Archive for February, 2013

Tom Sawyer and I

February 27, 2013

My daughter Grace is currently reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in Literature class.  Based on the way she groans about it, I’d say this book won’t make her recommended reading list.  To me it’s full of adventure, but I was raised in a different time.  When I was a kid, Words with Friends meant you were arguing, texting was done on a typewriter, and streaming images were only found on the surface of a creek.  By contrast, her days consist of homework done on a computer and a ballet life documented daily on instagram.  It’s easy to understand why there could be a disconnect.   So how about disconnecting all things digital and expanding your horizons?  Wow, I’m starting to sound like someone’s grandfather.  Wait!  I am a grandfather!  My driver’s license says I’m fifty-two, but I still feel like Tom Sawyer at heart.  To me there is no greater feeling of peace than kneeling on the bank of a creek listening to the sound of the water passing through stones, and tweets from…birds.  I am immediately transported back to my childhood via the water, back to a time when Tom Sawyer, Huck and I had a lot in common. 

 

My very first job was trapping.  In high school my friend Bruce and I caught mink, muskrat, and raccoon in the shadows of Lafayette Square Mall.  But one weekend the irresistible possibility that more fur lay waiting just beyond the confines of Indianapolis inspired us to pack a canoe and head down White River.  The plan was to float out of town on a trip that would carry us south to Green County, Indiana where my grandparents lived on a farm.  My grandfather was a fur buyer.  Our hope was that he would pick us up, buy our fur, and send us back to Indy with a pocket full of money.  It was a two-hour drive by car.  Canoeing there would take us…back in time. 

 

We attempted this trip was in a light blue plastic canoe that had been given to Bruce by a liquor distributer as a container for icing beers at a summer party we’d thrown.  (Yes we were under age.  Yes there was a cover charge.  Yes we made money.)  So my entrepreneurial skills were developing nicely, while my common sense…um…had a ways to go.  Let’s face it; the canoe was not designed to carry passengers who were setting out on an extended river trip, and we knew it. So we thought, in our pea brains, that we would only carry hunting necessities, dry clothes, food, and …well that’s it.  Our tent and sleeping bags stayed home along with any hope of a warm restful sleep during those cold November nights. At least we had enough brains to bring our coats…which were dotted with burn holes after the first night from sleeping right next to the fire because it was so freaking cold!  Amazingly, we persevered and began to accumulate a nice collection of raccoon pelts.  Floating by night we would shine the bank for the glowing eyes of raccoon using a light with a red lens.  Then in the dark, just before sunrise, we would make a lean-to from grape vines and leaves, build a fire, and shiver until mid-morning. 

 

On the morning of the third day we were awakened by the sound of an outboard motor.  Stumbling to our chilly feet, we were startled by a guy who looked like Grizzly Adams with an attitude — a bad attitude — and he was heading right for us.  He drove his flat bottom boat up on shore and with the motor still running hopped out with a shotgun pointed in our direction and accused us of stealing his fur.  Let’s just say at this point my knees were shaking for a reason other than low seasonal temperatures.  While our friends were spending Thanksgiving weekend with relatives, we chose the road less traveled.  Right now that road had detoured into the barrel of a 12 gage shotgun…cocked and loaded.  We offered him some soup.  He declined.  We offered him a shot of whiskey.  He declined.  We offered him the opportunity to look around our campsite to ease his worried mind.  He declined.  That was a good thing because we had incriminating evidence.  The evidence wasn’t his, but I’m not sure he was in the frame of mind to balance the facts.  He gave us an ultimatum.  If we weren’t off the river by the time he came back with reinforcements, our canoe would be shot full of holes and our asses would be kicked.  Thanks to a massive dose of adrenaline, I was no longer cold.  In fact I was the warmest I’d been since the beginning of the trip. 

Bruce and I must have channeled the ghost of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn because we stood up to this guy and his gun.  We didn’t freak out.  We didn’t challenge him to a dual.  In fact, we miraculously steered him away from the notion that shooting us was a good idea.  Outwardly we appeared calm and cool.  Inside I was filling my pants like a toddler.   As he shoved off from shore and headed back up stream we continued to stand tall.  Once he disappeared around the bend it was a different story.  Communicating telepathically, we packed and launched the canoe at a frantic pace. 

The last time that canoe moved that fast it was mounted to the roof of a car headed to our party.  Our paddles were stroking in a synchronized rhythm more perfectly than the Harvard rowing team.  From one bend to the next we navigated that river never pausing to look back.  About the time our arms were ready to fall off and float beside us we came upon two girls on horseback.  In a perfect world they would have been beautiful, amorous, and this story would have taken a twist commonly found in romance novels.  That was not the case.  Thankfully what the girls lacked in outward beauty, they made up for in compassion.  I climbed on the back of one of their horses, wrapped my arms tightly around the waist of this savior in plaid, and we rode like the wind back to her farmhouse.  Once safely inside I phoned a friend for help.  Long before iPhones with map apps, Garmin’s, or any other consumer GPS devices I explained my location.  My friend Steve agreed to meet us downstream at the next bridge.  I climbed back on the horse, held on to Annie Oakley, and we beat tracks back to Bruce who was keeping a nervous yet watchful eye up stream.  It took us the better part of an hour to paddle to the bridge where our trusted friend sat waiting in his 1973 Buick Riviera.  Not known for its canoe towing capabilities, on that day the Rivi worked like a seasoned Range Rover. Smelling a lot like campfire and a little like fear, we talked about our adventure the whole way back to town.

 

Later that year I wrote about it in English class.  At the bottom of my paper the teacher scrawled, “You certainly have a vivid imagination.”  Ha!  So Did Mark Twain.

Stuck In a Well With Moonshiners

February 25, 2013

In June we had our well pump replaced by the guys from J & L Well & Pump Service.  I’m pretty sure their relatives are Jim Tom, Tickle, and the boys from Moonshiners.  They dress like them, talk like them, and their dental programs seem to be more reactive than proactive.  The head of J & L’s crew is a… tooth challenged guy named Leon.  Leon is the “L” in J & L. He told me so with a thick southern Indiana drawl that rolled off his tongue and out of the hole between missing teeth. Leon called me Craig. (When you say Craig you should put heavy emphasis on the “ai” sound…Craiiiiig) 

If you’ve never seen Moonshiners the concept for this show is similar to several other Discover Channel reality shows that rely heavily on the personalities and extreme circumstances of the characters and their extreme profession.  If you’ve seen Deadliest Catch, Swamp People, Ax Men, or Bering Sea Gold you know what I’m talking about.  Who wouldn’t like a show about avoiding the cops while brewing illegal high octane sour mash whiskey in some random woods that is 50 miles south of indoor plumbing and 180 miles west of common sense?  I know of one…my daughter Grace.  She will tell you without hesitation that I have a problem. Southern accents, overalls, and moonshine are not her cup of…sweet tea.  Refusing to allow myself to be governed by the rants of a sixteen year old…I tune in.    My dad’s side of our family is from a small town named Acorn, Kentucky.  Acorn is in the heart of moonshining country down in a holler near Summerset.  Having been there I’ve witnessed firsthand our moonshining relatives in their native habitat.  Watching the show is a trip down memory lane.  To me it is an hour of mindless entertainment… combined with the possibility of connecting with a lost relative.

It appears that cool spring water is important in the brewing process.  Wait a minute!  We are on a well…we have cool spring water pouring from our taps. My mind began to wander…after all…the Acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree! 

Then it all changed.

Saturday morning I kissed the Phelps women good bye.  Grace went off to ballet class and my wife left for a day of work in the ER. (Treating people like Jim Tom and Tickle)  I had a date with our apple trees.  Winter is the time of year to prune apple trees.  Pruning improves apple growth in the summer.  While I’m in the midst of pruning I’m usually inspired to have a talk with God about life, love, and all things good.  As I was pruning nature called so I went back into the house.  I went to the faucet.  Not one drop of cool spring water came from the tap. Our neighborhood is prone to power outages.  I glanced at the clock. It was working…that could only mean one thing.  Something was up with our well…again!  I naively thought that once the pump was fixed in June we would have another twenty plus years of cool clean goodness pouring from each faucet.  Wrong!

I called Leon the pump guy aka Jim Tom.  With assistants who mirrored the cast from Moonshiners in tow he showed up and began to diagnose the problem…He turned on the faucet.  ”Hell it looks like you ain’t got NO water.”  Then he hooked up a meter and did some electrical voodoo on the pump wires.   It seemed that our current problem was lectrical in nature. “Dat ware (wire) dat run from da foundation to da pump …done gone bad.”  In no time they transformed part of our yard and front porch into a mud bog and found the problem wasn’t the ware it was the pump.  Luckily the pump had a two year warranty.  There was one slight problem…Moonshiners don’t honor warranties.  Showing them the receipt seemed to me to be the logical step.  The problem, Moonshiners aren’t logical.  They argued, they pondered, they strategized, and they argued some more.  Eventually I had to forcefully point out that I paid them $2300.00 in June to do the job right and they needed to make good on that work.  Day three without water had become a pain.  We showered away from home.  Grace went to a friend’s house, I went to the gym, and my wife was in the ER taking sponge baths with patients…ok not really.  I can tell you she wasn’t taking sponge baths with me because…we had no water.  Days without water at my house had a limiting effect on “sponge baths”…if you know what I mean.  As if I didn’t have enough incentive to get the water hooked up before…I certainly did now. 

Later that afternoon they came to the door to talk payment again…which had grown to $1250.  My friend, neighbor, and attorney happened to drive by as we debated the reality of this payment.  I pointed to the car and said, “There goes my attorney.  I’d hate to have to get him involved.” Jim Tom turned to the crew of two and motioned. They started packing up.  The dead pump lay lifelessly next to one of the mud piles that surrounded our well.  Frustrated I went inside to call other well companies to get their opinion on pump warranties.

As I was on the phone the moonshiners took off with my new pump …and my old pump! I called the police.  I called my attorney.  I called the moonshiners to negotiate.  Then I called out to God asking what had happened to the peace, love, and good will we discussed Saturday morning as I stood cradled in the braches of my apple trees! 

This was beyond ridiculous!  I’d begun drawing water for flushing from the nearby crik (creek).  We had jugs of water for cooking and drinking.  Without running water our lifestyle had begun to transform into that of an Appalachian shanty dweller.  Suddenly whittling and playing the banjo by candle light had a strange appeal. Oh my god I was becoming one of them! 

Then Jim Tom and the boys came back with a new attitude and a new pump.  My wife, armed with a double barrel shotgun and a fresh wad of chewing tobacco had a different opinion of how this would play out.  She stood on the porch and hollered at them to git (get) their sorry asses off our land…then she spit and took aim…ok that didn’t happen.  Here is the truth.  They broke something in the well shaft while installing the new pump and left us at the end of the day without water.  I fired them and called in the cavalry…aka Hamilton Brothers, Inc.  They arrived the next day as I was making rabbit stew and sloppin the pigs…ok not really…I had plenty of slop, but no pigs…I’d fired them the night before.  The new guys tossed out a flurry of sarcastically tinged rhetorical questions about the moonshiner’s quality of workmanship. Then they got to work.  After four hours of work with high pressure tools and hydraulic wenches they came to the door with news.  The well had been rendered useless, by Jim Tom and the boys.  We had two choices; drill a new well for $6,000.00 or hook up to city water for what turned out to be $3900.00.  I was beyond pissed. 

Later that day as I was sitting at my dining room table discussing the process of hooking up to city water with my wife and our licensed and bonded contractor (that’s important) when Jim Tom called back.  He wanted to let me know that they’d be taking me to court to collect the money I owed for the new pump and the work they’d done.  He also wanted me to know that firing them had voided the warranty on that pump. At that point my calm disposition left the building.  I said, “Listen to me you toothles hill jack, if you call our house one more time I’m going to grab that pump, take it to your house, and shove it up your ass in front of your fat greasy haired wife.”  Then I hung up and looked over at my wife and the contractor and said, “I’m sorry, where were we?”  He didn’t bat an eye.  

Jim Tom called back.  I let it roll to voicemail.  Then Carly called from Chicago.  She’d been mugged by four teenagers.  She wasn’t hurt but, she was shaken and crying.  Suddenly everything that had just happened was put into perspective.  This episode with Jim Tom and our Moonshiners needed to become water under the bridge.  There were more important things in life that needed my attention.

 

 

Stuck In a Well With Moonshiners

February 23, 2013

In June we had our well pump replaced by the guys from J & L Well & Pump Service.  I’m pretty sure their relatives are Jim Tom, Tickle, and the boys from Moonshiners.  They dress like them, talk like them, and their dental programs seem to be more reactive than proactive.  The head of J & L’s crew is a… tooth challenged guy named Leon.  Leon is the “L” in J & L. He told me so with a thick southern Indiana drawl that rolled off his tongue and out of the hole between missing teeth. Leon called me Craig. (When you say Craig you should put heavy emphasis on the “ai” sound…Craiiiiig) 

If you’ve never seen Moonshiners the concept for this show is similar to several other Discover Channel reality shows that rely heavily on the personalities and extreme circumstances of the characters and their extreme profession.  If you’ve seen Deadliest Catch, Swamp People, Ax Men, or Bering Sea Gold you know what I’m talking about.  Who wouldn’t like a show about avoiding the cops while brewing illegal high octane sour mash whiskey in some random woods that is 50 miles south of indoor plumbing and 180 miles west of common sense?  I know of one…my daughter Grace.  She will tell you without hesitation that I have a problem. Southern accents, overalls, and moonshine are not her cup of…sweet tea.  Refusing to allow myself to be governed by the rants of a sixteen year old…I tune in.    My dad’s side of our family is from a small town named Acorn, Kentucky.  Acorn is in the heart of moonshining country down in a holler near Summerset.  Having been there I’ve witnessed firsthand our moonshining relatives in their native habitat.  Watching the show is a trip down memory lane.  To me it is an hour of mindless entertainment… combined with the possibility of connecting with a lost relative.

It appears that cool spring water is important in the brewing process.  Wait a minute!  We are on a well…we have cool spring water pouring from our taps. My mind began to wander…after all…the Acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree! 

Then it all changed.

Saturday morning I kissed the Phelps women good bye.  Grace went off to ballet class and my wife left for a day of work in the ER. (Treating people like Jim Tom and Tickle)  I had a date with our apple trees.  Winter is the time of year to prune apple trees.  Pruning improves apple growth in the summer.  While I’m in the midst of pruning I’m usually inspired to have a talk with God about life, love, and all things good.  As I was pruning nature called so I went back into the house.  I went to the faucet.  Not one drop of cool spring water came from the tap. Our neighborhood is prone to power outages.  I glanced at the clock. It was working…that could only mean one thing.  Something was up with our well…again!  I naively thought that once the pump was fixed in June we would have another twenty plus years of cool clean goodness pouring from each faucet.  Wrong!

I called Leon the pump guy aka Jim Tom.  With assistants who mirrored the cast from Moonshiners in tow he showed up and began to diagnose the problem…He turned on the faucet.  ”Hell it looks like you ain’t got NO water.”  Then he hooked up a meter and did some electrical voodoo on the pump wires.   It seemed that our current problem was lectrical in nature. “Dat ware (wire) dat run from da foundation to da pump …done gone bad.”  In no time they transformed part of our yard and front porch into a mud bog and found the problem wasn’t the ware it was the pump.  Luckily the pump had a two year warranty.  There was one slight problem…Moonshiners don’t honor warranties.  Showing them the receipt seemed to me to be the logical step.  The problem, Moonshiners aren’t logical.  They argued, they pondered, they strategized, and they argued some more.  Eventually I had to forcefully point out that I paid them $2300.00 in June to do the job right and they needed to make good on that work.  Day three without water had become a pain.  We showered away from home.  Grace went to a friend’s house, I went to the gym, and my wife was in the ER taking sponge baths with patients…ok not really.  I can tell you she wasn’t taking sponge baths with me because…we had no water.  Days without water at my house had a limiting effect on “sponge baths”…if you know what I mean.  As if I didn’t have enough incentive to get the water hooked up before…I certainly did now. 

Later that afternoon they came to the door to talk payment again…which had grown to $1250.  My friend, neighbor, and attorney happened to drive by as we debated the reality of this payment.  I pointed to the car and said, “There goes my attorney.  I’d hate to have to get him involved.” Jim Tom turned to the crew of two and motioned. They started packing up.  The dead pump lay lifelessly next to one of the mud piles that surrounded our well.  Frustrated I went inside to call other well companies to get their opinion on pump warranties.

As I was on the phone the moonshiners took off with my new pump …and my old pump! I called the police.  I called my attorney.  I called the moonshiners to negotiate.  Then I called out to God asking what had happened to the peace, love, and good will we discussed Saturday morning as I stood cradled in the braches of my apple trees! 

This was beyond ridiculous!  I’d begun drawing water for flushing from the nearby crik (creek).  We had jugs of water for cooking and drinking.  Without running water our lifestyle had begun to transform into that of an Appalachian shanty dweller.  Suddenly whittling and playing the banjo by candle light had a strange appeal. Oh my god I was becoming one of them! 

Then Jim Tom and the boys came back with a new attitude and a new pump.  My wife, armed with a double barrel shotgun and a fresh wad of chewing tobacco had a different opinion of how this would play out.  She stood on the porch and hollered at them to git (get) their sorry asses off our land…then she spit and took aim…ok that didn’t happen.  Here is the truth.  They broke something in the well shaft while installing the new pump and left us at the end of the day without water.  I fired them and called in the cavalry…aka Hamilton Brothers, Inc.  They arrived the next day as I was making rabbit stew and sloppin the pigs…ok not really…I had plenty of slop, but no pigs…I’d fired them the night before.  The new guys tossed out a flurry of sarcastically tinged rhetorical questions about the moonshiner’s quality of workmanship. Then they got to work.  After four hours of work with high pressure tools and hydraulic wenches they came to the door with news.  The well had been rendered useless, by Jim Tom and the boys.  We had two choices; drill a new well for $6,000.00 or hook up to city water for what turned out to be $3900.00.  I was beyond pissed. 

Later that day as I was sitting at my dining room table discussing the process of hooking up to city water with my wife and our licensed and bonded contractor (that’s important) when Jim Tom called back.  He wanted to let me know that they’d be taking me to court to collect the money I owed for the new pump and the work they’d done.  He also wanted me to know that firing them had voided the warranty on that pump. At that point my calm disposition left the building.  I said, “Listen to me you fucking hill jack, if you call our house one more time I’m going to grab that pump, take it to your house, and shove it up your ass in front of your fat toothless wife.”  Then I hung up and looked over at my wife and the contractor and said, “I’m sorry, where were we?”  He didn’t bat an eye.  

Jim Tom called back.  I let it roll to voicemail.  Then Carly called from Chicago.  She’d been mugged by four teenagers.  She wasn’t hurt but, she was shaken and crying.  Suddenly everything that had just happened was put into perspective.  This episode with Jim Tom and our Moonshiners needed to become water under the bridge.  There were more important things in life that needed my attention.