I’ve had plenty of chances to walk the farm lately what with sugaring’s early tapping, mid-season’s repairing, and the pulling of spouts at the end.
During the first two periods, snow conceals all natural curiosities and man-made detritus but the last period, the pulling of spouts, provides a peek at the property “au naturale.” In fact, I’m a slow worker at this juncture, because I stop and gaze at everything. There’s generations of “relics” out there, and it’s wicked interesting. I’ve stumbled across the remains of several ancient sugarhouses, dumps dating back to Civil War times, and car parts from the Al Capone era. There’s one category of that man-made stuff that’s not only interesting but touches a bit on my tender psyche — stuff left over from my brothers’ projects.
Out in back of the house where we all grew up is the remains of an old radio antenna tower. My older brothers Elliott and Tick were both HAM radio operators and radio buffs in general. The tower, a combination of wood and steel, lies prostrate in the leaf mold, almost fully “melted” back to earth now, but I remember it well. Those two guys were always sending metallic fingers of one fashion or another heavenward “trolling” for messages from places like China and Tasmania. I’ll never forget Elliott’s pink ‘59 Chevy with dice hanging from the mirror and a sky-high antenna clamped to the back bumper. The antenna served a device called a citizens band radio. CB radios were big and boxy compared with modern-day cell phones. The CBers called each other “old man” and used other terms like “affirmative” and “come back”; back then folks had common sense. I wonder — was there ever an accident caused by a CBer?
On another part of our farm near a grove of maples is a boneyard for farm equipment. I was there the other day pulling spouts and pondering. It would be junk to most people but to me the two ancient Allis Chalmers corn choppers resembled Brontosauruses. Their curved discharge spouts reached up to “nibble” on young, encroaching maple and ash trees and nearby, a rusted New Holland baler with a jagged-toothed plunger looked like a Tyrannosaurus ready to pounce! My brothers have also left marks of their “mechanical” sides there. Yes, they were always tinkering on cars, motorcycles, or anything else that popped or belched, or bloodied knuckles.
I was never mechanically or technically minded. My wife says I can’t even replace a battery in a clock — and she’s right. I always thought it was unfair that th’ old family genes got thrown in such different directions. Elliott and Tick always tried to help me but ended up walking away shaking their heads. I once ordered a Heath Kit radio through the mail. It was so handsome as it appeared in the catalogue, a low-profile box, a green-lighted front, and rows on rows of knobs and buttons. The description promised all imaginable kinds of music from exotic places. I remember the excitement I felt the day it arrived, but the brown cardboard box opened up to reveal a left brain marathon for this right-brain teenager. Just the word “schematic” scared me enough, say nothing of the thousand tiny parts. I rushed it up to brother Tick’s house and he baled me out like he had done many times before. I enjoyed that radio for years afterward.
Elliott used to run a Volkswagen repair shop on one part of the farm back in the days when Volkswagens were Volkswagens. He was known as Mr. VW by a range of customers, from white-collared Montpelier pencil-pushers to Goddard College hippies. I used to go over there to learn from Elliott, but he kicked me out the day I tried to check the liquid in a battery by lighting a match. “You just found out how a hydrogen bomb works,” he shouted as he pointed to the door.
Yup, they tell me that my forte is the ability to write about these things and I appreciate that. And, finally, alas, at the age of 64 I accept my lot in life. When it comes to the technical and the mechanical, I’ll just have to be content to walk the acreage and fantasize over other peoples’ riffraff — good stuff in my mind left behind by those who can tinker.
Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier.MORE IN Letters
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