The things they carried

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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.

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