My father’s sawmill, with its huge sawblade, multiple levers and gears, planers, chains and stacks of lumber, was not exactly a safe haven for kids to play. Most of the time my five sisters and I were scrambling up and down the (sometimes massive) log piles trying to see how far we could go hopping from one log to another without touching the ground — or before one of the logs shifted and then you better move quickly! Despite Mom’s warnings to ‘stay off those logs’ we returned there time and time again.
A softer, more pliable, place for us to play was the sawdust pile behind the sawmill shed. A farm elevator transported the sawdust to a spot out back, hoisting its cargo to the peak of the device and then dropping it to the earth below. Sometimes the sawdust pile grew quite high – and quite irresistible to us girls – perhaps fifteen feet or more in the air. My sisters and I traversed the elevator, grabbed an overhanging tree branch and flung ourselves out and then down into this waste product of our father’s livelihood. Mostly the sawdust was warm and slightly damp but occasionally we’d land or step into a deliciously cool pocket. Funny how some things remain etched in our memories. Feeling that cool sawdust between my toes is something I can conjure up at a moment’s notice. Another sawdust memory is the time I lost a brand new pair of thongs (that’s what we called what now passes today as flip-flops) to the sawdust pile. I searched and I dug and I dug and I searched for a long time but that new pair — our summer shoes, really — was gone forever.
For something a little more dangerous (read: a little more fun) we would sometime sit on top of a plank of lumber and hurtle ourselves down the rails leading from the saw blade to the far end of the building. As Dad cut a log to the prescribed dimensions the board was deposited onto these rails where the hired help then grabbed each one to stack elsewhere in the sawmill shed. We girls would climb onto a board, make sure we were securely situated and then grab the sides of the rails to propel ourselves forward. The ride was never long enough and we thrilled to the speed! Care had to be taken in how one secured oneself to the board however. If you grabbed it too fully with your hand you ran the risk of getting one or more fingers pinched between the board and the rails. Likewise as you reached to grab the sides of the rails to move forward. It’s surprising, really, that all six of us girls survived our childhoods with all our fingers and toes intact.