Yours and Mine

There are many stupid events in my life. Times when I proceeded to take actions that hindered our financial progress or caused unnecessary family strife. One of these occurred within days of my daughter’s birth.

The arrival of each of my three children are shrouded in activities and memories. For my first child, I was in California when my wife went into labor in Virginia. I performed a frantic dash across the country and arrived for the final hours of labor. (See First Birth Part 1 & Part 2).

My daughter’s birth was less hectic. The crisis leading up to her appearance revolved around finishing her bedroom in time. We had purchased a three-bedroom house a few years before. Our finances were thinned to the point we could not replace all the carpet and curtains in the bedrooms.

Shortly after moving in, we found out my wife was pregnant with our son and we scrimped and prioritized finances to get carpet and drapes in his room. We received gifts of furniture and baby items from family and friends in time for him to have a place to sleep.

Our finances continued to be tight, as they are for many young families, and the looming arrival of the baby girl increased the pressure on us to carpet the bare concrete floor in her room quickly.

Another mixed blessing was the gift of a new dishwasher from my parents. They generously bought a very nice unit that promised to be QUIET. We just needed to install it. We could have had it installed for us, but wanted to take the opportunity to change the kitchen layout a bit. The location of the old one was inconvenient for emptying and my wife preferred it to be somewhere else. (Yes ma’am)

The new location required cabinet removal that revealed tile floor irregularities. While fixing those, we discovered a sink drainpipe leak. New counters, new sink, new pipes, new tile, and new dishwasher all got installed the weekend before birth. (Whew!)

That same week, a brand new credit card arrived in the mail. Somebody out there thought I was good enough for a gold card. I was stupid enough to believe I deserved it and could afford it. Within days after my daughter’s birth, I went out and purchased a brand new computer on it.

I picked up the car keys and moved towards the front door.

“Where are you going?” my wife asked.

“To buy a computer on the new gold card.” I answered.

The look of shock and exhaustion on her face was not warning enough for me to register my stupidity. I was a MAN. (Young and stupid to the maximum possible)

“What? You got a baby. I’m getting a computer.” I proclaimed in one of the most idiotic statements of our lives.

We have pictures of me holding my daughter on my lap as I struggle to type around her. You all know how much I spent–way more than I had planned. It’s never just the machine, is it? There’s memory to upgrade, accessories to collect, software to buy, connection to the outside world (phone line, modem, router, cable,…)

The Perfect (Snow) Storm

The powerful storm skipped most of New York today and provided the bulk of its offerings to Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Boston received more than two feet of snow and strong winds are pushing it into deep drifts.

I enjoy living in Virginia.

I walked out the front door to my driveway this morning where the pavement was bare and only a thin layer of puffy snow coated my car. There was no ice to scrape and it took only minutes to warm my car and clear all my windows.

The ground was not frozen. Roads were clear. Traffic was light on the way to work. Schools were delayed opening and most people seemed content to wait for their own morning commutes as well.

By noon, the temperatures warmed enough to melt all the ground snow remaining in the grassy areas.


The Ring

The gold souk spanned four floors in the modern building. The main door was like that found in a bank vault. Nothing else was sold at this place. Nothing but gold.

Every shop displayed ornate necklaces, bracelets, pendants, earrings, rings, and decorative pieces in abundance yet somehow each store seemed to have unique items. The creative variety seemed endless.

Merchants offered tea to prospective customers. Young boys walked the hallways with tea trays always ready to stop and serve at the gesture of the shopkeeper.

Tim had visited this souk once before and spent four hours browsing, inspecting, choosing, and purchasing various items at several different shops. He had politely accepted too much tea then and experienced the luxurious opulence of one restroom.

He strode purposely this night to the escalators and ascended to the third floor. He moved to the specific shop intent upon a single purchase, his ring. On the previous shopping trip, he had found a beautifully patterned wedding ring the perfect size for his future bride. Today, he was seeking a matching one in his own size. The shop owner had said he could get one made to his specifications, in the proper size, in a short time. Tim was back to see it through.

The owner recognized him from the visit only a few days before and knew exactly what Tim wanted. After a greeting and short conversation to confirm Tim’s intentions to purchase the desired ring, the man called over a young boy. It was not one of the tea boys, this one appeared to be an errand boy. After a rapid string of instructions in their own language, the young boy ran down the hallway toward the escalators.

The owner turned to Tim and told him the boy was on his way to the goldsmith to pick up the ring. It would be less than one hour and then offered tea. Tim smiled and accepted. He sat at a nearby table and a tea boy served him a steaming cup. Tim and the owner sipped their tea and talked little. The owner hopped up to wait on another customer and Tim turned to watch the shopping activity.

The view in the souk was stunning. Floor after floor with every shop selling gold. There were millions of dollars worth on display in this one building alone. Tim had been told there were several more buildings like this in the city. The concept staggered him.

He watched as customers accepted offers of tea at various shops. The tea boys moved constantly. Tim could not determine their resupply location. There were too many running about to track accurately. Scattered outside shops were other tables where men played chess or backgammon to pass the time.

The patterns of people moving, tea boys running, shopkeepers smiling and chatting with customers played out over and over on all four floors. Like an intricate hive of people engaging in commerce.

People? Men was more accurate Tim realized. There was not a single woman in view in the entire building. None among the shopkeepers or customers at all. He did not understand why that was but felt it would be inappropriate to ask. He sipped his tea again and waited patiently for the runner’s return.

The errand boy darted through the crowd and up the escalator at just under one hour’s time. He reached the shop and handed over a folded pouch to the shop owner. The man unfolded the soft cloth and held the ring out to Tim. Tim took the ring and looked at it, comparing it to the smaller one he had already purchased for his bride. The patterns matched exactly. The only difference was the larger size of his ring which fit perfectly.

The shop owner smiled broadly and told Tim the goldsmith had just completed making it that afternoon. Was there anything else in the store he would like to buy this evening? Tim smiled back and expressed his thankfulness for the special attention and offer for more, but no. The ring was all he needed tonight.

The shop owner nodded, pulled out his calculator and held his hand out for the ring. Tim handed it back and watched it get placed on a small scale. The owner tapped out the price of gold as listed in London that day and multiplied it by the weight of the ring with a slight adjustment as this was not 24 karat gold, “only” 22 karat like the other ring. He showed Tim the numbers and they exchanged currency, smiles, handshakes and the ring.

Tim put the carefully wrapped rings into his pocket and turned to the escalators. He walked with a relaxed pace through the city to where he would lay his head that night. The bright city competed with the stars tonight but the moon outshone them all and his heart brimmed with the joy of his upcoming wedding.

Getting a State Trooper’s Attention

The scene could have been on a postcard. The red barn crested the top of the green pasture with the fifty foot high white concrete block silo in the center. The view stunned drivers as they drove up the country road. Cars emerged from the cover of the trees into an open space where the sunlight and low stone wall provided an image many stopped to capture on film.

The four teenage farm boys decided to have some fun. They constructed a dummy from an old pair of jeans, flannel shirt, bleach bottle, and straw hat. Filled with hay and tied together with twine, it looked like a lazy man napping in the sun. Too boring. They needed more action.

One of the brothers suggested using the silo. They would hoist the dummy on a rope and drop it as cars made it to the viewing point. The others agreed and put the plan in action. One got the twine rope they had made. At over 200 feet long, it was more than enough.

Next, they argued over who would take the rope up through the pulley at the top of the silo. The ladder started ten feet off the ground and the safety cage stopped a few feet from the top. One brother grabbed the end of the twine rope, looped it through his belt loop, and started climbing the steel cables that encircled the silo. He quickly reached the bottom rung of the ladder and scampered to the top.

A few moments passed where the rope was run through the pulley and sent back to the ground before he climbed down. He dropped the final ten feet onto the soft grass. His brothers had already looped and tied the rope around the dummy and three of them began raising it up the tower.

One brother took a lookout position near the stone wall and listened for approaching cars. The others held the rope and partially hid around the curve of the silo wall. A car approached from the road below.

“Now!” the lookout shouted.

The brothers released the rope and the man-sized dummy fell. The timing was perfect and the image shocking. The approaching car screeched as the driver slammed on the brakes having witnessed what they clearly thought was a dangerous or even deadly fall for a man.

The boys burst out from their positions to check the damage to the dummy. They pointed and laughed at the stunned driver stopped at the lower pasture wall. The driver realized the prank and slowly drove up the road. He frowned and shook his head as he passed the boys. They laughed even harder.

The boys reset the dummy and waited for more cars. They made several successful drops and took turns being the lookout or the one releasing the rope. It was late afternoon and people drove home past the farm after their day at work.

The dummy was ready again and the lookout signaled the approach of another car. The brothers were ready.

“Now!” the lookout shouted.

“Screech!” went the car’s brakes and then, a siren and sudden acceleration rapidly followed.

“State Trooper!” the lookout shouted but his brothers didn’t hear him.

They came out as before, laughing and pointing at the driver ignoring his identity. The trooper did not glance over at the boys as he passed but accelerated directly to the gravel driveway where he braked hard and spun into the turn. He grabbed his door handle and prepared to jump out and assist the “injured man” when he saw the laughing boys preparing to raise the dummy again.

He stopped, sat back in his seat, and closed the car door. He shook his head and pointed at the boys to let them know he’d be watching them in the future. He turned around in the large driveway and slowly drove off up the road.

The boys did a few more drops that day, but none equaled the excitement of gaining Trooper Joe’s attention. From that day forward, each time he drove past the farm, he waved at us.

Take the first sentence from your favorite book and make it the first sentence of your post.

Little Green Apples (100th Post)

Apples are great. Whether eaten fresh and raw or baked in one of many delicious ways, they satisfy like no other fruit. With just a little garnish of butter, cinnamon, and sugar they burst with flavor in your pie, cobbler, or tart. Apple fritters, pancakes, applesauce, apple butter, apple jelly are all welcome at my breakfast table.

Early fruit that falls from the tree also makes excellent ammunition among brothers. Little green apples and bored farm boys make for an exciting combination. I seem to remember one fine summer day when…

The brothers took turns helping with the evening milking and related barn chores. With a barn population of almost 80 cows, calves, and steers there was plenty to do. One of the tasks was to scrape the walkway outside the barnyard entrance. This concrete extension of the barn foundation provided a transition from the dirt, mud, and muck of the barnyard into the barn. Each evening the returning herd tracked goop onto the concrete on their way inside. At almost 40 feet long and 10 feet wide, it took several passes with the bladed scraper to clear the muck off.

This day, our eldest brother had the chores. The warm summer day had encouraged him to remove his shirt. He labored in boots and jeans only. We others had gathered loads of little green apples and brought them to the fence at the far side of the barnyard. The distance was about 120 feet and the target was a moving one.

We started slowly, taking turns with our throws. At first we deliberately missed. The intent was to scare him into a reaction, not cause injury. After several near misses we refined our tactics and aimed to bracket him in front and back as he moved. He ducked and arched his back to dodge our missiles. They shattered against the red-painted boards of the barn near him.

He tried to sprint with the scraper, stubbornly determined to finish his assigned chore before retreating inside the barn. The friction against the concrete and the growing pile of muck hindered his progress. He turned and ran to the left end of the platform. Once there, he started another pass and we began another volley.

He moved in spurts attempting to confuse our timing. It backfired on him. One apple intended to pass behind him grazed his back as he suddenly stopped in place. He lunged forward and the next apple, already thrown, smacked him hard in the rib cage.

The impact could be heard across the barnyard. We froze as he dropped the scraper handle on the walk. He pressed his hand hard on the injury and looked at us in rage. He ran straight across the muddy barnyard at us. We scattered by instinct, but he was locked onto the one who threw the offending apple.

No matter how much I dodged and ran, he lurched at me with a single purpose, to share the pain.
Game over.

The Outdoor Christmas Tree

In two earlier posts I shared the contrast between the his and her family tree traditions.

My siblings quickly piled on about my lack of attention given to our outside tree.

Christmas decorations at the farm were plentiful. Wreaths, garlands, lights, sprays, and the living room tree all brightened the inside. Visitors could not escape the pungent odor of pine. At least during December we had pine to offset the barnyard smell of our sweatshirts, jackets, and work boots as we entered through the mud room.

If you read my earlier post, Decorating the Tree-His Way, you experienced our struggle in making the chosen tree fit in the living room well enough to receive decorations. Some years, that indoor tree was the second trip to the woods. The first one was usually too large or lopsided to have any chance of indoor success.

Perhaps it suffered during the long drag home through cow patties on the lane. Or maybe it held live animals that hid in terror the whole time we chopped it down, dragged it home, and stood it up outside the back door. The critters were often revealed by the dog’s constant barking or several cats showing persistent interest that made us suspicious and look deeper.

Whatever the reason, the doomed tree failed even our pathetic criteria for inside use. It was granted prominent status on the front lawn and adorned with strings of colored lights in an attempt to give it the illusion of a conical shape. In daylight it fooled no one. At night, with an absence of other illumination, the colored lights pulled off a passable job.

Another benefit was that it provided a lit marker of our front lawn. The farmhouse sat on a roadside curve. The long straightaway that approached from uphill made it appear the house sat in the center of the road. Tire tracks on our lawn and a few busted mailbox posts attested to the several errors drivers made on the turn. During December, we had the added safety buffer of a lit tree in the yard that stood farther in front of the house that helped indicate drivers should turn sooner.

O Christmas Tree, we thank thee for being our roadside marker.

Lights in the Corn Field

The car slowed. We watched from the dark upstairs windows. This was the fourth one tonight. All the cars approaching from up the road acted the same way at the same spot.

Most nights, cars cruised the straight stretch at a smooth clip. Cars driving up from below still maintained their speed. Only those approaching downhill were slowing to a crawl at that same place. We knew what caused it. We had done it that afternoon.

Each summer garden reached a battleground stage as the plants ripened. Cows would breach fences and trample more than they ate. Raccoons were worse. They would destroy large amounts just to take a nibble of a single item. Corn was a big draw. Coons would knock down a dozen stalks and only bite into a few of the topmost ears.

We checked fences as the garden matured. Strong fence posts, heavy-gauge wire were the starting point. Raccoon minds worked through weaknesses and the arms race escalated. We added barbed wire at the top for the cows. Electric fence lines at the top and bottom levels bolstered defenses.

Coons climbed the shed and jumped over the electric top wire to get in. They rushed out and took their shocks as they left. It did little to deter their return.

Today we added lights. Not spotlights or general illumination. We added Christmas lights. Colored bulbs surrounded the lower level of the fence and blinked at random intervals. The hope was to confuse or at least disorient the coons enough to keep them out.

A humorous side benefit was the reaction of drivers passing by the field. As they cleared the top of the hill and approached the farm house, they could see the lights blinking in the field off to their right. The spot where they slowed matched the lowest portion of the stone wall and provided the clearest view. Cars travelling up the road did not have the field in view long enough to spot the lights and drove on normally.

We speculated how many would report the strange lights in the field. Would the news have an announcement of possible alien visitors? Should we build a crop circle to go with the lights?

Boys, Rocks, and Hornets

“I’m bored.” brother said. “There’s nothing to do.”

“Get out of the house and go for a walk.” mom told the boys. “Go run around the back pasture or something. It’s a beautiful day outside. Go get some sun. Have some fun.”

Reluctantly, the boys got their shoes on and trudged up the lane to the back fields. The hot summer sun and dusty path provided plenty of dirt clods to pick up and throw. One brother threw a clod against the stone wall and smiled as it exploded in a satisfying puff. The others joined in and took turns selecting dirt clods and various targets.

As they continued walking the lane changed to less dirt to more gravel and grass. Dirt clods were soon replaced with small stones as ammunition. These flew farther and straighter, but lacked the dramatic finish of the clods. They needed a better target.

One brother spotted a large hornet nest hanging from a branch directly over the lane ahead. It was almost the size of half a basketball. Great big white-faced hornets circled the hive and moved in and out of the bottom entrance hole. Brother held his arm out to stop the group.

We all watched as he carefully aimed, threw his rock, and missed. Another brother lined up his shot and whipped his arm in a sideways arc like he was trying to skip a stone on water. His flat rock flew and rose as it spun into the leafy branches above the nest. Another miss.

Each of the brothers selected stones and took turns trying to score a hit. A few moments passed before anyone succeeded. That first stone glanced off the side of the nest making a shallow dent in the gray papery material. The hornets increased their activity around the hive. Several more rapidly emerged from the nest and joined others in a protective orbit.

The brothers laughed at the results and each eagerly took his turn attempting more hits and greater hornet response. One, two, three more hits in quick succession and the hive now had small holes where stones pierced the side wall. At least two of the stones did not pass through the other side and were presumably stuck inside. The hornets multiplied in the air. The boys kept their distance downwind and laughed at the activity.

A brother picked up a larger stone, close to full hand size and said, “Let’s see if we can knock the nest out of the tree.”

His shot missed and the rock landed on the ground under the nest. Other brothers threw large stones and also missed. The heavier stones were harder to throw and when they hit the ground under the nest, small clouds of dust kicked up. The boys grew more excited at each near miss. The original few sentry hornets were now numbering in the couple dozen and made swooping turns in a large circle under the tree.

Rock after rock was thrown until someone heard a tractor approaching. Their uncle was driving from the back pasture back to the barn. He would pass directly under the nest. The boys looked at each other and knew it was time to leave. They each threw their last stones and ran further away and took cover behind some big rocks.

The tractor steadily approached. Their uncle drove casually in the summer sun. He emerged from behind the tree line and took the turn into the lane. The boys saw him look sharply down at the many stones that had appeared since he drove up earlier in the day. He stopped the tractor and stared as he puzzled about how they got there.

The hornets moved in. The diesel exhaust, engine noise, and warm body was just the target they needed to defend against. Hornet after hornet smacked against his head and neck. The first few did not sting him, these were bully attacks. They flew fast and crashed into their enemy to drive them away. If that did not happen quickly, the stingers came out.

Their uncle had stopped the tractor by pushing in the clutch and stepping on the brake. As the hornets attacked, he jumped in the seat releasing both in a sudden lurch. The tractor bounced and moved forward placing the exhaust directly beneath the nest. Now hot diesel smoke rose up into the nest for a few seconds and disturbed the entire hive. The tractor continued moving forward as their uncle swatted at hornets in a losing attempt to ward them off.

He reached for the throttle and jammed it forward. The tractor accelerated up the lane and cleared him from the hive’s vicinity. Several hornets gave chase for a persistent distance up the next rise before turning back to home base.

The boys watched their uncle continue to swing his hat around at hornets that may or may not be there as he jerked the steering wheel in jagged course corrections. He did not slow down until he approached the barn.

They stayed out of sight until they could not hear the tractor. They looked at the nest and the angry swarm that still surrounded it. Mom had been right. They did need to get out of the house and have some fun in the sun.

Kicked Down Stairs

David wailed and held his injured head at the bottom of the stairs. He’d tumbled down the 14 steps and landed head first in the shoe rack. The hard wooden steps in the old farmhouse each provided bumps and bruises all over his body.

Mom came running to the awful sound of her hurting child. She quickly assessed his injuries and began to soothe him. She looked around to determine the cause of the fall. She saw Tim standing quietly at the top of the stairs.

“Timmy! Did you push your brother down the stairs?” she demanded.

“No mommy, I didn’t.” he replied.

“Don’t lie to me! Your brother is hurt. Did you push him down the stairs?” she asked again.

“No mommy, I didn’t.” he answered.

“Timmy, tell me what happened.” mom ordered.

“I didn’t push him down the stairs. I KICKED him down the stairs.” he clarified honestly.

Decorating the Tree – Her Way

Tim walked into the living room where his future in-laws were decorating their Christmas tree. Without looking, he quipped, “You missed a spot.” The family froze and turned to inspect the tree, seeking the flaw in their creation. There was none. Tim was a jerk.

“Where?” they demanded.

“Uh. Over there,” he vaguely gestured and realized these people were serious about their tree.

They had chosen a fuzzy-looking Douglas Fir with soft needles providing a full, gap-free exterior to start their enhancements. It was smoothly conical with no stray branches or needles surging beyond the overall exterior lines. The height reached nine inches shy of the ceiling which allowed exactly enough room for the star on top.

The tree had a prominent place in the formal living room. A room he knew was rarely used at all. The furniture in here was showroom quality. Much too nice for anyone to flop on for an afternoon nap and the cushions a bit stiff from lack of use. The family spent more time down the hall in the den. Here, the tree could be viewed out the front windows from the street.

All the decorations were red and white. White pinpoint lights had been carefully strung and gently turned outwards to maximize their illuminating effects. There was no tension on the cords to pull a limb or cluster of needles into place like at his family’s house. Here the tree received caring attention with the placement of each item.

Ornaments were evenly spaced across the green background in a careful pattern that suggested a netted template had been used. There were only four different types of ornaments: red ribbons, white balls, white birds, and white icicles. All were of similar size and shade. Each had been cleaned and inspected before being entrusted to a hanging point. Red ribbons were new this year and represented a daring change from almost two decades of tradition. The effect was beautiful and yet profoundly different from Tim’s family tree.

He wondered where the children’s contributions factored in the tree. Where were the “Baby’s first Christmas” ornaments, the plaster hand prints, the felt and ribbon horse head crafts? All the little treasured mementos that festooned his family tree seemed to have no place here. If he married into this family, what would their own tree tradition become? He felt sure Han Solo and Chewbacca on a string would never be allowed.

“Where did we miss something?” his future mother-in-law demanded.

Tim broke from his reflections and replied, “Sorry. I was mistaken. The red ribbon on the left edge seemed turned a bit to me. It’s fine.”