My Father was a Carnivorous Xylopolist: A Rambling Recollection

Yes, my father was a xylopolist. I did not know that until just a short while ago. Somehow, some way, I stumbled across the word online. I didn’t recognize it, so I looked it up. It wasn’t in the free online Merriam-Webster dictionary, nor on But I found it in plenty of other places. And the definitions consistently corresponded with my father’s occupation, at least his last one. He was, indeed, a xylopolist. That is, a person who sells lumber. Depending on which definition one accepts, the term describes a person who sells fine timber, fine lumber, or who simply is a lumber merchant. They all describe my father.  Though he didn’t specialize in fine hardwoods, he sold his share of fine hardwood lumber. And he sold the highest quality redwood and cedar, lumber that today would be impossible to find and even more difficult to pay for. Of course, he sold plenty of yellow pine and larch and fir. He didn’t have the benefit of global communication and global research that today feeds us information about our endangered forests. And he spoke often about forest product management; the timber companies, he believed, were harvesting only timber that would be replaced by the companies’ timber farming practices. And it’s possible that was the case. But our appetite for lumber has outstripped our ability to replenish the supply of wood. That’s easy to see when you go to a lumberyard to find good lumber, heart wood with few if any knots. It’s just not there. Instead, warped, cupped boards filled with knots are in ample supply. I suppose there’s still high quality lumber to be found, but it is directed toward outlets that supply high-end architectural suppliers who serve businesses and individuals with limitless cash. The one-percenters, as it were.

The same people who can afford high-end lumber can afford prime steaks and the very best vegetables and the finest seafoods. You know, the stuff that is picked over by chefs from fine dining restaurants before it goes to high-end grocery stores. The leftovers go to mass market supermarkets and the dregs, then, go to those scarce markets that supply impoverished food deserts.

My mind seems always to bend and twist even the simplest subjects into the stuff of skeptical debates and cynical assessments of man’s inhumanity to mankind. I suppose it’s natural. Or, if one is a one-percenter, it’s the inevitable angry outpouring of the resentful common man. But let’s change the subject, shall we?

My father enjoyed steak and bacon and pork chops. He was an omnivore, not a carnivore. But he was carnivorous; he was an eater of flesh, as am I. I’m becoming less so in recent years, but I still enjoy a bloody steak. My father liked his meat cooked more “done” than do I, though truth be told, I can’t remember specifically how he liked his steaks. I think he liked them medium to medium-well, but that’s really a guess, based on faulty memory. After all, it’s been almost 35 years since he died; my memory of how he liked his food cooked has faded almost entirely. But I know he liked meat. He was especially fond of bacon. I remember (albeit vaguely) that he arose very early in the morning when I was a kid and he cooked a lot of bacon. He cooked it the way I liked it; cooked through, but still a bit limp. At least I think that’s how he cooked it. I’ve never much liked crispy bacon; it seems overcooked, almost burned, when it’s too crispy. I think I inherited the bacon appreciation gene from my father. And, the bacon-texture appreciation gene, too.

I may have inherited other traits from my father. Like a predisposition to lung cancer. My father died of lung cancer when he was 81 years old, after years of coping with a terrible cough. My cough, of late, reminds me of his; convulsive fits of coughing whose purpose seems designed to rid the bronchial tubes of mucus coatings.

Aside from these few attributes, and a few more I may one day write about, I am unlike my father. Our personalities, I think, grew from different roots. Although I sometimes think we’re more alike than I will admit. I wouldn’t begin to know how to write a character in a novel who would resemble my father. I don’t think I ever knew him well enough to write a character that even resembled him superficially, much less emotionally. My recollections of him are built, in no small part, on second-hand recollections of others. I suspect the same is true of my memories of my mother, though they are more vivid than my recollections of my father. This focus on early and not-so-early memories is, again, a reminder than I have only vague memories of much of my life into early adulthood. And, for that matter, from early adulthood to the present. It’s as if my life blurs as I live through it. The pages of my book of personal history are covered in thick layers of dust. When I brush the dust from the pages, the ink of the underlying letters smears and become almost illegible.

Recollections (or the lack thereof) of my early life almost always drift into melancholy. I’ve had enough melancholy for the day, so I’ll stop writing now.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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