Charlie Mac's Gadget Shack

by Anotherp08

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.

The second death hit the family even harder. In august while checking one of the groves Doug had a heart attack. Charlie was with his brother in town when it happened, and knew something was wrong when the family came to meet them as they drove up in the old ford. He didn’t run off this time, but he cried all the harder for the loss of his father. Ruth held him or one of her other children continually. Charlie again wrote a page of words, this one describing Doug, Husband and Father were written large at the top. This time he was seen by the preacher as he left it, but nothing was said about him writing them when he read it at the grave. Over the next month Charlie saw his mother turn several times and start to speak only to stop before she said anything. Paul explained she was turning to talk to dad, then remembered he was gone.

At dinner two nights later Charlie saw his Ruth turn to his father’s chair and then stop. In a loud voice Charlie said, “So dad what do you think, should we talk to the Bakers about using their bull again, or just let our old bull do it?” as everyone looked at him Charlie tilted his head as if listening. Then nodded twice and said, “Yea me too. It was a lot of work, and I don’t think the calves are any better than the ones from our bull either.” He saw Paul wink at him and a tear run down his mother’s cheek. Soon April said with a grin at him, “Dad that hinge on the chicken coop came loose again. Could you get one of the boy to fix it?” That caused his mom to smile. Soon everyone had said something to their father, and waited to see what Ruth would do.

“Well, Doug I think I agree with you and Charlie. The Baker’s bull was not worth the trouble.” Ruth said. After that night talking to their dead relatives or speaking for them, became a nightly dinner tradition in the family. Sometimes it was just someone asking Aunt Doris or dad to get someone to do something. Other times it could get real funny, like the time Helen ranted about knowing how to cook the squash and would Aunt Doris please stop since it was on the table anyway. That caused them all to laugh for half of dinner because it was just the type of thing Aunt Doris would do.

That year he turned eight and the talk was in town was about the war in Europe and if the US should be involved. The everyone was pleased that the war seemed to be causing higher prices for their goods. Two of the farmers came to blows over whether the US should be involved, one had lost his son to the last war, and the other’s son was off flying with the RAF in this war. Charlie didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, so while family handled selling their crop he went over to the library to figure it out. When April came in to get him he just about had his mind wrapped around it, but was not quite finished. He was still missing some piece of the puzzle. He listened to his brothers talk in the front of the truck as they rode home. It appeared they thought the US should let Europe sort out its own problems this time. Over next few weeks he spent as much time in the library reading as he could. It was harvest and they came almost every day to sell what they could. This gave him plenty of time to find the last pieces he was looking for. He decided he would tell everyone at dinner on Sunday, by then they would have the last of the oranges brought to town.

On Sunday the family sat around the table eating dinner. They had already talked to the dead as Charlie privately thought of it. When he brought up what he had been doing in the library. He thought he laid out he point of view very well with facts even naming the treaties and date they were signed that backed up his view. He was not prepared for the outpouring of words that greeted his conclusion though. Dinner had basically stopped as his older brothers explained how little he knew in aa loud and derogatory manner as they could. The only real argument as he saw it was that he was too young to understand. They didn’t tell him any of his facts were wrong. Just that he was wrong.

He was trying to figure out how to stop the angry rants when they heard a horn as someone pulled onto the farm racing up to the house. All of his brothers rushed the door thinking a house must be on fire or something. Charlie decided he would finish dinner and find out what all the fuss was when they came back inside. He didn’t have a long wait, soon everyone was back. They were all looking at him with very oddly. Paul said, “There has been an attack. The President will be on the radio tomorrow morning between nine and ten. Hank said we could go over there to listen.” Hank was there closest neighbors and had a new RCA radio. Ruth picked up her plate and sat next to Charlie, passing Helen’s plate down to where she had sat. she didn’t say anything, but her sitting next to Charlie said more than any words could. They finished dinner quietly, but Charlie caught several odd look shot his way.

The next day the chores done and everyone loaded in the 1934 Model B Ford steak side to head to Hanks. The big truck as the called it could carry everyone if they rode in the back. At Hanks they all gathered on his porch and listened to the radio waiting for the president. Charlie was sent to play with Hanks children Tom and Emily, they were told to stay quiet and to stay out of trouble. For Charlie this was when he would have started reading but his mother had shaken her head when he tried to bring one. After being sent away for the third time Emily grabbed his hand and dragged him to the barn to see their new puppies that had been born last week. Though head read the speech many times and even listened to a recording of it, Charlie never forgave not being able to listen to it on the radio. He guessed the puppies were ok but he would see a lot of puppies over his life. How often would he get to hear the President give a speech that would change the world?

Before lunch his mother pulled him aside and told him to keep quiet until they got home. “Just eat with Emily and Tom, and try to act like a little boy ok?” she more warned him than anything else. So that was exactly what he did. He even went so far as to put a section of his orange in Aprils apron pocket when she wasn’t looking. Emily and him laughed when she squashed it and juice ran down her dress. April didn’t think it was at all funny though. After lunch everyone helped the Sutton family with some of the things that needed more than one man to do. Charlie figured the Sutton’s radio paid for itself easily with all the help they got for letting others share their radio.

The ride home was quiet. Everyone lost in their thoughts and concerns about the news that the country was at war. Charlie though was thinking about the radio. This wasn’t the first time they had gone to the Suttons to listen to the news or a radio program, and until they had a radio of their own he didn’t figure it would be the last. His family never knew how that one missed speech affected him, or the role it would play in his life. When he got home he ran to his room and started going thru his magazines. He knew one of them had an article on radios. His family had a radio but it didn’t work. He found not one but two articles that explained radios one in the July issue of Popular Mechanics was probably the best but he pulled out all ten of his Radio Craft magazines. While his family discussed the war and what they should do, Charlie was in the shop building at his father’s workbench. He had all his articles cut from their magazines and laid out as he made notes on a piece of paper with a pencil.

He was startled from his notes when his sister Rose asked, “What are you doing at daddy’s workbench?”

“I was working. What else would I do at a workbench?”

Rose did not look pleased. She asked, “Did Paul say you could use daddy’s workbench? You’re not fifteen I thought that was the rule?”

Charlie ignored her as he gathered all his pages together. When he had them all sorted he asked, “Was there a reason you are here or did you just feel like bothering someone, so you came looking for me?” Charlie and Rose had not gotten along for years. She was four years older, and when he was young she played with him when told to. That usually meant ordering him around, and telling him how to play tea party or some other girl activity. As they got older she wanted nothing to do with him. a took great delight in making him as miserable as she could. She had never forgiven him for being born, and taking her place as the baby of the family.

“Mom sent me to get you. Dinner is almost on the table and she said to wash first or you won’t get any.” Rose said rudely, as if his mother had ever refused to feed him. oh she would send him to wash as many times as it took but his food would be there when he finally got the job done.

He smiled at his sister and started towards her and the door. He wasn’t sure what she saw, but she turned and ran for the house like he was chasing her with a knife. He put all hos papers in his lap desk, another of Aunt Doris’s gifts, and went to wash up. When he got to the table Rose had a triumphant look. Nothing was said until after the prayer. Paul’s first words though knew Rose had been a tattle tale.

“So dad I was wondering did you give Charlie permission to take over your workbench. I know I sure didn’t. I thought the rule was fifteen. In fact, I am sure that has been the rule for all of us.” He nodded several times before he went on, “I didn’t think you did I’ll talk to him after dinner.” The look he gave Charlie said it would not be a nice talk.

Charlie thought as the others spoke to dad or Aunt Doris. He barely heard as both Jacob and Kevin talked to dad about joining up. Like always he was second too last, but before he could speak his mother did, “Dear will you remind our children, all our children, that they should listen to both sides before they chose which t condemn.” She listened then said, “I’m sure they thought of that. I am sure I don’t need to remind them he almost never breaks the rules, or that this is still our home.” Then she turned to Charlie and said, “Your father would like to talk to you.”

Without missing a beat Charlie jumped right in. “So dad, she I tell them what we were working on and why I needed your work bench. Fine I’ll tell them, but remind me if I forget anything ok? I was thinking all the way home from the Sutton about dads broken radio. When I got home I went thru all my magazines and found all the article I have on radios. How they work and how to check what might not work. I needed a quiet place to work so I went to the shop. I cut out all the articles at the table. Then went over to dad’s bench so I could talk to him as I tried to figure out everything the articles said. I, I mean we, think we can fix dads radio. But, I will need help before I, I mean we, know for sure. Did I forget anything? Oh yea. I wasn’t taking over the workbench I was just using it so I could talk to dad as I worked.” With that he placed a bite of pork chop in his mouth and began to chew.

He didn’t look up until Paul cleared his throat the second time. “Do you think you can fix it?”

When he finished chewing he said, “Don’t know yet. Won’t know until I can get someone to help me.”

Paul hard a frown on his face but he wasn’t looking at Charlie now. He was looking at Rose. “You said he was taking over dad’s workbench. What exactly was he doing that caused you to say that? Did he have anything on it other than his papers?” Rose wouldn’t look at him as she shook her head no. “Rose you made it sound like he was not only making a mess out there but that he had moved all of dad’s stuff. That is what taking over means. And, that is how you made it sound. I’m disappointed in you Rose. Charlie I’m sorry I didn’t hear you out before I started chewing you out.” The conversation changed to the war and other lighter topics.

The next day Paul carried the radio into the shop and placed it on an unused workbench. He helped Charlie get the back off. Mostly watching him do it, and holding the back so it wouldn’t fall. He seemed surprised as his baby brother explained all the things the articles had said to check. Charlie checked each and every one. He was pretty sure of the problem as soon as he opened it though. It had a burnt tube and one of the wires to the battery pack looked burnt, the article said that could happen if the radio was moved to much. The shifting of weight would cause a bad connection on the battery wire and burn the insulation. Both were easy to fix according to the articles. He explained what was wrong and what needed to be done to fix it. He wrote everything down on a piece of paper.

To Charlie’s surprise Paul loaded him in the model t and headed straight for town to get what was needed. The store had the tube in stock they only cost $1.25. Paul asked if they should get a new battery for it as it hadn’t been used in a couple years. That was another $4.50. when the sale clerk tried to explain how to replace the parts to Paul he just pointed to Charlie saying, “tell him not me.” So the clerk did. As they were paying for the parts the clerk started talking about a Junior American Radio Relay League (JARRL). He even wrote out the information and gave it to Charlie.

Paul and Charlie returned home and installed the parts. Well, Charlie installed the parts while Paul watched. Though he did hold the back so Charlie could screw it on. When Paul turned the radio around he stepped back and asked, “Should we see if it works?” Charlie smiled from ear to ear nodding. “well, what are you waiting for turn it on.” When Charlie turned the nob they both listened as the radio warmed up. After a few seconds Charlie began adjusting the tuning nob. Soon music could be heard from the newly fix radio. In later years Charlie often listened to that very same radio keeping it until his death in 2010. After listening a short time Paul turned the radio off and started to lift it to take inside. Charlie stopped him saying, “we should wait and let it cool that is how it probably got broke the first time” Surprising Charlie again Paul agreed. While they waited Charlie reread all the articles he had on radios. Paul carried the radio in and returned it to its place saying nothing of whether it was fixed or not. After dinner that night he asked Charlie if they should listen to the radio causing quite a stir in the family. Everyone gather in the front room as Paul turned on the radio and found the local NBC station.

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