around looking super cool (it was the eighties and the more ninja you looked the cooler you were).

Shortly after we had moved to town he and Nana moved. Fortunately it was just down the road, so we still got to see them a few times a week. Papa had bought a piece of property where he would have a bit more room to work on this or that. One of the things he did very shortly after moving there was build us a clubhouse. Its central structure was something like a dog house that was up on five-foot legs. Connected to that there was a set of monkey bars that ran away from the back of the house about six feet. The monkey bars were connected to a ladder where we could get up to the bars. I don't know how many hours I spent playing on that thing, but it was worth the time Papa had put into it.

I remember that we weren't quite satisfied with the original design. We decided that it needed a secret door in the middle of the floor. Papa tried to dissuade us because it would be five feet off the ground and there was no ladder leading up to the middle of the floor. Plus, of course, when you can see people jumping up to the bottom of a house and disappearing, it isn't very secret. We were unconvinced: good idea or not we wanted a secret door. So, Papa did what he almost always did in those situations: he gave us just what we wanted. It turned out to be a terrible idea and we never used it, but it was there. It was reassuring to know that if anyone asked, “Does your clubhouse have a secret door?” we could honestly and unashamedly say “Yes!” Things like that are important when you're young.

As I got older I got interested in carpentry myself. I wasn't very serious about it at the time, but I did learn to use a hammer and saw. Both Dad and Papa encouraged Josh and me to learn a bit about woodwork. The little we learned when we were young allowed us to build our fantastic tree house. We've learned a bit more since those days. In fact we've built a house together. There are a few stories about that as well, but I'll save them for another time.

One of the woodworking projects I picked as a child was the making of a wooden glaive. You may have never heard of a glaive, but that's hardly surprising. It was a fantasy weapon used in the movie Krull. I thought it was one of the coolest movies ever when I was young, and in fact, I still do. The glaive was a five-pointed star with a long knife blade at each end. It was magical and when thrown it would spin like a saw blade. When it was done killing whatever you threw it at, it would come back. I explained to Papa what a glaive was and that it needed to come back when I threw it.

He thought on that for a few minutes and came up with a design for it. He laid out a sort of five-pointed boomerang. He sketched it out on a piece of wood for me and left me to it. It took me a couple of hours, but finally it was done. I was the only kid in town with a glaive. I hadn't made the blades quite right, so it never would come back, but it certainly did fly well. I spent many hours playing with that thing. Papa was always willing to take the time to help you make something.

In fact, he kept an old woodpile at the back of his shop for us grandchildren. Whenever we wanted to build anything we could just go grab what we wanted and start building. Papa told me one time that he thought that was our favorite game as children. Not building anything, no, no, but grabbing the wood. He said that we would spread the wood out evenly across the yard and then stop playing with it. However, as soon as he cleaned it up we would get in it and spread it evenly across the yard again. I remember that we did start a lot of building projects that never went very far. I'm certain that from his point of view it just seemed that we like to throw wood out in the yard.

Papa was also a master of saying funny things. He would ask you how much wood a woodchuck could chuck. There was also this thing he used to say about a fiddling grasshopper, and he could sing “The Battle of New Orleans”. Sometimes his funny sayings would confuse me a bit. I remember one Sunday down in Allendale when I asked him a perfectly normal question and got an answer I didn't expect.

“Papa, do you have a knife?” I asked.

“Does a cat have climbing gear?” he asked me.


“Does a cat have climbing gear?”

“Does a what?”

“Does a cat have climbing gear?”

“Does a cat have what?”

“... Yes... I have a knife.”

“Could I use it for a second?”

It was probably close to an hour before it hit me that a cat always had climbing gear with it. I'm sure that may make me seem a bit thick-headed, but I wasn't expecting a counter-question. Plus Papa was always saying wild things. So you had to be careful how you answered him. Once he asked me about girls.

“Did you ever kiss a little girl all you wanted?” he asked me, smiling.

“No!” I answered (I was rather young).

“Why'd ya stop?”

Needless to say, I didn't have an answer for that.

As you can see, these things aren't wild slapstick humor, but they are things that I will probably remember until I die. I remember many things, most good, some bad, many very funny. I share those that I think are going to pass on the joy I feel when I remember them. I get a lot of joy out of people getting hit with pies, but that's not the only thing that ever happened around me.

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