Woodworking again: The memoir of Harold Wood

By Dave Wood
Posted 6/12/24

My father passed on to be with the Great Story Tellers in The Sky many years ago, but I’m glad I assigned him a project those many years ago when he lost his second wife and one of his legs, …

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Woodworking again: The memoir of Harold Wood


My father passed on to be with the Great Story Tellers in The Sky many years ago, but I’m glad I assigned him a project those many years ago when he lost his second wife and one of his legs, which left him housebound. For the first time in our relationship, he became bored, then cranky, so it dawned on me on one of my trips to visit that he needed a project to keep him occupied, so I said, “Pa, you’ve led an eventful life which spans an entire century. Why don’t you take pen to paper and write your autobiography?”

“You’ve got to be kidding. No one’s interested in my boring life. You’re the writer in the family. Why don’t you do it? You’ve lied about me in print for years!”

“Because you could do it better, Dad.”

And by God, he agreed! I breathed a sigh of relief, naively believing that the task should keep him busy for the rest of his life. Five days later, he phoned to inform me his manuscript was finished and in the mail, heading for my commentary. “And whatever you do, don’t correct my grammar and spelling!”

Turns out the manuscript was clean as a whistle, written in his fine Spencerian hand, learned in his one year spent at Whitewater State Teachers College. In the passage which he wrote about World War I, he muffed the spelling of the German royal family of Hohenstauffen, so I just knocked off an “F” and no one was the wiser for it. Disappointed that he had finished before he had barely started, I sneaked down to the Star Tribune and surreptitiously set it in Roman type, cut and pasted the galleys, ran over to Insty-Print and ordered 100 paperbacks with art on the cover and dad’s mug on the back. Insty-Print delivered a box of the finished product which I gift- wrapped and delivered it to a surprised father on his 82nd birthday. “100 copies! What in hell am I supposed to do with all of these?”  

“Send them to relatives and friends. You still have friends, don’t you? I’ve included stamped manila  envelopes….’’  “…Well, maybe….”

Five days later, dad spent a whole dollar to phone me again to inform me that “I sent out the books, just like you said, and I’ll be damned if I’ m not getting all kinds of phone messages asking me to write MORE stories about my life!”

And so it was that Harold Wood became the only author in Trempealeau County to write a two-volume story of his life. The second installment substantially adds to volume I, includes pictures of the town where he grew up, and is titled “A Twentieth Century Life Part II.” The author sent copies to volume I  fans and, as his only son, I possess the only extant copy which I intend to re-read as soon as this memoir about a memoir comes to a close. But I’m not quite finished until I give you a sample of Dad’s prose style taken from volume I in which he filled me in about his maternal grandfather, a Swedish immigrant:

Charlie Johnson, in search of some land to settle, walked 40 miles from his job as blacksmith in La Crosse all the way to Osseo where he found a 560-acre acreage in Hale Township perfect for raising sheep, sent for his two brothers in Sweden, who came to live with him and his new bride before settling on their own farms nearby. As he developed his acreage as a sheep farm, he grew wealthy. When I was a little boy, our hired girl said to my mother, “Mrs. Wood, there’s an old man in the yard dressed in a shedding dog skin coat, a tramp!” Mother looked out the window and explained, “That’s no tramp; that’s my father!’’  She also reported that whenever he was driving a team and wagon and approached a hill, he’d jump out of the wagon to lighten the horses’ load. Once my mother was allowed to accompany the elders on a long shopping trip to Eau Claire. She recalled that when the wagon wheels began to squeak, Charlie lubricated them with lard meant for their sandwiches. So it was dry bread for the rest of the trip. On a family journey to North Dakota, mother was very embarrassed to watch her father, seated in first class, picking whole herrings out of a wooden keg, popping them into his gaping bearded maw and chewing contentedly.  Her shame turned to pride when we arrived in Minneapolis, almost too late to get across town to the other depot. Unfazed, my grandpa hailed a policeman, whispered something to the officer, then started hollering, swearing, and raising hell. The cop, pretending to arrest him, grabbed him by the collar, dragged him, the 80-year-old, kicking and screaming, as the crowd parted and we were able to make our exit in time to catch our next train.

Dave would like to hear from you! Phone him at 715-426-9554.      

Woodworking again, Dave Wood, Harold Wood, memoir, fathers, column