My uncle inherited over three hundred acres of land from my great aunt when she passed on. It was a couple decades ago, and he'd done nothing with the property.
Neither of us were getting any younger and I'd lusted after a wooded corner of Great Aunt Ruth's property for over fifty years.
I made an appointment to see 'cousin' Jim out at his house. He lived in the only fenced and guarded subdivision in Aurora. I had on a new suit, and had rented a respectable car for the event. It was a warm day, near the middle of July.
After the pleasantries had concluded I brought up the reason for my visit. "To put it baldly, I've come a-begging. I don't have too many years left on the chassis, and I've been enamored with Camp Jay since I camped there regularly as a child, even though it had closed down as a boy scout camp almost a decade before I was born. I'm here hoping that you will grant me the privilege of using the property for recreational use, along with the two acres immediately downstream that holds a fresh-water spring."
He sighed and sat back in his recliner, considering his options and liabilities.
"I've no objection to your request, but my insurance agent would climb the walls and my payments would skyrocket." He sat there, pensively thinking with his hands in a prayerful position beneath his lips and nose. "I've been holding on to that property as an investment for ages and I doubt that I'll ever recover any value from it before I pass on. It truly galls me to see such wonderful land laying fallow. I'm going to deed you the property you want as a gift, along with an annuity to pay for its insurance, tax payments and upkeep. Ever since I've sold Plano Molding my accountants have been nearly attacking me to get me to divest or invest most of my capital before the government taxes it all away."
He gave me a wry grin. "It's your Christmas present, cousin. I'll set you up with an annuity that will provide you with three hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year. Roughly forty eight percent of that will go to capital gains taxes while the rest will be yours to do with as you please." He looked quite pleased with himself.
"Good God, man! That's--that's beyond generous! Is there anything I can do for you?"
He shook his head 'no' and patted my hand. "Ever since your dad Jerry and you came out and played frisbee in the rain to get away from our stuffy old back-biting, I've admired and envied you. You've done your best with what you had, despite your gimped-up leg and never being married. Think of this as a little snap of my fingers at the dried-up old businessmen that I've had to deal with over the years. Enjoy it in my memory, son. My lawyers will send you something this next week to firm things up."
He shook my hand and ushered me out the door, grinning madly all the while.
I couldn't sleep that night, wondering if it was all some sort of twisted joke on his part.
I was quite surprised on Tuesday morning to get a phone call at work from a Chicago lawyer. We talked for a bit to nail down some of my particulars, then he hung up. Could it be real? Could it be true?
The next Monday I got a call from my post office that I had to come and sign for a package. Things just got real.
Within the package was a property deed for thirty seven unimproved acres, a folder describing and the contract for an annuity which named me as its recipient as well as a check for $400,000.00, all accompanied by a letter.
"Cousin Howard; It tickles me to include a healthy check to get the ball rolling for you. I'm sure that you're beyond anxious to get started on your renovations. Remember, reserve enough for the tax man.
I must have presented quite a sight, shaking and crying in the post office as I read and re-read his letter. I gradually pulled myself together and made my way out to my jeep. After a deep breath I asked myself what I had to do first. It was simple. I had to get that check deposited. Rather than drop the bomb on my local branch, I drove downtown to the main Harris Bank facility. They might not be national in scope but they haven't been in the news shedding light on their peccadilloes at any time in the past ten years that I could determine.
The teller took one look at my check and immediately kicked it upstairs. The head teller shook his head and called the branch manager. An older fellow came out from the recesses of wherever they keep their old-school employees to see what was so urgent that the staff interrupted his schedule. I suppose that I made his day. Someone was sent out for sandwiches from a local shop while I was ushered into a conference room.
George, the president, was curious. "Not that we don't appreciate your business, but why us? We have no record of your dealing with us before."
"It's simple. You lack a bad reputation. U.S. Bank, Citibank and all the other big boys have gotten caught recently playing naughty games. To me, this implies a culture within those institutions that winks at anything that will increase their bottom lines. I prefer to deal with a more conservative bank, which plays within the rules."
A small investment team introduced themselves, then we broke for a short lunch. I described what I was about, and brought out my other paperwork. The annuity was modified to direct deposit into an account. Jim had meant what he said about a Christmas present--the annuity paid off every December 25th. Reserve accounts were implemented to protect me from myself, setting aside that which I owed to Caesar. I recieved a debit card and an auto-carbon checkbook after which I was out the door.
Next, the property deed had to be registered. One stop at the court house completed that task. To set my expectations I presented my deed at the couty assessor's office to find out what my yearly liability would be. Thirty seven acres of unimproved land in Kendall County wasn't exactly a cash cow for them. Still, it would cost eleven hundred an acre per year at the current assessed value. I then realized why he gave me the annuity. Without it I'd never be able to afford the taxes.
I decided to use a portion of my windfall to upgrade my lifestyle. The first to go was my credit card balance. The Citibank vampires were destroyed by the light of a new day. Next I paid a visit to a local Dodge dealership that had an inventory of work trucks. I drove out of there with a new crew-cab 3500 pickup with an eight foot bed. I knew that it would be a nightmare to park in-town, but I accepted that with open eyes. After surveying all the stuff that I'd transferred from the Jeep and stuffed into the truck's bed I immediately headed for a place that would install a fold-up locking tonneau cover over the back. A home building store sold me several big plastic storage containers that would fit under the bed cover. It took me a couple hours to classify and pack away all the stuff that had accumulated in that old jeep over the twelve years that I'd owned it. I made sure to get the truck insured before the end of the day.
After a leisurely cup of tea, the next morning saw me handing over my cell phone, ID badge and keys. At fifty-seven I was officially retired. I spent the rest of the day emmeshed in a paperwork nightmare. I had to stop in the middle of it both to have lunch and to sign up for a postal delivery box, necessary to complete all the paperwork. Medicare. What a lousy introduction to the rest of your life. I signed up for a cheap cell phone that would not tether me to my email. I was finished with that lifestyle.
I had no idea how to find a contractor to get the ball rolling out at the property. The blacktop at the west edge had a ditch deep and wide enough to swallow a station wagon. That had to be spanned in a way that the county road commission would approve of. The property had to be fenced off and posted and the old gravel roadbed (abandoned and overgrown for over sixty years) had to be cleared, dug out and re-gravelled down to the old parking lot some sixty feet below. The ground shelved off in three broad plateaus descending west to east, formed when the melt-water from the midwestern glaciers sought lower ground. The creek which formed the eastern border of the property had a limestone and mud bed. It held cold water due to many local springs, one of which was close to the southern edge of the property where it fed into the stream.
Except for the southernmost strip of land which remained cleared out by grazing cattle the place was overgrown with poisonous bitter-sweet, poison ivy and poison oak. The understory was impassable due to an overly-healthy infestation of blackberry canes.
I found a contractor by the simple expedient of looking at the advertising on the doors of the trucks being used on various jobs in the area. The better contractors would get business while the cheats and snivelers wouldn't.
Thompson General Contractors received a phone call. I arranged to meet one of their people the next day where Sears Road met Rock Creek Road. I warned him about the nasty undergrowth. He brought along an industrial gas-powered weed whacker that had a cutting disk at the business end rather than cord.
Due to the grade and lack of trails it took us over five hours to walk the fence lines. I asked that all the biocide spraying to be done first, then the overgrowth on the graded road-bed to be chipped and blown out over the forest floor for fertilizer. He was willing to blow eight more dump truck's worth of chipped brush and trees for fifty bucks per eight cubic yard truckfull. I agreed, after making sure that there would be no pine or other resinous wood in the mix. I found out later that they used a bobcat to run the trucksfull of chipped fresh mulch through their chipper again so that they could evenly blast it out over the earth, weeds and brush.
We negotiated a price and a time-line that let him get the job done when his other sites didn't need the man-power. The guys took their time and did a great job. The fresh white crushed limestone sure contrasted with the forest floor around it. The six foot tall corrugated steel culvert looked strong enough to support a Sherman tank.
The next phase required some permits. You see, having retired I decided to live on the site. This qualified me for a homestead exemption on my property tax.
A well was dug. A buried power line was brought down from the blacktop to the house site. The ground percolation test failed--it was too good! The soil would leach contaminated water into the creek. That meant I had to bury a septic vault. On the other hand, the county would allow a limited-use septic field for 'gray water' from the sinks, showers and clothes washer.
I started investigating pre-fab housing selections. I hit it off with a sales rep from Southland Log Homes. He showed me the elevations and floor plan for a nice one-story two-bedroom layout with a four-season sun-room and a fireplace. We changed it around to take out the shower and add a big shower/tub facility in the master bath, remove the big windows framing the fireplace and set it up for gas heating and cooking. The installed price wouldn't break my budget so I signed the contract and got him in touch with my building contractor. It was the contractor's job to pull all the permits and prepare the site, not only to pour the foundation and run the utilities for the house up through the pad, but also to pour a foundation for a little covered and screened-in structure down by the stream and a heated two-car garage connected to the house's sun room by a breezeway so that I could get groceries in and out without worrying about the weather. I decided that the floor plan didn't have anywhere to put a decent larder, so I added a complication to the foundation work--I wanted the center 1/3 of the foundation dug down an additional ten feet and lined with reinforcing rod and a thick layer of hydraulic concrete. Even with the necessary concrete pillars in place to support the cabin's load, a 30x20 dry cellar sounded quite useful. Perhaps some insulating wall panels, raised beds and halide lights might one day provide a welcoming environment for a small Cannabis Indica farm, besides harboring heavy shelves for my larder.
I had my contractor mound up all the unused dirt into a berm just inside the north fence with all the cut trees and removed brush buried within to help stabilize it when the spring mud and rains came. I had evil thoughts about making it up that driveway after a freezing rain with my 2WD pickup, but we'd see how it shook out. I planned to do some gardening the next spring, planting some violets and daffodil beds in the clearings in the woods once the defoliants oxidized. I'd like to see some beds of cattails, sedge grass, watercress and iris down in the wetlands near the spring, but the iris wanted partial shade. I'd have to plant some trees first.
There was plenty of space for a garden, and some rose beds on the earth berm. I had plans for a big strawberry bed, too. I roughed out a plan of the property around the gravel road and the house site to formalize my planting objectives.
The shelving effect of the ground and the forest between the house site and the road attenuated the road noise until I could barely hear it. Oh, I supposed that on a cold, clear winter's night after the leaves had fallen I'd hear it much more clearly but for the present I savored the quiet.
Once I signed the contract to build my new house I gave notice at my apartment complex that I intended to move on. They required a three month lead time without getting pissy and squalling for their lawyers.
I was too old for that moving shit and all that it involved.
I packed away my firearms and all the camping gear I'd assembled during my disreputable youth and middle ages, then made an appointment with "two guys and a truck" to pack away everything in the apartment, move it to my new house and break it down into the proper rooms for me, scheduled for the day after I contracted to receive the keys to the house. I wasn't about to bust my butt cleaning the old place either. I paid Merry Maids a walloping great fee to clean the place from top to bottom.
The three months went fitfully slow. My anticipation was killing me. I spent my time with a notebook and an internet connection at the library researching shade-tolerant perennials and water-tolerant trees that would grow well in our climate. Then I spoke with the two largest nursery managers in the area to determine what was available.
I turned over the keys to my old landlord and slept the first night in my new bedroom. I had moved in. It was just after Labor day, the first week in September. I felt a sense of security that I hadn't experienced since sleeping in my bed as a child, safe in my parents' house.
I bought a brand new Weber Kettle and five hundred pounds of charcoal. I then bought a big chest freezer for the garage and filled it with carnivore's delight. Grilled chicken or even a pedestrian hamburger took on whole new dimensions when consumed with the woods all around me. A sliced-down roast decorated with garlic and grilled over hot coals tasted positively sublime.
I put up a mail box near the road and had my address of record changed. With proof of residence in the form of a couple bills I received a new library card. I'd grown up in Plano, and was quite familiar with the Burr-Oak library district's facilities and the services they offered. They had no problem with interlibrary loans from University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana or from University of Chicago. It was an old friend. The old Carnegie library brick and mortar structure had finally been expanded over a decade previously. Parts of the old facade, the concrete lions bracing the broad front steps and the slate-floored original fireplace flanked by the old magazine reading area still gave the place a connection to its history, but the old curved monster of a blonde oak counter had been replaced and the card catalog was but a memory of an older time.
I dressed for the mess, then walked all over the property. It took me over a week to cover everything, but I was glad that I did. I found a few spots where the bittersweet and poison ivy survived. I marked the spots with wraps of florescent surveyor's tape around a few tree trunks. A quick call to the contractor nipped that in the bud, so to speak.
I dropped some weight and had a lot better attitude than when I'd worked for the County. I no longer had shooting pains in my knees or ankles.
After putting the numbers together I decided that I was in pretty good shape. If anything unforseen and expensive happened I could take out a loan against my income tax reserve account. As long as it was repaid by April I'd have no problems. I realized that I was skating on thin ice with no house insurance, but that's the way the dice rolled.
While the ground was still unfrozen I had the contractor come back out to pave a small patio just outside the breezeway so that it was protected on three sides--the house on the left, the garage on the right and the breezeway behind. It faced the woods rather than the creek and gave me a place close by to use my Weber once the weather packed in. The kitchen window looked out over the patio. It looked a little barren when looking out from the kitchen window. I realized that I'd want some big pots of something green or a raised bed up against the garage wall. Perhaps a cedar hedge. Maybe Lignum Vitae. I'd have to talk to a nurseryman.
I bought some oak planks, a biscuit joiner and a table saw. I needed book shelves and wasn't about to spend good money on some compressed sawdust crap that looked like wood. I measured the space, cut and sanded the planks then varnished everything while they were in the garage. I knew that I'd never be able to move the shelves once they were put together, so I assembled them in place with pilot holes, drywall screws, my screw gun and a few beads of construction adhesive. I ripped down some two-inch oak and glued it into long 2x2's, then cut away recesses in the center fronts of the shelves to fit. Once varnished and screwed in place it would keep the shelves from sagging. I used a shallow mortices cut into the 2x2s to make cut-outs for the shelves to rest in. As an afterthought I added a toe-kick and called it finished. The two shelves took up one wall beside the fireplace. There was room for another set on the other side, but I'd wait to build them until needed.
I was fifty-eight. I'd dropped weight and added some muscles. I was breathing better. That desk job had been slowly killing me. I realized it then.
The leaves fell and the fall rains came, right around Halloween as it always had throughout my childhood and youth. The smell of the decomposing forest litter was amazing. It was something I'd missed from long ago. I ordered four face cords of dried hardwood for the fireplace. The delivery guys stacked it inside the garage to keep it out of the wet.
After the rains stopped the sky got that brilliant blue of remembered fall days. I raked up a pile of leaves from the litter on the driveway and burned them, just for the smell. So many of our memories have olifactory links. (besides, once the fall rains hit, the wet layers of leaves would make tires slip on the driveway slopes as if they'd been greased).
On nice days after the first frost I walked a path just inside the fence line. All the bugs were gone for the year. The wetlands and spring were unapproachable as the ground was a morass that would take your leg up to the groin without hitting bottom. The first time I discovered that little fact was a nightmare. I had one hell of a time getting out. I lost my boots as well.
I tried to look up some old friends in town, but most had either moved on or passed on.
One of the pizza joints in town owned the recipies from Suzy's, the go-to pizza place of my youth. I stopped by for a pizza to take home on occasion but it was infrequent. My guts didn't play well with all that grease anymore.
The ground was frozen. Thanksgiving was around the corner. I spent a couple thousand dollars to have a nurseryman come out with a chainsaw and, bit by bit, thin out the woods so that the trees had room to grow. I showed him my planting diagram and got some more ideas. After all, it was his business to know not only what would grow happily in the area but what would look good as well. I'd have been a fool to pay for a man's professional advice then not take it to heart. We left the downed wood where it lay to decompose and feed the forest floor. I told him what I'd had done about the blown in chopped trees and brush. He said that it might stink come spring because all that woody mass would start to decompose fast, but it wasn't anything to worry about.
I made a nice Thanksgiving dinner. It was a bit lonely, sitting there eating it by myself. I didn't have an answer for that, though.
Almost exactly a month later Christmas rolled around, and the big brass ring of that first annuity payment showed up in my bank account, just like clockwork. I sighed when I saw my statement. It meant I wouldn't be homeless within six months. It was quite relief, let me tell you!
January through March saw me writing. At first I just scribbled a bit here and there, in a journal. Then I began to put some effort into it. I thought of all the plots and characters I'd read of during my life. I sent away for some hardbacks by Gaiman, Ellison, Asprin, Holt and others in the Sci-Fi/fantasy field. I invested in a big dictionary and a thesaurus. I took an introduction to writing course at a local open university that spring. My sentence structure improved. I was getting better, beyond the shadow of a doubt.
Then I let it rest for a while, to percolate.
It was April; time to pay the fiddler. Property tax came due every six months. I got the house insured and paid a man to prepare my income tax. On his advice I made a gift of several thousand dollars to the local library to decrease my obligation for the following year. My first-time home owner's exemption kicked in, as did my property tax's homestead exemption. We managed to defer some of my capital gains to the next year even though I had the money set aside, so that I could maximize the credit for my gift allowances. If I was going to lose it, then by damned I was going to have some say as to where it was going.
The ground thawed, then dried. The ticks and ants came out in armies. I retaliated by hand casting little pellets of Ortho ant killer all over the areas I lived in. The verbiage on the bag said that it killed termites too which made me happy. My prefab log cabin would be less at risk.
I talked to my contractor again. I had a 'bottomless' spring-fed pool with an insect-breeding bog all around it. He had an idea. He wanted to measure how deep the hole was, then drop pre-cast concrete slabs all around the pool, defining an edge. Then the property between the pool and the stream would be dredged away and the ejecta used to back-fill around the rear of the pool. It would stop the spring from eroding away the land behind the pool while allowing the wetlands to follow the bank down-stream. A heavy planting of cattails would also help to stabilize the soil. Since it had to do with the magic word, 'wetlands' I had to file an environmental impact statement with the nosyparkers in Springfield. Since the plan included erosion abatement while actually increasing shelter for the local wildlife it got their approval. I even got a twenty-percent funding grant to help out with the costs.
Those damned concrete piers had to be sixty-five feet long. The trucks tore the hell out of the ground. They had to back-fill the bog with tons of gravel to give the crane a place to work from. It took a remarkably short time to get the interlocking piers in place. The crane left, then the drege came in. Talk about a mess. I moved into a hotel for a week to escape from the incessant noise and diesel smoke. I took the opportunity to take my time walking through the Field Museum, the Chicago Art Instute and the Museum of Science and Industry. I paid for a second week's hotel room rental to complete my tours.
I sure gave my contractor the evil eye when I saw what was left after all the equipment was hauled out. He did his best to placate me, saying that it would all grow over and dry over the summer, so that by the next spring it would look natural again. I kept my silence, but he knew I wasn't a real fan of his at the time.
With the approval of my favorite nurseryman, I had the southern verge of my woods and the dirt berm at my north-most fence covered in a foot of more chipped trees and brush. He then covered it all in black visqueen to speed decomposition. I wanted a mixed orchard on the property and this took advantage of a well-drained natural feature as well as a sunny hillside. He started some grafting projects for me using root stock well-suited to the area for the apples and pears. The cherries would grow anywhere as long as the ground lay undisturbed. He started a dozen suckers in his nursery. We planned out the rose and boxwood garden for the berm. Posts would have to be driven in and landscaping ties installed to terrace the faces or heavy rains would cause destructive erosion of the slopes.
I had a few problems that first year, but nothing that I couldn't deal with. A property just up-stream from me hosted families with emotional problems, and the hikers had a tendency to ignore my property lines. A bit of razor wire and some orange paint solved that problem. It wasn't that they tresspassed. That I could ignore. I grew angry at trash they left behind and their grafitti carved into my streamside shelter! That was uncalled for.
When one of the Catholic fathers paid call to complain I led him down to the shelter and pointed at the damage. He apologized and no more was said about the matter. Note, he did not offer to have it repaired, the cheap bastard. Needless to say, the LaSalle Youth Manor was off my Christmas card list. It cost me quite a bit to have the wood planed off and treated with stain and weatherproof varnish.
A less expensive yet much more satisfying matter was concluded with the help of a local welder. After having my mailbox bashed in twice I resorted to having another made of half-inch galvanized steel plate firmly attached to an eight foot long two-inch I-beam, which I had buried in concrete. I never saw nor heard the resolution, but one morning I drove up to get the mail and found quite a few pieces of fiberglass and fragments of automotive glass littering the area near my mailbox. I thought to myself, "Car-0, Immovable Mailbox-1". I took a picture for posterity and gave a printed copy to the man that was so kind as to fabricate it for me.
That summer I got canoeists! Well, Jon-boat canoeists. The creek was too shallow during the summer to consistently support the keel of a loaded canoe without damage. Several teens came by with their obligatory cases of beer. Since they were good enough to ask, I gave them permission to use the shelter for the weekend, and told them about the spring just a bit downstream. As they cleaned up after themselves I invited them back. I told them that the deadfalls and squaw wood left by the oaks over the next two miles downstream were fair game for firewood, but if anyone got hurt then it was on their own dime. I was sure that Jim wouldn't care as long as it was treated as a 'commons' and no liability could be claimed.
That summer I also got my plantings in for violets, lilly of the valley and daffodils. They were all rhizome-based as were the iris I planted at the verge of the wetland downstream of the spring. They didn't care what season they were transplanted, as long as it wasn't the dead of winter or blossoming time--early spring. The nurseryman had used a Jon-boat to plant cattails, sedge grass and water cress as soon as the water had warmed up after ice-out. The green shoots looked promising and I heard the peeper frogs in the evenings. I swear that I must have put up a hundred bat-boxes, As a consequence the mosquitoes weren't as much of a nuisance as the year before. My spring flinging of insecticide granules must have affected the ticks as well as I no longer found new crops to remove from my shins and forearms after a day outside. The generous dosing of Permethrin on my clothes no doubt had something do to with it as well.
I marked the end of my first full year of ownership with a small celebration.
That fall, before the first freeze, my master of things green and growing planted my apple, pear and cherry trees, then sent out a truck to water everything twice a week until the ground froze. He also seeded the ground between the trees to the forest verge with clover and nitrogen-fixing innoculant. I ordered six more face cords of dry hardwood to be delivered.
Just after Halloween I got a note from my neighbor across the road. I was invited to their thanksgiving dinner! I immediately dashed off a note accepting their generous offer and dropped it off in their mailbox. Next, I hit a big book store for a volume on baking and bought a big Kitchen-Aid mixer with a dough hook, a paddle and (it was hard to find!) a balloon whisk.
Long before, just out of college, I couldn't find a job to save my soul. I spent some time in the Army, but they don't prepare you for anything short of life in the Army. I spent almost a year working in a bakery, then as a third-shift cook in a long-forgotten restaurant chain owned by Walgreens. I'll never forget the bottle-blond lady that taught me my chops and gave me the confidence to 'pump up the volume' and work a Saturday morning family breakfast shift after spending half the night catering to the 'I'm gonna close the Bar' crowd and prepping all the meat, cheese and veggie for the morning omelette line. To this day I can remember the feeling of driving my hand down into a five-gallon bucket full of burger, raw eggs and meatloaf pre-mix...
I also remember the high-school princesses that were learning the hard way they were totally unprepared for life after high-school, and taking it out on the cook seemed a perfectly acceptable way to blow off a little frustration. Not a damned one of them realized that I kept shorting their orders for a reason. Sally, the manager, just watched and smiled. She had the strangest accent. Jersey? New York? Philly? I never asked. I knew that she'd led a hard life and wore dentures. I could always tell from the set of the jaw...
Anyway, I had a month to master making a pumpkin cream cheesecake, and I did it. I walked through their door with four bottles of wine in a carrier in my left hand, and four cheesecakes in a carrier in my right. Talk about your over-kill. There were two adults and two teen-agers. Sandy had baked a 13-pound turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, chestnut stuffing and an apple pie. Sam just sat in his recliner and laughed, and laughed. We had enough food on hand for a hungry basketball team. I made the first friends I'd had in over thirty years. It was--interesting.
They were friends with an entire short road's worth of farmers in an extended family, located on the other side of LaSalle Manor. I volunteered to host a weekend-before-July-4th pig roast for everyone. We all agreed to make it 'bring a dish to pass'. Once I got a head-count I called a guy that had made a business out of cooking for pig-roasts. His home base was in DeKalb; quite a hike away, but his roasters were on industrial trailer frames and he didn't mind travelling. I gave him the number of people that I predicted would show up. He set aside two roasters and pre-ordered four suckling pigs. Then I pre-ordered the beer, the tappers, ice and coolers. I also arranged for a stock tank full of ice and soda pop. I could have bought and assembled all the picnic tables we'd need, but why clutter up the place afterward? What was I going to do with twenty picninc tables? Burn them for firewood? I had a catering guy set aside picnic tables for us, then arranged for delivery and pickup after the last soldier fell.
I got a stupid idea. A swimming hole. I asked my contractor how much it would cost to blow out a swimming hole in the creek, part upstream from the spring and part downstream. He started to fret, saying that he couldn't get a blasting permit without state-level permission. I patted his shoulder. "I'll take care of the blasting. You take care of the rubble removal." He looked heavenward for a sign, then sighed. "Just don't get me in no trouble, dammit!"
I called Sunny, down in Atlanta. He didn't get around much anymore, but he still ran a big-assed military surplus shop out past the airport. If he didn't have it, he knew who did.
"Hey, Sunny. You still scarin' the white boys out of their skins?" "Prof? Izzat you, prof? Well, I'll be damned." "Hey, I got a little blasting job and you came to mind right up. What's it gonna take to get you up to Illinois for a weekend, a tow truck with a winch?" Sunny was a big boy, but he wasn't sensitive about it. "Aw, hell. I'm comin' if you're askin'."
"Great! I need your read and touch with a little stream bed work. I wanna make a swimmin' hole without fuckin' it all up." Sunny snorted. "Yeah, you always did come down on the overkill side. What we workin' with?" "Layered limestone under mud, a shallow creek, maybe two-three feet deep. Gotta mature spring right next to the stream bed that I don't wanna mess up." "I'll be up there in a few days. Get me a comfy bunk and plenty a cold beer!" "Got your name on it, Sunny. No problem Here's how to find me..."
Always work with professionals when you can. Sunny was a professional. I'd seen him write his name in a granite wall with clay and C-4.
Three days later the evening calm was shattered by the sound of my gate announcer. I took a look at the the camera display. An old Winnebago camper with Georgia plates sat there. I hit the remote for the gate and watched it quietly slide to the side on its rollers. Soon the camper came to rest in my parking lot and a huge black man with white fuzz covering his scalp pried himself out of the driver's seat. He was six-eight if he was an inch and his belt line had expanded over the years. He looked to be a good 380 to 400 pounds. No matter what he looked like, the man had taken demolitions to a high art.
My hand nearly dissppeared in his grip as we shook. "Hey, Sunny. I'm glad you could make it." He had a grin that made me feel like it was old times all over again. "It wasn't such a bad drive down. All that diner food left me real uneasy though." He winced as he rubbed his copious belly." I motioned him to follow me. "Come on in and I'll show you where the bog is right away. I've got a big 'ol bed with your name on it and a half dozen cases of Sam Adams in bottles in the garage reefer. I need to go pull some steaks out of the freezer for dinner while you lose a little weight."
We were slowing down, knocking back our fourth beers in the screen room down by the creek. The light was fading and I was about to start the fire. The peeper frogs in the cattails were making themselves known. I figured that I'd have herons and other water birds before long, now that a ready food supply for them had established itself. I'd have to buy a Jon-boat and get a seine net to check for minnows.
"You did real good for yourself here. All that's missin' is a lady-friend or two." "I'm workin' on it, but takin' my time. I'm gonna look for a widda that doesn't want to turn me into somethin' out of a magazine."
He sighed. "Know whatcha mean. Wimmen are never happy. Christ, they change ya around until ya don't recognize yaself in the mirror in the mornin, then complain that you ain't the man they married!" We knocked bottles and took a sip. "So, where's this place you want a swimmin' hole?"
"Just downstream a bit. I got about a half mile of shoreline, and the downstream last quarter is flowing swamp, so it doesn't breed mosquitoes too easy. I'm looking for a hundred yard pool, centered on where the cold-water spring feeder joins the creek, making the shorelines on both side continue down about six feet lower than they turn into creek bed now."
He nodded. Nice, slow flow to the crick. Not gonna be hard to work in at all. I hate workin' with belay lines and shit. We'll fire off a couple sounding shots in the mornin' to see what surprises the bottom's got for us, then plot the shots and use a small air hammer to drop the charges. Don't want to use anything really shocky like C-4 or Semtex. When you tol' me about what you're doin' I had some Urea Nitrate made up for me. I got a dozen waxed slugs made up, a couple kilos all told. It's a lot slower explosive than most. We won't be takin' much chance on screwin' up your nice little spring."
"I knew I could depend on you, Sunny. You got the brains for it, and you got the touch. You always did."
"Hey, remember when we went fishin' with baby food jars and calcium carbide? He shook his head and emptied his beer. I gave him another out of the cooler. "Ain't gonna forget that one. Nope. Wisht I could, though." I laughed. "Naw, it was golden. There we were just under the turbine dam in a big-ass flat-bottomed Jon-boat with a half dozen baby food jars, a box of railroad ballast, a kilo of carbide and a shitpile of seine nets. That captain roared up in his speed boat and DEMANDED that we turn over any explosives to him."
Sunny shook his head. "You had to toss him a loaded-up jar after you spit in it, didn't ya?"
"Served the bastard right. All he had to do was toss it over the side, but no. The idiot shoved it under his seat. I haven't seen you move that fast since when we dove for the duck-board."
Sunny smiled a bit at the memory. "Never did see an ejection seat on a speed boat before. Doubt I will again."
"We sure brought a mess of fish back to the compound that night. Never saw hide nor hair of that ring knocker again, either."
We sat up reminiscing and drinking until the moon set and we let the fire go out.
The next morning we backed Sunny's little tow-behind compressor down to the screen shelter and fired it up. He had enough hose to cover the area where I wanted the pool. Sunny went down into the water with his air hammer and a teeny little star-drill mounted on the business end. He made short work of drilling two pilot holes then stuffed a bright orange fiberglass wand in each one. I helped him back up onto dry land with a knotted-up rope. He fooled around with a plastic tackle-box for a bit, then came back down to the stream with a pole in his hand and four long wires looped through his belt. He had something in a shirt pocket that he attached to the end of his pole, then crimped one end of a wire pair to it. The wand came out of the hole, then he carefully pushed the cartridge back in, then put his shoulder into seating it. He pushed on a center rod while removing the insertion tool from the hole. Then he did it again at the second hole.