They waited out his endless diatribe. He had always repeated himself, and though it had gotten worse recently, they put up with it because it was what it was.

“C’mon, Unc, Maddon’ yourself, we promise,” Mauro said.

“OK then. Be careful and have fun.” Aldo held a hard look on his nephews, then tipped his cap with a little smile. “Look out oaks!”

They watched him walk stiffly to his brown Chevy truck. He threw the chainsaw into the bed as easily as one tosses a Frisbee. He honked twice as he drove the dirt road toward the waiting forest.

“Can you believe the shape he’s in? Trade bodies with him in a heartbeat,” Mauro said. “I’m ready to slay. We gonna nail a couple this weekend or what?”

“Depends on how this farmer’s place sets up. We’ll have to see the property,” Don said. “Unc exaggerates, but Nino said he was on the phone with him, told him this Troyer built tree stands for us.”

“No kidding? He really is the salt of the Earth,” Mauro said. “So, when the hell’s Doctor Nino getting up?”

“Should be here soon. Pediatrics is stressing him out. You know how he is with kids. He’s anxious to get on the water. Maybe we’ll have walleye for dinner tomorrow. Right now I’m so hungry I’m farting dust. Let’s grub.”

They unpacked the Cherokee and carried their stuff into the cabin.

Aldo’s brown truck was parked on the shoulder of M-72. He was two miles into his allotted section of the Huron National Forest, using old fire trails and abandoned deer runs to get there. Yellow light filtered through rows of tall trees, remnants of diligent work performed by the Civilian Conservation Corps sixty years earlier. But that was red pine, and he had no use for soft woods. Aldo wanted oak, so he headed in further, away from the main road, deep in. It worried his family that he always went so far off the highway, but it was what he had to do.

He worked the saw into a felled white oak four feet in diameter. Shredded wood chips flew past his face and he let the sour smell burn his nostrils, inhaling the scent into his lungs. The oak was stuck under the trunk of an aspen that had been blown across it by a vertical wind shear that came through that past summer. The chain bore down deep as he tried to free it from the aspen. The blade chugged and gnawed. He braced himself for leverage against the half-circle of earth that still held onto the shallow roots of the dead aspen. The oak started pinching the chain and the engine labored.

“Come on you dirty little puttana,” he cursed at the saw.

Finally the blade went through, but the chain jumped off the track as the collapsing pieces of oak clamped down on it.

“Minchia!” Aldo said, killing the engine. “You puttana!”

“Can’t call her a whore and expect her to love you,” said a voice from behind.

Aldo turned and gave a little laugh at the sight of Nino.

“You want I should talk nice to her, huh?” Aldo said, a grin blossoming.

At six feet two, Nino Vendetti was the tallest of Aldo’s nephews, and his love of family matched his size. Everyone adored Nino, especially the younger cousins. He was a big, lovable kid whose favorite thing to do was play Santa each year at the family’s huge Christmas party. Nino loped up to Aldo and picked him up in a tight bear hug. He delivered a loud smack on both cheeks of his uncle’s square jaw.

“Nino, my man! How you doing? You gonna catch some fish for us tonight or what? I mean, you been stone blanked the last two times you been up here,” Aldo joked.

“I sure hope so, Uncle. Ain’t been able to catch a cold lately. Mauro and Don get up OK?” he asked. Aldo took in the whole sight of Nino and smiled.

“Oh yeah, they’re primed. I got ’em set up at Ed Troyer’s place. He’s a good man, good friend of mine. I ever tell you about Ed? Man’s salt of the Earth—”

“Unc, last week—remember? We talked for half an hour on the phone.”

Aldo nodded, finally recollecting their conversation. “Goddamn CRS disease is kicking in on me,” he mumbled. Nino squinted at the mention of the word disease. Aldo waved him off.

“Don’t worry, Doctor. CRS: Can’t Remember Squat. Little joke old people tell. Your Aunt Val always laughed at that one,” Aldo smiled.

“Oh, OK. Had me worried. Let me help you with that chain.”

Photo(s) by Illustration by Joe Borri,