COLUMNISTS

This kid was pretty sharp at the chopping block

Justin Isherwood
The axe played a principle part to every chicken supper and Sunday dinner, about as routine to our diet as potatoes.

Sharp is a presumed male perspective. Axes, knives, razors, the occasional lawn mower. In my once childhood, axes mattered more as chainsaws were yet rare.  Besides, they started hard if they started at all. In addition, my father had a warrior code that included the axe at about the time other children were given crayons. The way I remember it, the axe didn’t require a choke setting or rope to start.

My reverence for sharp evolved because I was early-on the family’s chief executioner. An office relevant to the chicken coop and my mother and grandmother’s egg business, as contributed a sizeable portion to the farm income with the like of 75-100 dozen eggs per week and the famous Arnott Egg Company. This at a time when a farm woman’s options for extra income were either the pea plant in Junction or Amherst, a fly-tie position at Weber Tackle or the handcraft of rolling cigars at a penny each for the Bever Cigar Factory, 605 N. Central Avenue in Marshfield.  

The persistent rumor was amply-sized women were the better at cigars relative to the surface area of their thighs for cigars rolled at a penny each, 200 per day was about average. The eggs were 10 cents a dozen, but chickens had to be fed and watered unlike cigars.

The axe played a principle part to every chicken supper and Sunday dinner, about as routine to our diet as potatoes. My older brother’s critical flaw was he closed his eyes when he swung which is bad form for the empire’s chief executioner. 

At a criminally culpable tender age, I ascended to the execution task from my elder brother as probably what caused a lifelong enmity between us. If only he had kept his eyes open his batting average would have been better and not botched the business. 

Beheading is a thing you don’t want to botch, merely to add sharp matters, this how I began my scholarship … of sharp. Accordingly the skills of the bastard file and whet stone, that strange stationary bicycle I pedaled to a slow orbit to hone that edge to a keenness. 

About mid-thought of whatever a chicken is thinking and the next thing that chicken knew it was in chicken paradise with corn on the ground.

A keenness, in theory one molecule wide, better yet an electron wide, to the end that blade edge almost lets the light through that when falling by its own gravity could kill in a blessed instant. About mid-thought of whatever a chicken is thinking and the next thing that chicken knew it was in chicken paradise with corn on the ground and a nest box of fresh oat straw. Softer than rye or wheat straw.

About here began my early discomfort with Christianity, that as generous was the promise of God’s heaven to all of mankind including some really bad people, no like paradise for creatures I loved and ate. 

Later in seminary I was to write quite a scholarly critique on the Biblical origin of the soul and whether it was Eden’s intent to grant soul to all creatures and accordingly any claim of paradise to follow. Problem was being a farm kid in the first place, troubled by the lack of that soul guarantee to every raccoon, brown bat, brook trout, red-tailed hawk, loyal milk cow, plow horse or Leghorn chicken.

Why would God be so prejudiced as to neglect the souls of every living creature, if to admit paradise gets a touch crowded when bacteria count?

It was that same kid who figured it out as executioner, the best service he could provide to the kingdom of God was a sharp axe and to keep his eyes open.

As for the axe, it doesn’t get used that much any more, kindling mostly, as for the chainsaw I‘ve gone over to carbide. Haven’t sat at a whet stone in decades. To think maybe I should because there is something almost holy about sharp.

Justin Isherwood

Justin Isherwood of Plover is a fifth-generation farmer and the author of Book of Plough,Christmas Stones & The Story Chair, and Farm Kid: Tales of Growing Up in Rural America.