The things they carried

February 20, 2015 § 40 Comments

I often see friends post photos of their new bike/car/house/facelift and it usually makes me kind of sad, and a little jealous. There’s something about the act of saying “Look what I own!” that makes me cringe. And it’s funny because hardly anyone seems to put up photos on Fakebook of the books they read. It’s as if you can possess a nice, shiny Bulgemobile and that’s COOL, but you can’t brag about having read a book.

However, my friends who are full-on consumers, who have Porsches and Ferraris in the garage, who have palatial homes here, there, and over yonder, who have bike collections that include separate full carbon extra wheelsets made of carbon to go with each rig, these guys and gals are really just amateur materialists.

When it comes to things, no one is a more hard core materialistic bastard than I am. Just because I don’t put it on Facegag doesn’t mean I’m not the King of Consumerism.

Skeptics will argue that I’m no materialist and will point to my small apartment, my single Prius (a Smugster 4-door, 125k miles), the fact that my casual clothing lineup consists of two pairs of jeans, two hoodies, one gimme cap, and fifteen t-shirts, and they will put the nail in the coffin of their argument when they point out that I only own one bicycle.

But they’re wrong. I’m as materialistic as it gets, but unlike the amateurs with garages and homes full of the latest gewgaw they bought at the LBS or the Bentley dealer, I’ve only got about four prized possessions. What they lack in quantity they make up for in quality. Let me share one of them with you.

When my Grandfather Jim Turner died, he didn’t have very much. A .38 Smith & Wesson, an old 12-gauge with a unique pump-action barrel (trust me, you’ve never seen one), and a big plastic wafer that said “Birth Control Kit for Ladies — Hold between knees and squeeze.”

The top drawer in his chest had an envelope in it. Inside was his only family heirloom, and he left it to me.

envelope

His grandfather, John Turner, fought for the rebellion in the Civil War. One of the things that every soldier carried was a powder measure because they had to measure just the right amount of gunpowder to pour into their rifle. Too little powder and the ball would plop out of the barrel. Too much powder and the breech would blow up in your face.

Great-great-grandfather Turner took the breastbone of a wild turkey, which was hollow, and cut it off so that it held just the right amount of powder. Then he drilled a hole in the bone and ran a buckskin thong through it and hung it around his neck. In battle he could crouch down on his knee, dip his powder measure into his powder bag without looking, level it off with his finger, and always get the right amount.

powder_measure1

powder_measure2

You can see the black gunpowder on the inside. That’s Civil War gunpowder, and the last time my great-great-grandfather used it was shortly before Appomattox, where he surrendered with Lee. When you hold it in your hand it’s light but incredibly strong. Sometimes late at night when I can’t sleep and the demons are raging and I’m soaked in sweat and being dead seems preferable to getting up in the morning I hold the powder measure and roll it between my fingers. When I do, I think about my grandfather. He had a flat-bottomed boat that he would use to take me and my brother fishing on the Lake O’ the Pines. The name of the boat was the Ian-Seth.

I think about my grandfather and how gentle he was and how much he loved us, and how that love has strengthened me more than anything in my life. Then I usually fall right to sleep.

I wonder if other people feel the same way about their carbon bikes and Italian cars?

I hope they do.

END

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§ 40 Responses to The things they carried

  • brent f says:

    Seth! Thank you! 🙂

  • A-Trav says:

    I, er, uh, I mean, they don’t. Consumption will never fill the void. Another brilliant encapsulation of the human condition. Thanks for putting things in proper perspective.

  • Brian in VA says:

    Thanks for that special share, Seth. There is something about those ties to our past, talismans, memories, pictures, that help to ground all of us from time to time. I’m very glad you have this one.

  • Tamar T. says:

    “hardly anyone seems to put up photos on Fakebook of the book they read.” You’re the only one! Although I’m happy to share. Currently reading The Lincoln Lawyer and I hate it; because of all the legal and factual inaccuracies it’s hard for me to focus on the story. But I’m not giving up yet. Last read: The Boys in the Boat, about the University of Washington Crew that competed in the 1936 Olympics. Kinda too long and detailed but I still loved it. You?

    • fsethd says:

      Der Zaubergerg by Thomas Mann, just finished Sexus, the first part of The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy by Henry Miller. And thanks again for The Poisonwood Bible!

  • Gives me a boner thinking about muzzle loading firearms! I’m over here thinking, man what if everyone that wants and needs a firearm had to use this system? What a better world this would be! So many fewer killings would be going on!

    Want to point out your right to bear arms? Sure, only if you use the arms that were around when this right was written!

  • Wanklite says:

    I ride my great grandfather’s carbon road bike. With carbon wheels.

  • That’s it. I am now a paid subscriber to your blog. And it’s a truly treasured material purchase. Thank you.

  • dangerstu says:

    Thanks Seth,
    I’ve been reading too many computer related books recently, unfortunately the last real book I did read was Reamde by Neal Stevenson. My grandfather was a carpenter, he had several saws the one he let me use was so old that there was only half the metal left after years of constant resharpening. Then when I was about 11 or 12 he got his good saw out it was the same saw just newer, I could not believe they were the same, he showed me how to sharpen it. It’s one of the things that sticks in my memory, it’s why I can’t throw things out that still have life in them, why I place the knifes and forks gently in the cutlery draw and hate it when my wife just throws them, “don’t you know to look after your tools”. The other day I had to cut up some large branches, I got the saw out and had a tinge of remorse for using the good saw, but it’s still sharp from the when he showed me how to do it nearly 40 years ago and I thought of him as it ripped through the branches.

    • fsethd says:

      Reminds me of John Prine: “Grandpa was a carpenter, he built houses, stores, and banks.”

      • dangerstu says:

        Mine help build the wooden gliders they strapped tanks to, so they could tow them to Normandy to support the ground troops… Earlier in the war they also literally “Sent him to Coventry” to sure up the city during the blitz… I’m sure it’s obvious but you hit a nerve today.

      • fsethd says:

        Thanks. Long time ago I read “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, now a classic Vietnam memoir.

  • Greg says:

    “Yes, son. These are the wheels ridden in the 21st century by Wanky. You can see the black carbon they used to use. Rumor has it the wheels were last used in the great 60+ Battle of Rosena Ranch when Wanky made an epic solo bridge to the 55+ breakaway, leaving the 60+ field in ruins. It was the endgame of the battle, and forever etched Wanky in the Annals of Rosena. Treat then well.”

  • Sr Geezer Johan says:

    Cool Stars and Bars story with memorabilia. Thanks

    Hmmm. Maybe I should take better care of my hand carved faux carbon carbon(ok. so just a Home Depot PVC electric box I had sitting around) bottom bracket magnet mount so my heirs can pass it down for centuries with lore of how it recorded my Strava Budweiser Hill KOM 5th place finish(note: on the podium(!!!) based on USAC Masters Nationals protocol) at the Wed B Group Worlds on April 10, 2013. 😉

  • …BAD ASS!!!…I want so bad to see this!!…
    …also, some funny replies here…”You can see the black carbon they used to use”…hahaha…

  • LesB says:

    Primitive cultures would say that your powder measure carries the spirit of your grandfather.

  • Jowdog says:

    Thanks, Seth. It’s important that we know each other beyond the bikes and the beatdowns. Join Goodreads.com. It will illuminate your friends in a different light.

  • Dan K says:

    Damn…that was good.

  • dan martin says:

    Very cool, thanks for sharing.

  • Dogg says:

    That was a good read.

  • Winemaker says:

    You know that scene is Forrest Gump when Lieutenant Dan talks about his fate was supposed to be dying in battle, like his father, grandfather, etc.? That’s real. My father used to tell me stories about his grandfather, who lost a leg to a damn yankee cannonball….didn’t stop him from having five kids post war, though!….and so, 89 years later, you got me…ha! And my dad and grandfather were never anything but soldiers, but they wanted to fish mostly.

    • fsethd says:

      All men from the south only want to fish. And they generally don’t even care if they catch anything.

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