Raking it in
Well, it’s been a busy fall. I survived Halloween, but it wasn’t any fun. Because I had to teach and got home late, I had but three trick-or-treaters: one, an infant wrapped in an orange “pumpkin” blanket carried by her mother, who was holding out her Hefty bag filled with candy. “It’s her first Halloween,” she said, while a male companion waited on the street. (“No kidding,” I wanted to say. “I hope she enjoys her Squirrel Nut Zippers – when her teeth come in next year.”) The other two were prepubescent girls wearing devil horns and red glitter makeup, who, when I said “Nice costumes,” looked me up and down and replied, “Thanks. We made them ourselves.”
And then, of course, there were the elections and getting out all those thank-you notes to Jack Abramoff and Mark Foley and the rest of the gang, as well as doing a spontaneous jig of joy every few minutes.
What with all these distractions, I have more or less overlooked the business of facing down winter. In my former, pre-homeowning life, that meant cranking up the thermostat and nudging up the cocktail hour. (“Oh, look, it’s dark. Might as well call it quits for the day – so what if it’s 2 p.m.?”) But if you are a homeowner, it goes beyond that. It means you better get busy and batten down the hatches, unless you want to be known as that neighbor.
I can say this with authority, since we are into our third autumn of homeownership, and I now consider myself something of an expert. While I know the Sunday Telegram and our local newspaper, Neighbors, print numerous columns and articles regarding the best way to mulch your driveway and winterize your mailbox, I have some of my own handy hints to throw into the mix. Here are just a few…
Many people like to take their bird baths in when the temperature dips below freezing, but then you’ll deprive yourself the pleasure of watching the starlings and grackles perch on the edge and peck at the ice. Do this long enough and you come to understand where the term “bird brain” comes from. It’s all I can do to keep myself from leaning out the window and shouting, “Hey stupid. It’s frozen.” I’m not saying this is how I spend all my days, but enough of them to know of whence I speak.
This would also probably be a good time to bring in those outdoor hanging and potted plants. Oh sure, those snooty master gardeners probably said to do this long ago, but I think things look so desolate without them – that is, unless you already have your Christmas decorations up (or haven’t taken them down yet). Then you’re all set!
And then there are all those heating-related issues: finding a new oil company after you got screwed by your old one during a botched furnace installation; having your chimney inspected and furnace cleaned; sealing windows, putting on storms, checking for drafts, plugging leaks; and, if you have a fireplace, here’s a big one – acquiring wood. You know what we learned last year? That whole fireplace thing? Not so much fun when you don’t have any wood. Sure, burning balled-up newspaper will take off the chill every so often, but you hardly need a fireplace for that, now do you?
It wasn’t that we didn’t know we had to order it. John and I understood wood didn’t just drop out of the sky (unless you happened to be standing near one of our giant junk maples during the recent wind storm). It’s just that finding a dealer and making that call was another one of those things on our list that didn’t get done.
Well, we fared much better this year. Not only did my brother bring us two trailerfuls of wood from land he’s been clearing, but we actually got it together and ordered our own. I was so excited when I saw the truck backing into our driveway, I practically jumped up and down on the porch. (OK, there was no practically about it. I jumped.) I handed off the check and then ran upstairs to hide behind the guest room curtain (my favorite post) to watch as the load was dumped. My first woodpile. It might as well have been a heap of gold doubloons.
Naturally, with all this activity, there’s always something that gets neglected. And for us, it’s been leaf removal. While I am blessed to have a helpful and handy mate, who swings an ax like Paul Bunyan (be still my riverdriver’s daughter’s heart), grows the most beautiful tomatoes, is equally deft with both skillet and sauté pan, and even irons his own shirts (I have offered, but he doesn’t seem to appreciate how creative I can be with creases), he does have a fault. This man will not lift a rake.
We did rake our leaves the first year. We dropped 20 bucks on city-sanctioned bags, spent an entire weekend working our little quarter-acre hemmed in by the aforementioned gigantic junk maples, and snarled at each other the whole time: John, mad at the leaves; me, mad at him for not doing most of the work, and frolicking while doing my share.
You see, I’m learning that I don’t care much for chores. All these gardening and home improvement columns you read, these people are nuts. “Weeeee – let’s replaster that dining room wall with authentic horse hair!” or “Woo-hoo! Winter’s the perfect time for turning that crawlspace into a spa!” Plus, home maintenance is dangerous. Only the other day, while hanging a curtain rod, I hit my thumb with a hammer. And you know what happens? It’s just like in the cartoons. It turns red and throbs with little black lines shooting out of it. (OK, so maybe I imagined the lines, but that sucker hurt.)
So, in order to maintain domestic harmony, you know what we did last year? We hired a man. Yes, I – a staunch Yankee – am publicly admitting we had a hired man remove our leaves. John was thrilled, but he didn’t have to be here when it happened. I, on the other hand, felt so guilty I kept running downstairs from my post in the guestroom to see if he needed help. “Hey mister, you want me to hold the bag or sumpthin’?” I’d say, as he looked at me kinda queerlike and declined my offer. I wondered, should I make him a ham sandwich? If so, should I check and make sure he likes ham before I go to the store to fetch it? Maybe he’d settle for a bowl of miserable lentil soup instead.
And then there was the awkward paying of wages. Do you tip, and if so, how much? I like invoices – nice, impersonal, precise invoices. Standing there in our yard, paying off the hired man if front of the entire neighborhood, only added to my shame. “Yes, yes,” I wanted to shout, “we are such loser homeowners that we can’t even take care of our own leaves!”
And that, along with so much more, is why we are one step closer to becomingthat neighbor.
If any unemployed former Cabinet members or lame ducks are looking for work, Elizabeth Peavey has some leaves that need moving.