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Another Mistake

I am a fan of college football, particularly the Razorbacks. Each Friday morning I look in my Roanoke, Virginia, newspaper to see which games are available on Friday night and Saturday. I recently counted over 30 games available. Things used to be different.

My parents got their first TV in 1953 when I was in the eighth grade. We could receive only two channels, one clearly and one with fuzzy reception. No college football games were available on either of our channels. By the time I was a senior (1957-58), we could watch one game per week, but it was generally a game of no interest to me. On January 1st we could watch three games - the Cotton Bowl in the early afternoon, the Rose Bowl in the late afternoon, and the Orange Bowl at night. Getting to see a game that I really wanted to see was, for me, a once per year event.

In 1955, the game of the year, as I saw it, was the Rose Bowl, between Ohio State and the University of Southern California. I really looked forward to seeing that game.

My brother Bill was always thinking of schemes for making money. In the weeks before the Ohio State - USC game he hit upon an idea that “could not fail.” He had noticed that in the Camp Area there were giant cedar trees just waiting for some young entrepreneur, such as himself. He approached a local carpenter who agreed to be part of his plan. Bill would cut down cedars and take them to a saw mill north of town, where they would be turned into lumber. The carpenter would use the cedar boards to make cedar chests. Bill would sell the cedar chests and money would roll in.

He cut down his first tree and needed help loading it into our father’s station wagon. He enlisted my help for the loading part. The trouble was that he wanted to do the loading on New Year’s day, the day of the big Ohio State - USC game, my once a year chance to see a really great college football game.

At first, I said I would not help him because of the big game. He assured me that we would be back before the Rose Bowl began. I reluctantly agreed. Everything about the plan took more time than he had forecast. We got back to the house for the last quarter. I MISSED most of THE BIG GAME.

My brother’s cedar chest dream came to an abrupt end. When he took the log to the saw mill, the miller’s giant blade cut into it and produced several boards, but then things went wrong. The log, it turned out, contained shrapnel, and when the blade did battle with the shrapnel, it lost. The saw blade suffered serious damage, and the miller made it clear that my brother was not welcome to return.

My brother and I had each made a mistake. He mistakenly believed that he could make money using cedar trees from the Camp Area. I mistakenly believed him when he forecast the time needed for the job. I considered missing that game to be a tragedy. My brother didn’t see it that way. To this day, Bill chuckles when remembering my missing that BIG GAME.

Thinking about the cedar tree incident I recently phoned my brother to see if he remembered the name of the carpenter who was to make the cedar chests. Bill didn’t remember the name, but we agreed that he lived on South Greenwood Street, about half way up Hiatt’s Hill toward the water tower.

My brother remembered details that I had forgotten. At the time of the cedar tree incident, the artillery range of Camp Chaffee was in use, but they didn’t fire on Sundays. (On every other day of the week we in Charleston would hear ‘thunder’ when the artillery rounds exploded.) One Sunday, Bill scouted around the Camp Area looking for candidates for his cedar harvest. He found a particularly suitable tree and took careful note of its location. The next Sunday, when he returned, he noticed something odd. There was a small crater at the base of the tree that had not been there the previous week, and there was shrapnel scattered around on the ground. Also, there were small black ‘spots’ on the tree trunk. None of this information was enough to suggest to him the presence of shrapnel in the wood. He cut down the tree and, on January 1st with me as his helper, returned and hauled it away, all the while dreaming of cedar chest riches.

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