The Well

     My family lived in a big city, so spending time on Grampa Jim’s farm during the summer was fun.    His house did not have running water, so we didn’t take baths often. When we did take a bath, Mom had my older brother fill the big round washtub with water.  The tub was set-up on bricks to lift it off the ground.  Mom made sure the tub was right outside the back porch door. Brother pumped a bucket of water out of the well and carried it to the washtub.  He filled the tub, one bucket at a time. Next, Gramps lit a fire under it to get the water hot. Then the baths began.  One by one, we had a turn in the tub.  The last one had to bathe in the soapiest, dirtiest, coolest water.

     Because Gramps lived alone, he never had a problem with a water shortage. When the family came for the summer, we often ran the shallow well dry.  It was only twenty feet deep and thirty-six inches in diameter.  The soil on the farm was sand, and to keep the well hole from collapsing, Dad lined it with huge round tiles. Stacked one above the other they formed a huge tube that stuck out of the ground. Grampa Jim and Dad completed the well by building a wooden frame over the tiles.  Dad planked the frame to protect the well from critters. 

     One hot July day the well ran dry. Gramps decided that it was time to clean it out.  He claimed that sediment built up on the bottom was impeding the flow of water. On a good day, ten feet of water-filled the casing.  When the well slowed, the level dropped to two feet. Sometimes we pumped, and pumped, but nothing came up. We had to give the well a day of rest. The water came from a water table near the bottom.  As the heat of the summer dried the ground, the water level dropped and kept from filling the well.

     Grampa Jim got everything ready for cleaning on the following day: a ladder, bricks, a bucket, rope, and a scoop.  His plan was to use the ladder to get to the bottom. Once down, he would impede the flow of water by laying bricks on the bottom. Finally, he would dig out the muck. For that, he used the scoop and bucket.  We were to hoist out buckets of muck.

      Before we began, we took turns pumping out the little water that remained.  When it was as dry as we could get it, we pulled the cast iron pump and the pipe.  Next, we lowered the rickety homemade ladder into the casing.  It was nearly vertical in the hole with just enough room for a very tiny person to fit and creep down. Grandpa Jim climbed on the ladder and disappeared into the darkness.  We lowered a bucket of bricks, using the weathered clothes line.  The bucket reached the bottom

      As small as he was, Gramps had trouble bending down to place the bricks. He managed to get the few bricks in place, and asked that we lower some more.  We were lowering the load when the rope broke.  The bucket of bricks hit Gramps right square on the top of his head.  I thought for sure we killed him.  My heart jumped into my throat!  We heard a thud followed by the most guttural groan. There was a long silence followed by a litany of unknown Hungarian words.  What a relief it was to hear those words.

      Gramps stayed in the well for a long time waiting for the stars to stop. Finally, after what seemed like an hour, he slowly came up the ladder.  He had a deep gash in his head on top of an enormous goose egg.  Mom helped stop the bleeding, and cleaned the cut.  She chinked a piece of ice from the icebox to keep the swelling down.

     After a while, Gramps came back out, and fixed the old rope.  This time, however, he doubled and tripled the rope back on itself to make it stronger.  Eventually, the well got cleaned.

     I don’t think cleaning the well-got us more water, but it did make the water cleaner. Gramps held a glass full up to the sky.  If the water sparkled like crystal, he declared it was clean. If he saw black particles swirling around, it was dirty.  Regardless, we used it.

Long Hard Winter

When Grampa Jim stayed in Michigan for the winter, his life was extremely hard.  It wasn’t until he reached his late seventies that mom insisted he come to live with us for the winter.  Even then, he would only last until March, and then one day he would disappear. He took a bus back to Coloma.  God only knows how he made it out to the farm from town.  Other times he took the train from South Chicago to Watervliet.

Gramps winterized the house for the really cold months.  The house didn’t have insulation, but did have storm windows.  The heat came from pot-bellied stoves.  One was in the living room, the other in the dining room.  To conserve heat, he hung a heavy blanket from floor to ceiling over the archway that separated the living room from the rest of the house.  This way, when he fired up the stove, the heat stayed in one room.   He closed the doors to the bedrooms to further seal off the big room.   His cot was in a corner. He pulled the dining room table into the opposite corner by the driveway and the front yard.  This gave him daylight from the windows on both walls.

Grampa Jim got icy cold water from a hand pump in the kitchen, and warmed it on the kerosene stove.  I remember seeing lots of coffee cans under his bed. Others were  by the door.  Some had fluid in them, some were dry.  He used the cans to save going outside to urinate.  The outhouse was  seventy-five feet away from the side door.  God knows what he did when the snow was deep.

Gramps didn’t weigh more that 120 pounds for his  five foot height. His diet was simple. During the winter he subsisted on canned foods like pork and beans and soups. Hot dogs were a treat.  He recycled the grease in his solitary fry pan. Sometimes, he soaked a slice of  rye bread in hot grease for a yummy meal. When he had kerosene, he warmed soup in the can.  Other times he warmed the soup can on the pot belly.

One of his vices was smoking, but in winter he never walked the quarter mile to the store to buy a pack of Camels.  There was always a sack of Bull Durham around, and he rolled his own. After he ran out of tobacco he scoured the ash trays for butts .  Friends and neighbors came by to check on him when they hadn’t seen him for a while.

The pot belly stove kept him from freezing;  he burned coal. It was a chore to drag a few pounds at a time from the basement in a coal bucket.  Winter on the farm was brutal, but he preferred living independently. He lived alone as long as he could. Eventually, he gave in to his daughter’s arguments, and came to spend winters in the city .

The Gift (A serial, part 7)

The Gift (A serial, part 7)
” Let’s add the tinsel. It adds glitter to a tree,” he told the birds.
“We have to hang each strand carefully. I don’t want Connie to look like the bird nest that is in the top branches near the trunk.”
Morty placed an ornament into the nest. As they hung the strands they continued to hum Silent Night. When the last strand was in place, They stood back and admired their creation. It was Morty’s gift to the Baby Jesus on His birthday. Morty switched on the lights, and Connie came to
life.
“I feel so wonderful,” said Connie, “you made me look beautiful. I hope Baby Jesus likes me.” Morty said to rabbit,  “cover the tree stand to add the final touch.”
The next job was to assemble the nativity scene in a special place. Morty picked a small table right next to the tree. He wanted the nativity to be where he, and all of his friends would easily see it. He cleaned the table, and covered it with his best tablecloth. Lovingly, he placed the stable, and the figures into position on the table. He handled each figure with special care and gentleness. The nativity was complete when Morty put the last lamb near a kneeling shepherd.

To be continued . . . .

The Gift (A serial, part 5)

The Gift (A serial, Part 5)

The scoot home took a long time because the Covert farm was a long way from the town where Morty lived. He deliberately kept Skye out of hyper-drive, and drove slowly to keep the little tree from tearing off. They talked as he drove. Connie told him about when he was a seed, and grew quickly into a sapling. Farmer Jim re-planted him into the field where his great, great, great, great-grandfather grew up. He survived a drought, the heat of summer, and cold winters. When it snowed, his limbs sagged to the ground.

Connie’s favorite job was to host families of birds. The cardinals and chickadees picked his boughs to build their nests. They collected material from all over the farm. Red Cardinal, and his wife Rosy made hundreds of trips to the tree. Red brought pieces thread, and tiny twigs, one by one, and Rosy wove them into place. She went to the pond to make mud to hold it all together. They picked a spot about half way up Connie’s trunk in a spot that hid the nest from view.

Connie told Morty how he loved to watch the cardinals flying back and forth to feed their babies. The babies slept between meals. They chirped loudly when their parents came with food. Once a cat came into the field near Connie. Rosy covered the nest with her body, and spread her wings to hide her chicks.

Red buzzed the cat to get its attention away from the babies. Connie dropped his boughs over the nest to give the birds more protection. They all sat very still while the cat was there. All the trees in the field watched in deadly silence as the cat stalked with his head low, and his shoulders in a hunting crouch. After what seemed like an eternity of stillness and quiet, the cat finally wandered off in another direction.

Morty arrived home after dark. He untied Connie’s branches and set him upright into a bucket of water.

“Tomorrow,” he said, “I will place you into a tree stand, and dress you for the birthday party. Now it is time for all of us to rest.”

To be continued. . . .

The Gift (A serial, part 4)

THE GIFT (A serial, part 4)

Morty cut down the beautiful spruce, with the empty birds’ nest, and found the spot where the rabbit used to stay warm.

“Well, Mr. Rabbit,” he said, “come home with me. I’ll keep you warm.” The rabbit jumped out from under another tree and said,

“Will you take care of me the way Connie did?”

“Yes,” said Morty, “come with me.” Then the cardinal and the sparrow, and the chickadee all flew around his head.

“Will you take care of us too?”

“Sure!” said Morty, “come with me we are going to have a great time.”

Morty pulled Connie through the grove to where farmer Jim would find them. He began to wonder about how he would get the tree home on his scooter. Although Connie is a little tree he is as tall as Morty, and his branches spread out much wider than Morty. Just then, Farmer Jim came by with the wagon and picked them up. Farmer Jim told Morty not to worry because he would help tie the tree to his scooter.

In the shed, next to the barn, Farmer Jim placed Connie into his wrapping machine. The machine wrapped cord around the tree branches, pulling them tightly into the trunk. When the farmer finished wrapping him, Connie was much thinner than before.

Morty carried Connie to his scooter but could not figure out how to load him on the scooter. The trunk on the scooter was only big enough to hold a picnic lunch and some tools, so Connie could not ride in the trunk. Before Farmer Jim came out of the barn to help, Morty placed the tree against the side of the scooter. The side of the scooter was smooth, and nothing was sticking out to hold the rope. Next, Morty put him on the seat. He fit nicely lying along the top and hanging over the end of the scooter, but Morty would have to sit on top of him to drive.

Morty did not like that, so he tried holding Connie upright between his legs and arms as he sat on the scooter. This was even worse because he could not see with the tree in his face.

In the end, Farmer Jim tied the tree to the seat,

and Morty sat on it. The bunny jumped on and huddled by his feet, and the birds all perched on the branches. Connie hummed the tune to Happy Birthday as they took off.

To be continued , , , ,

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