Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Talking in a Winter Wonderland

Bill has been bugging me—I mean, asking me—to get my Christmas letter done. I’m getting to it. After all, wasn’t it just Valentine’s Day? As I’ve said in the past, time’s racing by so fast, if I still had a watch with hands on it I could use it for a fan.

But I don’t have a watch anymore; nobody does. We all have cell phones. Who of you imagined, even fifteen years ago, that most of us would be carrying around a ringing, dinging, buzzing umbilical, from which none of us can stand to be separated for more than a few milliseconds? Why, just today I got an important call from Bill.

“Where the heck have you been?”

“At the store. I’m about to start home. Did you need something?”

“Well, no! But you didn’t answer your phone!”

See what I mean? Cell phones are vitally important! Bill wouldn’t have been able to call to let me know he wondered where I was, without one.

Before I go anywhere, I am groping in my pockets, in my bra, in my purse, or wandering aimlessly through the house on a hunt for my phone. I can’t leave home unless I have it, you know. “Call it,” Bill says, “and you’ll hear the ring.”

“I can’t. It’s on vibrate.”

“Well, call it and I’ll mute the TV, and maybe we can hear it hum.”

It’s hard for me to fathom how we’ve become so dependant on these things. People (usually cell phone salesman-type people) say, “Oh, you need one if you’re in an accident.” What for? Every time a tire squeals, police switchboards are inundated with well-meaning cell callers, anxious to put their equipment to good use. After all, it’s somehow validating to have a cell phone, even more so to have a Blackberry (or a dingle berry, as Bill calls them).

“Well, what if you need to call someone?” these same people say. What if I do? Frankly, thus far I’ve been able to resist the overpowering urge to phone President Obama about the price of turnips at the Piggly Wiggly. I’m almost never lost in the wilderness, and anyway, it’s been my experience that the first thing that goes—in the wilderness—is your phone service. Besides, the number one thing the 911 operator is going to ask me is, “Where are you?” and I’m going to say, “Well, that’s why I’m calling.”

For the most part, my cell phone has been handy for playing solitaire while waiting in the doctor’s office, and for downloading ringtones. Oh, and there are those calls from Bill. When he calls, my phone plays the old Conway Twitty hit, ‘Hello, Darlin’’. Of course my cell is frequently buried in my coat pocket, or elsewhere, so I don’t hear it ring until Bill has called me three or four times. When I finally answer it, usually juggling knives on some dangerous, covert mission at Target, he screams, “Where the heck have you been?” And so it goes. It’s so good to know he worries about me. I don’t know how I ever got home safely without his calls.

Kc and I never talk; we text. She has what’s called a ‘Qwerty’ phone, which means it has a tiny keyboard, like a typewriter—each key representing a single letter in the alphabet. My phone, on the other hand, is old-fashioned (it must be a year old) and has a regular phone keyboard, which means I have to ‘type through’ the alphabet to form the correct words. That’s why Kc often receives messages from me that read, “Gi!, Hmw aqe xot?”

Doesn’t matter. She knows what I mean.

Here’s hoping you and your year have been blessed, and that the good Lord recognizes you when you show up in church. As for us, we’re just fine. Life is and has been very good, and we are ever grateful for our blessings—even our cell phones.

Call us sometime.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Near-Death Windmill

Here's another story I wrote a few years ago. Merry Christmas, one and all!

All I wanted last Christmas was a windmill. You know—the eight-foot-tall yard kind—silver with red tips on the fan blades and the pointer. A few days before the holiday I knew I had one because Bill, with the subtlety of Rush Limbaugh, told me to stay out of the garage.

But, Christmas morning there was no windmill under the tree. When we were done opening presents, though, Bill led me outside and there it was—a small, very heavy package.

“There’s going to be some assembly required,” he said as I looked over the briefcase-sized box, trying to imagine a windmill ever coming out of it.

“You know,” I suggested, “the store probably assembles these things for a small fee...”

Bill scoffed. “Don’t be ridiculous—we’ll do it ourselves. Can’t take more than 30 minutes.”

I was not convinced.

The previous winter we had spent most of a January day lying on either side of our yard tractor on the freezing concrete in the driveway, trying to put together a snowblade. Deciphering the ‘translated-from-original-Chinese’ directions that came with it was as tough as cracking the Rosetta Stone, even though the salesman had guaranteed us that ‘any moron’ could figure it out. We two morons finally got it done—but not before frightening the livestock and alienating every neighbor in two miles. The combinations of vernacular we invented that day still hang in the air over Cheyenne. And the snowblade? Well, it works in no more than 3 inches of snow—and best serves as a lawn ornament.

Anyway, remembering the hours we spent screaming at each other through the rods, blades, and belts under the tractor—and the time it took us to thaw out, I thanked Bill profusely for my windmill, and suggested we put it together when the weather moderated. Say June.

Long about May, I was rummaging around in the garage and found the windmill box again. I pulled out the directions and took them in to Bill.

He glanced at the page. “I thought about this all winter,” he declared, “and I think we should put the windmill in concrete—that way it won’t blow over.” He set about, that very day, digging a four-foot square hole, about a foot deep, in the front yard. He carefully plumbed and leveled the hole and spread the dirt in the driveway. Finally, his energy depleted, he collapsed in the house, the actual erection of the windmill left for another day.

Toward the end of the month, I noticed that a poplar tree had sprouted in the hole out front, and was doing quite well.

In July, I came across the directions to the windmill again and put them by Bill’s chair. The following Saturday we dragged the container out of the garage and opened it flat. The only parts inside that were recognizable were the fan blade and the pointer. The rest looked like scraps from metal shop. Enthusiastically, Bill read the first direction on the sheet. “Assemble windmill legs and top support, using provided bolts and nuts.” He set his jaw and turned purple around the eyes.

“Which bolts?” he puzzled. “What legs? Is there as PICTURE for God’s sake?”

There wasn’t. His enthusiasm went south.

We began sorting the pile of silver metal to size—finding strips of angle iron in three lengths, and flat strips in two. There was nothing about what went where. Bill flew by the seat of his pants and made legs out of the angled strips, tightening the nuts as he worked. “What’s next?” he snarled, after bolting together all four legs.

“Number two,” I read, in my best Girl Scout Helper voice. “Attach connecting strips in crisscross pattern between legs, using bolts inserted to connect leg strips.”

Bill glared into space and slowly undid the nuts he had just put on. He attached the metal strips, ending up with all four legs hooked together in a tight, vertical bundle. “This isn’t right,” he bellowed, to no one, “it’s supposed to be a pyramid.” He tried to spread it out at the bottom, tugging frantically at the legs.

Perversely, I was struck that he looked just like Wiley Coyote, working against time to build the ‘ACME BIRD-KILLING MACHINE’ before the Roadrunner came around the bend. I snorted—barely controlled laughter escaping through my nose.

Bill fried me with a glance. “What’s next?”

“Number three,” I read. “Do not tighten bolts more than finger-tight, as adjustment of the legs will be necessary.”

Bill, coming from the Mr. Atlas School of Finger Tight, had put some torque on the nuts when he tightened them down the second time. He had trouble loosening them the third. Then he discovered that the lengths of metal were in the wrong order and the tower was upside down, fat on the top and pointy at the bottom. He took it apart for the fourth time.

I felt like a rabbit in the headlights.

In a move toward self-preservation, I strolled around the yard—fearful that he might hear me sniggering and kill me. I imagined the headlines—Rural Housewife Found Hanged On Upside-down Windmill—Devil Worship Suspected.

When I returned, the windmill was together, and it actually looked like a windmill. Bill, still gimlet-eyed and panting, went out in the yard and stared at the hole he had dug two months before. It had caved in around the edges and the poplar tree in it was about a foot high. He scratched his chin. “I don’t think we’ll need to plant this thing in concrete after all.” Glancing around, he located a new spot for the windmill a few feet away from the hole. “Let’s put it right here.”

Together we carried the windmill to its place in the yard. Bill anchored it with stakes that came in the box. I painted it white, with green trim, to match the house.

Bill rejected cold my suggestion of solder or Loctite™ for the dozens of nuts and bolts on the legs. “We don’t need that,” he spat, “the paint will keep the nuts on.”

Life, it seems, is full of these little trials. Perhaps ‘assembly-required’ purchases are relationship tests in disguise—formulated by some screw-loose think-tank to put as much strain on the participants as possible. Well, Bill got it together and we both survived. But the windmill—that’s another story.

Every couple of weeks or so, Bill goes out and greases the fan hub. Then he pounds the anchor stakes back into the ground—and tightens the leg bolts that constantly work loose in our often sub-zero Wyoming wind. Last weekend he came in, chattering and chapped, after about an hour in the front yard. “I need a new wrench for Christmas,” he remarked, tossing the old one in the trash. “And while you’re at the hardware store, pick up another grease gun and some Loctite™.”

Realizing that any 'I-told-you-so’ comment would instantly catapult me to death’s door, I nodded in enthusiastic agreement.

What do I want for Christmas this year? I don’t have a clue. Some hot cider and a good book sound pretty appealing, though. By the way, if you drop by to visit anytime soon, don’t cut through the yard. There’s a big hole out front—just east of my windmill. Bill offered to fill it in next spring, but I told him not to. I’d hate for him to kill that little tree.