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A really fair deal

Rick Ryckeley's picture

Most of my childhood memories from growing up at 110 Flamingo Street are pleasant and still warm and fuzzy in my mind. This story, however, ain’t one of them.
Nope, this story is about blisters, pain, and life lessons learned the hard way. Funny, it seems life lessons are never learned the easy way. Looking back, I guess there are many techniques Dad could’ve employed to teach me. But “split and stack,” to this day, I’ve not forgotten. And how could I? I still wear the scars.

The spring I turned 7, we moved into 110 Flamingo Street – a house that had not one, but two fireplaces. That winter was the first time Dad showed us four boys how to split wood.

Because we were so young, Dad thought it would be safer for us to use a wedge and a sledgehammer rather than an axe. One of us held the wedge while the other swung a ten-pound sledgehammer over his head and down on top of the wedge without hitting the nervous hand holding it and making its fingers look like smashed grapes.

After a couple of misses, it didn’t take long to realize it was much better to be the guy who swung the hammer than the guy who held the wedge with smashed grape fingers.

Although an important lesson, it was not the life lesson I learned much later. For years we split wood the same way using a wedge and a sledge hammer.

Then the year I turned 13, right when winter had begun, I did something none of my other brothers had ever thought of or perhaps didn’t have the courage to do. I asked Dad if I could get paid for the work. After all, it was only fair.

That’s when he took me out to the tool shed, a trip I’d made many times before.

He opened the large door, reached in, and handed me a new axe. He told me he’d pay me $20 for a cord of wood that was split and stacked next to the house. After all, like I said, fair was fair.

Being only 13, I didn’t have a clue what a cord of wood was, but I certainly knew $20 was a lot of money. Besides, how hard could it be? He had given me a new axe to use. I made a counter offer – five cords for $100.

Imagine my surprise when Dad immediately accepted my terms, shook hands, and said payment would be made only when the job was finished. It was a fair deal. He walked off smiling.

Smiling myself, I started to split and stack wood. The new axe went through the wood like a hot knife through butter, and the $100 would soon be mine. Finally, I had outsmarted my dad, a huge accomplishment when you’re only 13. The fair handshake deal was at the start of winter.

Four months later, winter was finally finished and so was all the splitting and stacking. Dad did indeed pay me the $100 he owed and asked if I’d learn anything.
“Yes,” I told him, “A cord of wood is a lot of wood.”

Funny, many years later, The Boy also realized the same fact when he too was about the same age – and made a similar proposal.

The life lessons I learned splitting wood during those four months, have served me well for over 40 years. Never enter into a binding agreement if you don’t really understand the terms. Fair is not always fair. And above all else, don’t try to outsmart the old guy – especially if he’s my dad.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is]

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