When I was seven, my parents left me to stay with my Uncle Andrew for a week. They didn’t, of course, and I have no uncle Andrew. I don’t even have parents. But this isn’t a story about how I was born with neither mother or father. This is a far more banal story, about wood.
Uncle Andrew had a nice enough house, a semi-detached old townhouse in the middle of some town. It doesn’t matter where, none of this is real. Two floors, 2 bedrooms, living room, study, kitchen and en-suits for all, even the two free-standing bathrooms of the house. I’d met uncle Andrew a few times as I grew up, and he seemed a nice enough gent, absent-minded and flavoured somewhat like hazelnuts, but harmless unless you were a otter - an animal he detested. Anyhow, my parents pulled up outside Andrew’s house, and he met us on the garden path. Running late as usual, my parents had to leave then and there, after only a few pleasantries were exchanged, and my luggage dumped unceremoniously on the footpath.
“Hello my boy!” Uncle Andrew boomed at me. Despite the image that the booming voice of Uncle Andrew might have portrayed, he was actually a small, thin, timidly moustached man.
Taking me by the shoulder, he led me towards the warm and appetising front door of the house. The warmly-scented aroma of freshly-baked pie wafted from the house rousingly. Reaching the base of the steps to the aforementioned sexy door, Uncle Andrew guided me past the portal with his firm grip. I threw a sideways glance at the door in panic, making out the approaching form of a coal-bunker with worry.
“Here we are, here we are,” Andrew boomed, throwing open the bunker lid. “In we go, child.”
With that, he threw both my bag and myself into the container. Caught momentarily in an avalanche of coal, I pulled myself up blackened and bruised to peer over the side of the bunker.
“I’m sorry about this lad,” He said with an appropriately sorry face. “But, well... Ever since your Aunt passed away, I’ve rather taken up woodcraft. You know, a hobby to keep me occupied.”
I nodded. The statement itself was, of course, fairly acceptable. But it hardly explained why I’d been deposited in a coal bunker.
“Well, I’ve been working on a scale model of Saint Francis of Assisi, you know how it is?”
I nodded. I did not know how it was, but I was seven and agreement seemed sensible.
“Well, the problem is it’s not a one-to-one scale. And, well, I’ve filled the guest room with a 17-foot wide model of St. Francis’s foot, you understand.”
I nodded again. I really didn’t understand, partly because I didn’t think the guest room was big enough to accommodate a 17-foot wide model of a Saint’s foot, and partly because it was stupid.
“And, well, I can’t varnish it and soforth until I’ve finished the foot, and with the rain coming, I wouldn’t feel right about putting it outside. Can you imagine St. Francis’s face, ha ha, if an effigy of his foot got rotten in the rain!”
Uncle Andrew continued to chuckle in a snorting, obnoxious manner for several moments. I contemplated St. Francis of Assisi, who’d always seemed a decent chap and would probably be more concerned with the idea of keeping children in coal bunkers that the conservation of his effigies - an item I imagined he would oppose the creation of most strongly.
Above us, a rumble of thunder, and the heavens opened. For a moment, I hoped it would be the blessed Saint, descending to earth to at least bring me an umbrella, but it was just rain. Uncle Andrew, always thoughtful towards other, closed the lid of the coal bunker. Opening the small flap at the front that coal comes out of, he retreated into his house and began to converse loudly with me from the kitchen window.
“This is a two-by-four!” He yelled out happily, holding up a plank of wood. “The interesting thing about a two-by-four is that the name refers to the dimensions of the end - you see how it’s two inches thick by 4 inches wide? Well, actually 1 ½ inches by 3 ½, a ha ha ha! Well, that’s what the name refers to. You have to specify the length you want separately, you see. Now, isn’t interesting?”
“No,” I thought to myself, biting into a piece of coal. “That’s boring.” Still, the whole event was shaping up to be one of my better birthdays.