Saturday, January 18, 2020

My Boss

At first I just knew Jim as the boss, or officially as the Director of Operations, in charge of all the logging on Brown Company’s 600,000 acres. After a couple of years I’d worked my way up the ladder until he was my direct supervisor.
Don’t ask dumb questions, work hard, work long, and run the job as if it were your own, that’s how I’d been brought up. I knew little about Jim and tried to do my best, running the first mechanical tree harvesting operation in New Hampshire.
Our feller-buncher cut two stems a minute, all day long, and the whole tree chipper roared through a hundred cords of hardwoods a day, turning trees into woodchips to make paper. What grouse cover we created! Poplar would regenerate from the roots to be six feet tall or more in two seasons.
A young Brittany spaniel named Zac waited at home for me every night. That dog knew more about bird hunting than me and had little patience for my lack of experience. Feeling bad for the dog, and to stop him from eating the house, I started to take him to work with me. Eventually, I learned Jim had a German shorthair at home and liked to do a little bird hunting too.
When he would stop by the jobsite, he’d pat the dog’s head and ask how Zac was doing that day. After a year or two, the company gave me a truck to use. Anyone who’s visited a logging site can tell you what serious mud is and we’d make the kind that sucks your boots off your feet. A four-wheel-drive truck barely could waddle through.
Zac always managed to keep a healthy layer of this mud inside that truck. When Jim visited the job site he often would slide into the truck, unfazed by the mud, to ask about production. Any other boss would have told me to leave Zac at home.
I left the company after a few years, searching for whatever young men search for. A couple of decades later I found Jim’s home and went to knock on the door. He was inside on his knees with his back to the entry, fixing a screen door that lay on the floor. When I knocked, he yelled without turning, “Come in.”
I stepped in and said, “Jerry Allen here.”
He got up and said, “Jesus Christ, just last week I was trying to remember what the hell you last name was.”
We caught up on our lives, and then talked of dogs and guns. The following fall he came hunting with me, not carrying a gun, but just to see the dogs work. A year later we shot together at the Groveton Rod and Gun Club and he followed the dogs through the woods again. On almost every trip north, no matter what the season was, I’d stop in to talk dogs and guns, and every fall he’d ask about the birds. But time works against all of us.
It got harder for him to move about. During a tumble at the club, he broke the stock of a beloved old Ithaca. He got a price from a gunsmith to have it repaired, but the cost was way too steep. I took the gun back to my shop and did a less than cosmetically perfect mend, but at least the gun was useable.
His shooting ultimately stopped, as did the trips to watch the dogs work. He kept talking about going again, but the body was tired. We’d still talk dogs and guns, and I’d learn a thing or two and we’d share a laugh.
The last time I visited he said little, and sometimes forgot where a sentence was headed before he got half way through. When about to leave, I said something about us old bird hunters having to stick together, and that brought a smile to his face.
Now he gets confused and often doesn’t know where he is. Hell, that happens to me all the time bird hunting. But he may not be with us much longer, so that is sad. He’s a tough old coot though and the body doesn’t give up.
I hope that lifetime of memories he collected is still going around in his head.
I wrote this several years ago not long before Jim passed. I learned a lot from the man and miss his stories.

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