Charlie Mac's Gadget Shack

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Tags: Fiction, .

Desc: : This started out as a Character development page, but it became more. I think it would best be called a short story of the Life of Charlie Macintyre. It follows his life from birth thru WW2 mostly hitting the highlights. If you are a WW2 buff you may enjoy trying to poke holes in it. I spent more than a week researching it.

Charlie Andrew Macintyre was born in to this world on night of Friday the thirteenth seven minutes before the clock struck midnight on that October in 1933. The president was FDR and the flag had forty-eight stars on it. It was the height of the great depression, none of these things mattered to the new infant though. The Macintyre family was a large one like many farm families of the time. Little Charlie as he would later be known was the ninth child of the family, and the fifth son. The family had been blessed, most would say, in that all nine children were alive and well. The oldest lived with his wife on the farm in a newly build house little better than a shotgun shack. The farm was located in the foothills of the great Sierra Mountains not far from Sequoia national park. It had good water from a stream that ran year around, and his grandfather had planted groves of fruit trees in different places on the homestead. That homestead was now 320 acres. His grandfather had taken in his brother’s wife Doris and their children after he had died. They merged the two families and homesteads into one.

The farm was typical of the time with chickens, cows, sheep, rabbits, pigs and goats. They always planted a large garden in the spring, and harvested the fruit trees and slaughtered in the fall. The main house was a huge rambling affair that had more additions than original house. It started as a one room cabin. Then that was torn down and replaced with a two room rough sawn house with a cooking area. Then when the first of the girls arrived another room was added on. Then the cooking area was turned into a hall to accommodate more rooms when the boy married. That lead to a new larger cooking area. Which lead to the families first indoor toilet. The entire house had wood floors that had been sanded and scrubbed so many times they looked white. Doug’s explanation for it was, “Dad always said the worst deal he ever made was when he told mom the house was hers and the rest was his. She kept him building something until it killed them both. He used to threat to tear out all the walls and hang clothes lines so she could move them whenever the mood struck.”

The second house, or what was called the cousins house, was a three room place with no kitchen. When it was build Charlie’s great aunt Doris said all she needed was a hearth. Since she did all her cooking with her sister and the two families ate together a kitchen was never added.

The third house was originally build as a shed to keep precious tools and equipment out of the weather. however, it grew much larger over the years first into a larger shed. Then into a two room and finally into the four rooms it was when Charlie was born. Nobody lived in the building, it had become known as the shop house. It was where they went to work on thins during inclement weather. The women of the family always threatened to banish the men there when they were unhappy, and accused the men of hiding out there when they needed them. One room held tools of all sort and the boys quickly learned to return those tools to their rightful place, or the offender learned how to sand one of the walls with a stone from the creek.

The second room held Grandpa’s pride and joy, a lathe he had made that ran off a water box behind the building. It took grandpa fifteen years of trading to get all the pieces. Grandpa build a small dam as high up as he could. Then ran ever narrowing pipe the half mile down to the water box. The pressure turned a wheel that turned the gears for the lathe. The speed could be controlled by opening or closing the valve. When it wasn’t in use the water was diverted back to the stream. Often one if the younger children was called the helper, and their job was to run back and forth until the speed was right. The final two rooms held tables and chairs with workbenches along the walls. Positions on the workbenches were assigned by grandpa and then Doug. All the men had their own work area. It was a family tradition that each boy was assigned a place on their fifteenth birthday. Until they turned fifteen they worked at one of the tables or with one of the men at the workbenches.

From this description you might think the farm some backwoods hillbilly retreat, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sure the lumber was all hand cut, but the buildings had been stone sanded (use of a smooth river rock to sand wood) repeatedly over the years, it being both grandpas’ and Doug’s favorite punishment. The women insisted everything get a fresh white wash every five years, whether they needed it or not. The family had grown and shrunk and grown again since it was first homesteaded. Doris’s three daughters had married and moved away, and her son had died in an accident with a cantankerous cow that was served at his funeral. But, aunt Doris was still around telling the women folk how to do all the things they already knew how to do. She still lived in the house Grandpa and the boys build for her. Unfortunately for Charlie’s sisters so did they.

Charlie’s grandparents had three sons and three daughters. Doug, Charlie’s father was one of the two living siblings. Both of his brothers had died years ago and their wives had remarried and left. Two of Doug’s sisters died in childbirth. Gwen, Doug’s only living sibling, lived in Fresno with her husband, an attorney she met at a church social, and their three children. That left the homestead to Doug and his family and Aunt Doris of course.

Charlie would be Ruth and Doug’s last child. As he grew up he was treated differently. He was the baby of the family and both his parents treated him like the lost little prince. This fact caused his older siblings to be divided in to two groups. One group followed their parents example helping him with chores and encouraging him in every endeavor. While the other treated him with discussed and contempt, ridiculing and blaming him for anything forgotten or that was done wrong. For some reason Aunt Doris was with the first group, though she was always quick to punish his miss deeds as well. She was the one who taught him to read during his fifth winter.

Aunt Doris traded a hand sewn quilt for a two boxes of books and magazines at a large general store in Visalia. As the weather kept little Charlie in doors, she took it upon herself to teach the boy to read. At first this seemed a hopeless idea, but when told the answer to his endless questions could be found in one book or another, that all changed. By the spring he could read and write better than his older brothers. He was almost always seen with one of the magazines tucked into his overalls as he did his chores. When anyone needed to find him that summer the first placed they looked was Tools shed, where he was usually found at the table reading.

When fall came and they took the harvest into town Charlie found a great treasure at the back of the general store. In the trash were stacks and stacks of magazines of every sort. he begged his father to take them home and seeing the longing on Charlie’s face was enough. Beside they could always be used in the bathroom. Aunt Doris got him a brand new book for his birthday that year a dictionary. That gift would help to chart his life like nothing else could. That winter he spent almost every waking hour reading and when he did his dictionary was right there by him. At first they family teased him about how often he had to look up a word, as it seemed he read the dictionary more the magazines. By the end of the winter though they began to notice he wasn’t asking them what a word meant.

They say that childhood lasts until deaths harsh breath first touches you, that breath tough Charlie in the summer of 1941. At the beginning of the summer Aunt Doris passed away. She went to bed kissing him goodnight the next morning Charlie’s sister June came running in the door crying for their mother to come quick. At seven years old he couldn’t believe she was dead when June told everyone. He ran thru Aunt Doris’s house calling her name until he saw her lying in her bed his mother standing next to it crying softly. He didn’t remember running or climbing to the loft in the barn, but that was where Paul his oldest brother found him crying at lunch time. Paul who was usually hard on his kid brother just and held him while the two cried. When the two finished scrubbing the tears from their faces Paul said, I won’t tell anyone if you won’t. Let’s go eat I’m starved.” No one said a word about him missing or the redness in his eyes, and Charlie never said a word about the redness in theirs.

At her funeral Charlie placed a single piece of paper written neatly on both sides on the pine coffin. On it he had written every word he could find in his dictionary that described Aunt Doris, each word written as carefully as he could. None of his family had seen him do it, but the preacher had found it. At the graveside service he pulled it out and told everyone what he had found. He said it wasn’t flowery sentences or some great poem, but it was a list of words that he was sure described Doris Macintyre better than he could ever hope to. Then he read the entire thing, every word, pausing at a few to smile. Then the preacher thanked whoever had written it, and ended the service. No one ever asked if he wrote the page, but several asked him what some of the words meant.

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