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Korby's Connections: Hands of another time

My granddaughter was recently sitting on my lap and asked, "Why do you have such hairy knuckles, Grandpa?"

Kind of a personal question, but it made me pause and think. My dad had hairy knuckles. The hair even curled. To my eyes, he always had big, strong hands. He died 40 years ago, when I was 29.

My dad, for most of his working life, was a car mechanic and gas station owner. When not at work, he was putzing around in his four-stall garage. He could fix almost anything: cars, plumbing, carpentry, electric. I was always jealous, for I could fix almost nothing.

Lava soap was a staple at our bathroom sink. I felt sorry for my mom for the mess he made and then "sort of" cleaned up.

My dad showed courage with those hands. I remember a bee flying around on the windshield inside our family car. There was no air conditioning back then; car windows were usually open for summer drives. To protect all of us, he squished the bee in his hands. He did it more than once.

He had a horse step on his knee when he was a young kid, and it kept him out of the military. Those big, hairy hands never had to go to Europe or some other faraway place during World War II.

My dad didn't graduate from high school, but he knew physics. When I struggled with a rusted bolt or nut, he'd offer assistance and torque the wrench at just the right angle and it'd come free. Made me look weak.

The Korby home would have "stove-length" wood delivered, which we had to split into "sauna size" for burning. Usually, the individual blocks had to be cut into four or six pieces. My dad and I would work together after my older brothers had left home. He'd put the blocks into position and then I'd swing the splitting maul. He'd actually lick his pointer finger on those big hands and mark on the wood where he wanted me to come down with the maul. If I hit the site precisely, the wood would split. If I missed by a quarter of an inch and the block didn't break, he'd just go "auugh" and lick his finger again and mark another spot.

My dad, with those hairy knuckles, was never much for sports, unless you count hunting and fishing. He didn't show me how to throw a ball or hold a bat or shoot a basket. My older brothers did that. In his later working days, he worked shifts at the paper mill, often seven days a week. It was such that he couldn't coach or even attend games I played.

During our time at the cabin on Eagle Lake, his big hands showed me how to bait a hook and take fish off the hook and put them onto the stringer.

My dad taught me how to ride a bike. And there was no one in Scanlon better at getting a loose bike chain back onto the sprockets.

He went with me when I bought my first truck at Wenberg Ford in Moose Lake. Those hairy, knuckled hands were on the shop manager's table helping to negotiate a "better deal." He also loaned me and my wife money to help buy our first home. Those hands never charged interest on repayment.

My dad lived long enough to meet some of his grandkids. Those big hairy hands helped dig potatoes in his garden with his oldest grandkids, and got his hands dirty with them.

I'm not sure if my dad ever changed a diaper on his kids or grandkids, unless maybe in an emergency. It was a different era. Not many men did.

The oldest grandkids were in preschool when he died of heart failure.

It's difficult to explain the bond between grandchildren and grandparents. Hearing them speak, sing and read is magical. Taking them to parks and playing sports and games and holding their hands as they grow up is heartwarming.

Those big hands of my dad definitely missed out here. I cherish these moments with my grandkids, and hopefully for some years to come.

I feel a little shortchanged that my dad died fairly young. But I think of children who may not grow up with a dad - or not have one at all - from illness, accidents, split marriages or other circumstances. Parenting has changed, of course, and dads are expected to be compassionate, show their feelings, and share in parental duties.

My dad was more from the gruff Scandinavian parenting generation. He didn't hold hands or show much emotion, because he likely viewed it as a weakness.

I recently came across my father's wedding ring in a drawer and I tried it on. It fit perfectly.

Columnist Steve Korby's interest in writing goes back to when he was in fourth grade and editor of the Scan-Satellite school newspaper in Scanlon. He welcomes ideas for human interest stories and tales regarding Carlton County residents, projects, history, and plans by email at [email protected].