The brisk spring morning had been an exhausting one. It was the first day our modest lumber crew had been in action all season. My father, my two brothers, and I constituted our wood-hauling team in Idaho’s Targhee National Forest. For the past three summers, my family had sold firewood to pay for family vacations and other extras my parents’ income didn’t provide for. We considered ourselves experienced in our humble profession, and prided ourselves in knowing we could load our four-cord* truck as fast as any wood hauler in the valley.
“Whew! How ’bout we take ourselves a little soda pop break, kids?” Dad said.
I hated pop breaks. I loved the thrill of finishing a load in record time and getting home to a hot shower. Somewhat annoyed, I peered over the truck bed and saw my exhausted dad talking to another muddy, tired-looking man. I heard the man ask Dad, “Do you have a shovel?”
“We sure do. Are you stuck?”
The man nodded with discouragement.
“Well, let’s take a look,” said Dad, who always insisted on helping. “Sit tight, kids. We’ll be back in a minute.”
Dad spoke with complete sincerity, but as my aging father limped into the forest with his bad hip and knee I wondered if his heart was really in it.
As soon as they had disappeared into the thickness of the trees, my brother Kevin threw up his arms in disgust. “He’s doing it again.” Brad and I knew what Kevin was referring to. Our father knew no limits when it came to service. Inconvenience wasn’t in his vocabulary.
“I bet we end up digging that guy out,” whispered Brad, poking gloomily in the dirt with a stick. The day suddenly felt a century long.
The rustling in the trees alerted us that Dad had returned from his service project. “I don’t know kids. It looks pretty bad.” Dad’s head was slowly shaking. “Let’s go give him a little tug and see if we can’t break him loose.”
After loading our supplies into the truck, we rounded the grove of trees and surveyed the scene. I witnessed a truly depressing situation. The truck was situated in the worst possible place, a low valley meadow where all of the late-spring run-off would settle and create a greasy swamp. The monstrous six-cord truck was sunk past its axles. Firewood weighed heavily on the bed of the truck increasing the complexity of the problem. That’s how we were introduced to the Lopez family, a wood-hauling crew consisting of Mr. Lopez, his wife, and their two small children.
Dad took us aside, looked at us, and began carefully and sternly convincing us of our responsibility. “Now if you kids think you’ve had a hard day, just think how those two kids are feeling. What you don’t realize is that this is their dad’s job. If they don’t get their wood, they don’t eat.”
Dad was right. These people were in some serious trouble, and we had to help them. Besides, how hard could it be to tow them out?
Feeling like good Samaritans, we quickly hooked up our truck to the Lopez’s. Two spins of our tires later Mr. Lopez frantically waved his arms signaling my dad to stop. Between the weight of both trucks and the soft, marshy earth, our truck had sunk to its axles too.
The despair that came over our newly formed group was like a thick, scratchy horse blanket too heavy to remove. But then Dad came up with a solution. About 100 yards from our imprisoning muck we saw a black truck.
“Hey! Hey you over there! Do you think you could help us out of here?”
The stranger nodded slowly and climbed into his truck. When he saw what he had agreed to deal with, he said shortly, “Won’t pull ya loaded.” And with that, he made a graceful exit to his truck.
I looked at my dad and shot him the “You have got to be crazy” glance. He replied with the “What can I do?” shrug. We had no options available. All of us—including the Lopezes—scrambled to the top of the mountain of firewood in the back of our truck ready to destroy our entire day’s labor. As we worked side by side with one another, a strange feeling settled among us. I began to feel a bond with the Lopezes. If we didn’t work together, nobody was leaving tonight. A feeling of appreciation for one another was developing.
Little by little, our truck bed’s load was lessened until it was finally empty. Immediately, it sprang forward like a cheetah pouncing on its prey.
“Well, let’s get started on the Lopez’s truck. It’s not going anywhere loaded.”
The familiar process began yet again. Except this time, the mountain was Mt. Everest and the troops were showing signs of fatigue. The day began to haze over as the sun slowly set behind the mountain skyline.
Mr. Lopez was astoundingly strong, lifting enormous blocks like they were Tinkertoys. By the time we’d emptied the truck, the piles of firewood scattered about the muddy meadow surpassed any I had seen before. And the routine was the same. Once the Lopez’s truck was unloaded, it leaped forward from the sticky mess. Both trucks were now free.
Without hesitating, the Lopezes began throwing the burly logs into the back of our truck. We were touched by their grateful actions, and as a result found hidden strength to finish this eternal load of firewood. I never saw my brothers work harder. Our companions had set a feverish pace, and our pride wouldn’t let us lag behind. When the last block was toppled on, I headed for the truck to climb in but was stopped by my father’s voice.
“There’s one truck left, kids.”
Like we hadn’t noticed.
Kevin shook his head in unbelief. “Dad, I don’t think I can do it.”
Dad looked at his crew and smiled. It was a smile that said, “I know you can, and you will.” It was a smile filled with genuine love for his fellowman. It was a smile that told us in 20 years this would make a great family reunion tale.
We loaded that six-cord truck that night for a total of 20 cord of wood we had moved in one day. We never saw our friends again, but a strange bond developed between us that day. Our dad taught us a great lesson of service, one that would have a lasting effect on us. Because our dad had so strongly insisted on helping that family, we learned how wonderful service really feels.
The sore muscles are gone, but we still feel a love for the Lopez family. And I know that in 20 years, ours won’t be the only family reunion where this story is told.