It feels good to remember things from the past during day-to-day chores or activities. Our minds seem to work in mysterious and random ways to create flashbacks and memories when we least expect them.
Recently, I was working with a friend of mine on a woodworking project. Woodworking and construction is a meditative way for me to spend my spare time. I do not have to worry too much about anything else except what I am working on at the moment. I have been involved in many woodworking and carpentry projects in the past. Our family business in Attawapiskat is centred on contract work that deals with just about any kind of project. In a remote northern community, there are no professional contractors or workers to call on whenever there is work that needs to be done. So, we had to learn how to do the work ourselves.
My memory came to me while I was kneeling on the floor with a circular saw cutting wood. I was surrounded by the scent of freshly cut lumber. Sawdust covered the floor from hours of work that we had done. Rusted old nails lay scattered on the floor from the dismantling we had done to salvage old lumber we had collected. I spent the day banging nails together, tearing old pieces of lumber apart and as I concentrated on my work, a sudden unexpected memory flashed into my mind.
As I sat kneeling in the forest with the sun coming through the window, the scents, images and actions brought me back to a time when I was seven or eight years old. My younger brothers and I were playing on the dirt and sawdust covered front lawn of our home in Attawapiskat. I and my younger brother Joseph were collecting rusted old nails from the yard. Back then, dad was constantly working on numerous construction projects where old wood and lumber was brought to the house to be torn apart and salvaged. Joseph and I took our odd collection of nails to a wooden block and started hammering away to straighten them out. Nothing was ever wasted in those days.
Our older brother Philip, who was two years older than me, was busy cutting small scrap pieces of two-by-fours into intricate shapes. Then Joseph and I watched as Philip expertly began assembling the blocks into what became a small front end loader. Four roughly rounded, knobbly wheels of wood turned on axles made of three-and-a-half inch nails. The body actually bent like a real front-end loader and a simple arm lifted an object that looked more like a plow than a bucket. The woodworking creation was not really like the fancy toys sold at the Northern Store but our imaginations brought it to life. We quickly put it to use and began plowing out a new road network on our yard to build an imaginary new town.
Back in my reality, kneeling on the floor surrounded by the scents and sights of a modern work site with all the right tools, hardware, equipment and lumber, I smiled to myself and I felt grateful to have been reminded of that moment. I remembered how happy I was to see that toy Philip had made. Even though it was poorly constructed by a 10-year-old woodworker, it was all I needed at the time to make my day. I always saw Philip as a brother that was far older, smarter and more capable than me, even though we were only two years apart in age. At a young age, he started going out on the land with dad and our older brothers for goose hunting, moose hunting and any other type of activity in the wilderness. My two younger brothers and I were the babies of the family, so we looked up to our older brothers as grown men that worked with dad. They were our super heroes.
Tragically, during the Christmas holidays in 1990, our family lost Philip in an accident on the winter road between Attawapiskat and Kashechewan. He passed on at the age of 16 sometime during Christmas Day when he succumbed to hypothermia in the freezing winter weather.
The period after his death was a terrible time for our family. It seems that this event took several years of normalcy from our lives. The first few years after this tragic period felt like a dark depressing hole in my life. I never really thought of Philip back then and I felt that as long as I kept the thought out of my mind, it would be okay. It was many years later, when I started dealing with addictions, that I was able to come to terms with this event in my life. I try to think of him often and to remember him as much as I can although it is incredibly painful. Over the past few years something magical has been happening though. Sometimes when I least expect it, he comes back for a visit. I still see him stopped there in time. He has not aged as I have or those around me have. His eyes are bright and his smile soft and kind. My days are better, now that I know he will always be a part of my life.