Retiring to the Smokies

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Slow, Caution, Violent,

Desc: Fantasy Story: With my health failing I decided to duck out of city life. A cabin in the Smoky Mountains with an outhouse and well suited me just fine. My life was finally mine to live as I wished. Be careful what you wish for.

I lost my job. What a soul-destroying phrase, yet it's more than common these days.

It was late October when the neuropathy hit the outer two fingers of my left hand. It was getting to the point that I couldn't type anymore. That's what made up 90 percent of my job. I abandoned my credit card debt to soak up a thousand a month before I HAD to quit. I wondered if AFLAC would provide for me if I paid into them, but they turned out to be fair-weather friends-- their pre-existing condition riders would screw me.

Since I had worked for an academically involved business I had a semi-pension from IMRF (Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund) good for a few hundred a month disability. I'm only 52 so the government was really shitty about paying for anything else.

I wanted to move out of the area because (a) It was too damned cold around Chicago to guts out a winter without income, and (b) I wanted to finish out my life away from cities and towns.

You want more reasons to move? How about I'm tired of walking around my car every morning to see if anybody flatted my tires, ripped off my battery or just shredded my top for the hell of it. I gave up trying to keep a radio in my jeep 4 years ago. How about I'm tired of being ready to throw down against every punk in the neighborhood with a hardon against fat old guys every time I carry in my groceries from the car--about a football field's distance from my apartment. "Hey, whatcha got in the bag?"

I threw a dart at a map of the south-east quarter of the US. I was trying for the Southern Smokies and did pretty good. I hit Boone, North Carolina, home of the Appalachian State University.

I called my sister who lived a bit further South than where I was 'aiming' for--Jacksonville Florida. She had a well-paying office job in a rather large corporation and her second husband had settled down and stopped job-hopping. I needed a mail cut-out for IMRF to contact and mail to without Citibank catching wind of where I was. She agreed to the mail cut-out deal and would put the property in her name if I paid for it. I set the wheels in motion to get a 'used' social security number and a license under a different name. Her only condition --so far-- was that she look the place over with me to see if I was cutting off more than I could chew.

I got a hitch put on my old jeep and started packing an 8x14 foot covered trailer with all the odd reenacting crap I'd thrown together over the years. I got the springs boosted on the jeep.

At the same time I put out some feelers towards finding an old homestead with a few acres and some trees that could be had on the cheap. Boone itself turned out to be pretty large--It had a golf course for Christ's sake! I wanted to be off the grid, off city water and out of sight.

I needed to motivate myself. I had to get my head into moving and self-sufficiency. I still had my set of Foxfire books and planned on getting my money's worth from them. I bought a few books on native American food plants and hunter-gatherer practices--some books by Mark Baker and a few others about early American woods runners were useful. Ragnar Benson has some books on living off the grid, trapping and poaching (hunting for the table). They're good reads.

I needed to lose weight and build strength. I bought two .22 revolvers, two .22 rifles and another .22 mag (WMR) rifle. I bought ammunition for both every weekend. I walked a lot.

I started a shopping list-- which I promptly threw away. I really didn't know what I needed until I saw the place.

What did I want? That I could quote my requirements from memory-- I wanted a semi-accessible place up in a draw with a little flat land but mostly trees. Fire road or jeep-accessible was fine. If it butted up to a national forest, more better. I wanted a well and an outhouse. I wanted a medium-sized cabin with a fireplace that I could cook from, with a raised hearth and a sturdy swinging arm to hang a kettle up.

I already had a power saw and a sturdy electric drill. With a little generator and a can of gas or six I could build a lean-to off the cabin to keep firewood dry and an out-building. I would need a smoke-house to cure and smoke any game I took as well.

Come April I took a few days off to follow up on some properties in person. I loaded up the jeep with sheepskins, blankets, tarps, rope and tent stakes. I expected to sleep rough on this trip. I threw in my camp kitchen for the hell of it--it had a propane stove and lamp as well as 40 pounds of canned goods in it.

I think I hit gold in the place I found. The previous owner had died in bed with no known family. His greatly grand pappy had homesteaded in the mountains. Nobody wanted the place because it was off-grid for everything and it was too expensive to bring in utilities. I bought it off the county for $3500.00 cash money, $180.00 a year taxes due on June 1. The county clerk agreed to write in the current year's taxes as forgiven.

Sam and I drove out to the property to see just what we had. The old owner had died several years ago and the place needed some TLC immediately. I took many pictures of the place as we wandered through it, documenting the neglect. It was a squared-beam log cabin with three rooms in a row, the middle one being the largest and the others set up as bedrooms or storage. There were two windows per room and two doors in the main cabin. The square-faced logs were weathered a silvery gray. The ends showed that each log was cut into a form of tongue and groove to dig into the log above and below it like a V-shaped mortise and tenon running the length of the beams. There were stairs up to a trap door that led to a loft. There was some nice timber, some mason jars, pottery and a big old three-legged pot with a hole in the bottom up there. That kettle must have held forty gallons easily. How the hell did they get it up there?

Out back, the well was sweet. The outhouse and well house had fallen in. The foundation of the cabin seemed fine. Both the front and back porches had fallen apart. There was a small stream a couple hundred yards from the cabin. I may be able to put in a cold house. We set up our bedding in one of the side bedrooms.

The property was only about 35 acres with about five tillable. Sue found several small orchards-- pear, apple, pecan, peach and walnut trees that badly needed pruning. There was a small swamp in a draw that had cattails growing in it. I found the crumbling door to an old, old root cellar twenty feet out behind the kitchen door. It was built into a shelf in the ground as the land climbed up the draw. I cleaned it out. The shelves had collapsed and made a mess of everything. It was very well made of dry-laid stone. I needed a couple of wheelbarrows of sand to replace what was there for potatoes and such. I left it open to the sun to dry out.

I'd rebuild the doors when I got the wood. The smokehouse would go in then, too.

I hadn't expected to get this lucky this soon, so I had left most of my stuff back home. However I had brought my contractor's extension cords, drill, saw, fasteners and general hand tools to work with. I found a generator for sale cheaper than what I could have bought it for up north. Three 5-gallon Jerry cans of gas and I was good to go. Good thing, too-I was about broke.

The first thing I did was to get a disposable phone, order 40 sheets of half-inch plywood, two rolls of roofing felt, three flats of shingles, a truck-load of 20' 2x6's, a box of roofing nails and a bucket of roofing tar delivered as far up the road as they could get. I was surprised that they made it to the back door. (The damned phone wouldn't work until I was four miles down my driveway.) Good thing I had canned goods-- the wallet was dry.

I found a local welder that would set me up with a barbecue made out of a 25 gallon drum cut in half the hard way, hinged and with a handle and L-brackets inside welded so that it would support two pieces of expanded mesh for a grilling surface and some 1/8 inch rod welded together to support the fire, also held up by some L-brackets. I could add a firebox and chimney later if I wanted to get fancy. I had him weld it to a steel hand truck. I'd roll the whole shebang up onto cinder blocks to use it. I arranged to pick it up when I got back, around April first. He said no problem--he sold them mostly that way all the time and could find a buyer if I backed out.

As soon as I had lumber I re-dug the outhouse and re-built it. The soil had laid for so long that it was just fertilizer. I mounded it up and covered it with a tarp to use later. Do you know the secret to not getting splinters from a new outhouse seat? Buy one at K-mart and nail it down!

The well house got the same treatment, just no night soil or seat and add a cap and a windlass.

I scrubbed the cabin out to the walls with Lysol and whitewashed everything that wasn't stone. Twice. It took over a week for me to re-roof the place, but it was nice and tight when I was done. There wasn't any water damage to speak of, but there would have been if I hadn't done something.

The fireplace passed first inspection and drew well when I lit a fire. It had a nicely sized firebox but the irons and traverse needed replacing. We burned whatever was solid enough to use from the front and back porches for firewood. Thank god payday rolled around and I had direct deposit or I would have had to walk home.

Sam, my sister, found twelve oak 4x4s ten feet long. I carefully drilled four half- inch holes through each of them so that they would line up and over-bored the end beams by an inch deep and an inch wide. four lengths of half-inch threaded rod four feet long, some fender washers, nuts and enough carpenter's glue to founder a horse had me a tabletop for the ages. Each night I spent an hour or so with a wood-plane smoothing it out.

I re-framed and roofed over a front and back porch but left the floors just joists until I could get some slab wood. I wanted dried, planed one-inch-thick boards for flooring inside and out. The floor inside was so irregular from wear and the dirt was so worn in that the only reasonable choice was replacement. The wood in the loft was too nice to use as flooring.

First I treated the stored wood that I would use. I bought eleven pounds of beeswax and soaked it into both sides of the planks with the help of a 100-watt work light and some aluminum foil. I bolted together two doors out of the slab timber and put barn hinges on the frames. I built heavy shutters and cut pockets in the window frame side-timbers to hold a cross-beam to keep the shutters tightly closed against all comers. Next, I bolted in four big iron brackets on the frames to take 2 beams per door. Some very dry dimensional oak 2x4s and 4x4s finished them off for security.

They got the wax treatment too.

Before I left I built a box bed that would hold a standard mattress. A settle seat with a high back, deep and wide enough to sleep on, went next to the fireplace. A long counter went in with a place for a sink beneath a window. A large sheet-metal lined blanket chest and a 'clothes press' to hang clothes up in were my last 2 projects. I took measurements of the window frames. I quit when I ran out of lumber.

I made up a list of what to bring next--

Lumber! Find a local lumber mill for kiln dried face planed slab wood and dry slash wood for the fireplace, too. Kiln dried wood has so little moisture in it that it's as stable as you're going to get. Chest of drawers. I'd grab mine from home. Table and chairs. I wanted comfortable--pretty could go hang. The place needed a Pantry, pots and pans. Wall shelves for the cabin and root cellar. See lumber, above. I wanted it face-planed and cut true. Kerosene lanterns and cans of fuel. Screen doors for front and back. Six sliding insulated windows with screens. A 50 pound bag of lime and a tin can for the crapper (I'd probably buy it cheaper locally.) A wheelbarrow, rake and shovels. A sling-blade and gloves to clear the brush, burrs and thistles. Several bags of clean sand for the root cellar. I'd have to block out an area with low walls so the sand wouldn't spread all over the floor. Chainsaw, oil and gas -- I wanted to thin some of the woods for firewood. Um, sledge, wedges and axe. Chainsaw file. Peavey to get the logs on a sawbuck.

I picked up a couple of local newspapers to find out what was going on in different small towns in all directions to about 30 miles out.

Sam also, without my knowledge, ordered a two-burner cast iron stand-alone boiler originally made for deep-frying along with a propane hose and two ten-gallon kettles. She later told me that I'd be taking baths whether I liked it or not. Snotty kid. She also bought an eight-day wind-up clock for the mantle that chimed once on the hour. That was something I really appreciated through the years.

I left everything there but my wallet, locked up, sprang for a large postal delivery box in town at a UPS place and headed back to Chicago while she headed back to Florida. I hoped to be back permanently the next spring if the Citibank collectors didn't piss me off enough to pull up stakes and leave during the winter.

Since I was gone so long I had to explain myself to my boss--the county superintendent of schools. He was pretty pissed, and wanted me to go to all sorts of specialists-- on my dime, of course. I convinced him to sit down with an endocrinologist and find out just what diabetic neuropathy was and did. No, Dorothy, it's NOT reversible. He finally came on board and started the paperwork to get me declared as partially disabled with the IMRF and federal government so that I would get a bit more each month. Thanks, boss.

A lumber mill outside Boone would sell me the planed-off dried planks I wanted but I had to arrange for pickup. They just burned the cutoffs so I was able to pick them up for a song by the dump-truck load. I put a check in the mail to hold the lumber. Since I was getting quite a bit more money than I thought I would get I dragged myself into the 19th century by buying a 2-eye wood stove. I wouldn't have to dispose of all my pots and pans that didn't have legs to hold them out of the coals this way. I picked up some nice cast iron pots and pans at Goodwill that looked crappy at first glance, but just needed boiling/burning out, then curing with olive or corn oil. I gave them a full cleaning and curing before I headed South.

Goodwill had some wool pants and good jeans in my new 'slimmer' size so I stocked up. A pair of used redwing boots received some needed saddle soap and neats foot oil then were good to go. I found Carhartt bibs and a winter coat. I love one-stop-shopping. I turned in two 'sanitized for your protection' computers there, keeping a laptop that would run off of a car battery/lighter socket. I could do work at my table at night then take it to the library to transmit/receive the stories I wrote and read online. I kept my "buffalo box" external storage unit and mini-switch to connect 'em. The wall-mounted power supplies just fed them 12 volts so they were 'car battery compliant'.

I now had a social security number and state ID under Karl Pilath--an old uncle of mine that would never know, nor care that I used his name. He was a small-operation dairy farmer from way back. In the spring I would sell the jeep for a used heavy pickup under K. Pilath in Greensboro, then get a drivers license under the same name.

When Sam's present came in for Christmas I said to hell with it and bought enough 3-wire and connections to make two runs from the back of the cabin to near where I wanted the table --I'd wire for 110 volt and 12-volt DC to the generator and wire 4 car batteries to a battery farm charger. I'd be able to run packet radio if I got the urge for about 180 bucks grand total since my laptop had a sound card built in. I could run fence wire on poles for a dipole antenna or just shell out 45 bucks for a G5RV antenna pre-cut to the right lengths with all the hard work done for me. That's a much better deal. Cutting your own multi-frequency resonant antennas is a right fair bitch.

I shopped around at a builder's warehouse store for the windows. I found some special-ordered Pella windows cut to a weird size that someone had abandoned. I got 'em for dimes on the dollar. I also bought a router to cut runs for the electric lines. I'd cover my tracks with slivers peeled off near the floorboards and caulking.

It was the slow season. March. I called around to a couple of independent haulers around Boone and arranged for the delivery of the finished slab wood and three piled-high dump truck loads of cutoffs from the lumber mill. I paid extra for the slab wood to be stacked on the front porch stretchers and covered with tarps. I had him deliver 40 more sheets of half-inch plywood, two more flats of shingles, a roll of roofing felt, another load of grade-B 2x6s to be stacked on the back porch stretchers. Six filled 30-pound propane tanks were stacked in the outhouse. We both figured that we made out like bandits. I'd be out there in a month.

I was getting antsy. I re-packed the trailer and added more grain, sugar, yeast, salt and lard. I added dried milk, flats of canned beef, ham and chicken. Toilet paper! I damned near forgot the toilet paper! I made sure that I had plenty of shims and caulk for the windows. I bought a deep single sink and a bucket to put under it. I looked up how to build a trestle table base for the oak top and printed out the diagrams. I bought linseed oil and beeswax to finish the furniture. I bought a couple of glassed-in bookcases in case I got mice. A little transistor radio and a fistful of batteries filled the glove box.

I shipped my kitchen, books and sleeping bag on ahead. I bought a pole-mounted propane lantern that would fit on top of the tank and let the burner's hose connect to it through a built-in fitting. I got a box of mantles and two extra globes, too.

The big day came. April first. Everything I wanted was gone from the apartment and everything incriminating had gone to the dumpster in small batches. My cooking gear, bowls, plates, flatware and whatever was packed. I gave the neighbor everything in the fridge but kept the wine. I had a hand-made quilt that I could hang on the wall. My sheepskin rug was rolled up in a blanket to put near the bed. Off I went, never going over 45 miles an hour to keep the jeep healthy. (It had over 160,000 miles on it!) I had about fourteen thousand in cash.

About a week later I rolled up to my gate early on a Monday morning. It had a big-assed padlock on it. I shrugged, pulled out the staple with a pry-bar I was going to use on the flooring and drove in.

First thing, unlocked everything then opened all the doors and shutters to air the place out.

I loaded my pistols, rifles and shotgun, dug out the bill of sale for the place and tax agreement. The 30.06 M1 and shotgun went next to the door. I put on a huckleberry (arm-pit pistol sleeve), fitted a .22 mag revolver into it and put a canvas vest over it. It was cool enough so that I wouldn't overheat while pulling up the floorboards. I was going to save them so that I could use the 'good' side out on my new (unbuilt) shed.

I have to admit, as I think back on that day I was pissed as hell and full of myself. It could have gone really bad for me if an angel hadn't farted at the right time.

It was about 3 PM and I was half done with the main room floor. I heard the sounds of a car pulling up to the cabin, scraping brush and breaking downed twigs. I picked up the 30.06 and fed a handful of shells into my vest pocket. I crept out the back door and around the right side of the cabin. Two men were poking around my jeep. One was big and fat, the other was a little guy. The fat one was waving around a big ol' hogleg pistol like an Arkansas sheriff threatening all the heathen homosexuals. He started opening the driver's side door.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." "Who the hell are you? You're trespassing on government property!" He focused on me and started to swing his pistol around onto me.

Bang! one in the breadbasket. He was down. "Lie number one. I bought this place free and clear. I've got the bill of sale to prove it."

"Please! You can't! I bought this place from the county clerk in December!"

"My receipt pre-dates yours. I paid cash money and got the receipt dated April 16th."

"Shit! I'm out over seven thousand bucks!"

"Maybe not ... Who's that asshole I shot?" "Umm, Jeff. He said he was a deputy sheriff, but I never saw a badge or anything."

"Let me button up here and we'll haul him in for trespassing then pay a little visit to the county clerk."

He brightened right up. I drove, he took shotgun and the fat dead asshole rode in the trunk. Used to be a nice car. Used Crown Vic. It had a suspension that rolled like a drunken whore's hips.

We walked into the Sheriff's office like we owned the place. There was no sense in giving an inch Either we were heroes or dead men. I started out talkin' straight.

"Is the sheriff around? I've got a body for him." Things suddenly got interesting. We got hustled to a table with four big guys on the other side.

"Would you tell me just what the hell happened to have you bring me a body?" "Sure! You want the quick and dirty or the long and involved?" What had to be the sheriff looked at me for all of two minutes. "CJ--go get us some coffee, ok?" "Sure, sheriff." I started talking. I showed him the bill of sale with the nice, big impression on the paper stating that I was the proud owner of 35 acres that had seen better days. I talked my way through to this morning when I pulled in to a padlocked gate, opened it up and started working. Then it was Tim's turn. He showed HIS bill of sale with the nice, big impression on the paper stating that HE was the proud owner of 35 acres that had seen better days. He described what happened from when the asshole (Jeff) opened his car door and started waving his pistol around, then opening the jeep door, then our little conversation.

"A little abrupt, weren't we?" "Well, HE was waving the pistol around screaming that I was trespassing on MY place. It didn't look like it could go anywhere but downhill from there. He WAS starting to draw a bead on me so I shot first. Fuck it. He was trespassing with a weapon. It sure looked like assault with intent. I could have just fertilized the damn pecan trees with him, but I brought him in. Now what?" Silence. "Now we go pay a visit to his brother Jerry the county clerk."

Jerry wasn't in the office. His secretary said that he was at the local restaurant. He got real still when the six of us stood around his table.

"Jerry Edwards, you are under arrest for grand theft and malfeasance of office. You're spending the night, and probably the next several nights, in jail. Read him is rights, CJ."

He turned to us after the excitement was over. "I'll need copies of those documents. We've got your statements. You- he nodded to me- need a deed. You- he nodded to Tim- need a check from the county treasurer. I'll talk to the judge tomorrow early. Let's get you to where you need to be tonight after we get those copies." We followed the man. Glad he's on our side.

I got a ride back 'home' in a MUCH nicer crown Vic and showed the REAL deputy around. We shook hands and we parted on good terms. It was getting real dark and the floor was only half there. I took the expedient route and pissed down the hole, then dug my bedding out of the blanket chest. A box bed feels good even without a mattress if you've been up for 18 hours.

First Tuesday-- I woke with the birds (sore back) stretched, (real sore back) and visited the necessary. I had only dug it 12 feet deep but when I rebuilt it I put it on skids. That's as far down as I could get with my damned ladder! I could slide it over a new hole with very little effort. It was a bit of a snarl when I had to pull the propane cylinders out before I could take a dump.

I laid a couple of plywood panels over the bare joists. That way I could empty the jeep and trailer into the right bedroom without killing myself. Then I went to town. I wanted my sleeping bag and pads! I picked up the stuff I'd shipped to myself then filled the rest of the jeep (only the front passenger seat was open) with a giant cooler full of chicken, burger, bread and butter. Dry ice would keep it cool until I ate it all. I'd be working hard for a few weeks and would need the calories. I rounded it out with bacon, eggs, tomatoes and lettuce. Tacos tonight, omelets tomorrow, BLTs tomorrow night ... I re-laid the first half of the main cabin that afternoon with screws and glue then shifted the furniture around.

That set the pace for the rest of the week--chores in the morning, construction during the afternoons.

First Wednesday-- I picked up a mattress, 30 bags of Sackrete, carriage bolts, fender washers and nuts, a flat hoe and a wheelbarrow. I needed more long screws and glue to work with the plank-wood projects so I bought what they had. I checked my mail. I had my deed in my hand!

My beautiful, loving, wonderful sister had 8 cords of dried, split hardwood delivered. God love her. That's almost a thousand bucks in firewood! I was grinning like a fool as I tried to find places to stack it all and keep it dry. More tarps. I peeled up the second half of the main cabin floor, being careful to save the planks.

First Thursday-- I lined up and staked the shed foundation. I started digging the footings. By lunch time I was ready to drop. Instead I slept two hours and started screwing down the other half of the main cabin floor. I finished it by kerosene lantern, but I finished it. More about the shed-- I positioned it to overlap the back left corner of the cabin by three feet and project straight back thirty feet. That would let me pull the jeep up to the kitchen door to unload, then pull straight ahead into the shed. Later I would put a door and runway in between the cabin and shed. This would give me a wind break to protect me from blowing rain and whatever on my little walks to the outhouse or well house.

Friday saw me settling things in to where I wanted them. The stove flue required a little work on the chimney. I made sure to keep all pipes at an angle so that any creosote and tar buildup wouldn't puddle in the pipe. I built a small rick for dry firewood and kindling next to the stove. I went into town for asbestos cement to plug around the stovepipe and to get cans of gas for the generator. The floor planks were planed down pretty good, but I wasn't about to risk my feet on 'em for a while. I bought a pair of leather house shoes. I looked around for a pantry but didn't find anything I liked. Finally I tried the local goodwill and found something that would fit under the counter with a top drawer and bottom doors. Well, the flatware, pots and pans would have a home. I asked to be able to poke around in the newly delivered stuff and got an O.K. Someone had dropped off a big old hutch that was painted lime green. I couldn't say much for their color sense, but the cabinetmaking looked great. I paid sixty bucks for the both of them and promised to pick them up the next day.

First Saturday-- Time to hitch up the trailer again. I got the hutch, cabinet, two gallons of stripper, rubber gloves, steel wool and a bucket. I already had scrapers, vinegar and canvas sheeting. I also got a quart of Spar varnish and a good brush. (Spar varnish is tough as hell. They use it to coat the floors of roller rinks.) I set up to enamel the inside of both of my new purchases so that they would be bright white and easy to clean--two gallon's worth of glossy white enamel.

First Sunday was messy, no two words about it. Oh, that hutch started out ugly. Damn. I took pictures of it to remind myself what stupid people do to nice furniture. Once I got them stripped and then soaked in hot water and vinegar (to neutralize the stripper) with cloths and scraped down the raised grain. It dried smooth as silk and beautiful.

I'd let it dry two more days before a final sand, tack cloth and varnishing. I enameled the insides of the drawers and chiseled out the tired old oak glides and replaced them with hickory strips on the bottom of the drawers and the bottoms of the frames that held the drawers.

I put the hutch carcass in the left (unused) bedroom to dry where nothing would get at it.

I cut a hole in the counter for the sink right under the window and screwed angle braces to the wall before I dropped the sink into the hole so that the counter wouldn't collapse. It was a deep enameled cast iron sink. I left the drain pipe short so that I could slide a five-gallon bucket in and out under it easily. Silicone caulk is my friend. The drawer and double door unit was fastened under the counter next to the sink with 2x4s shimmed up against the bottom of the counter.

It was sturdy as a maple butcher's block. I'd be able to pound on it there with no problem.

I set up my bookcases and filled them with most of my books. I'd have to get another bookcase or three to cover the overload. I always get more books. The place was shaping up!

Second Monday gave me a new front porch and a front screen door. I spent Tuesday digging more footings, mixing concrete and burying half-inch bolts in the tops of the footings. I should have bought more concrete--I wanted a pad for the generator.

Second Tuesday-- I went into town to order lumber and have breakfast. I ordered four 4x4s twenty feet long, eight 4x4s ten feet long and twelve hinges from hell. HUGE. Barn hinges. That took care of caps and bottom plates of the shed walls. It would be 10x30 when finished. I special ordered three-inch thick slabs for the root cellar doors and to build the entire smokehouse. The hinges would take care of the shed, smokehouse and root cellar. I went back and ordered nuts, bolts and washers to fasten in the hinges. Damn. I forgot to order the hardware for a side door to the shed. Back I went. One fellow agreed to deliver 300 pounds of dry sand for my root cellar in two weeks. That would give me time to get the doors finished and shelves rebuilt.

I saw a flyer for a farm auction next Saturday, featuring household goods and a couple of old pickup trucks. Hmmm. Time to trade up and stuff my old ID? Maybe. I filled the jeep with three bags of sackrete, and five gallon cans of kerosene and gasoline for the lanterns and the generator. I bought some sheets and more blankets for Sam's bed and found her a pillow. That stuffed the jeep nicely. Then I headed home. Hey, it's 22 miles one way and two trips meant a tank of gas. I wasn't about to waste excess hauling volume at 3 bucks a gallon. I wasn't born stupid. I had to work at it.

I put the propane stuff in where I wanted it. The trestle base for the kitchen table went together with pegs and LOTS of glue. I didn't have clamps big enough so I used a rope windlass with a spinner on both sides to keep the tension even. I could have used a bit of help getting that damned table top up, but I made it. Two pulley blocks and lots of rope did the trick. Damned good ceiling joists, those. I'd use the hole I bored for a chandelier eventually. I set it up so that sitting in a chair at the head of the table I could pull pots and pans off the stove while staying seated. Bachelors are inventively lazy. Trust me.

Second Wednesday-- The lumber and hinges came. I ignored 'em and started matching the windows to the frames. Sam wanted to come on up and see how I was doing. I wanted to give her a present-- a nice bedroom. I gave that place the business in spades. I built her a box bed while I was waiting for the whitewash to dry. I got the two windows in like I wanted. I had bought a new mattress for her as well as a nice, bright braided rug, then hung my hand-made quilt on the wall once the whitewash was REALLY dry. Once I found a small nightstand it would go in there with a kerosene lamp, and maybe a thunder mug. It would make her laugh.

You know what a thunder mug is? It's a big covered pot with a tight fitting lid. You keep it under the bed with some toilet paper. Get the idea?

I needed a place for her to hang her clothes and something with drawers!

Second Thursday saw me varnishing and assembling the hutch. It was a shame that I didn't have any delft or some such to show off behind the figured glass doors. It was a handsome piece. I kept my dishes (white Corelle), bowls (same), cups, saucers, casseroles and glasses in it. I had to pin a couple of stretchers in place to keep the doors from scratching the finish on the bottom piece. There was a long, low bottom drawer to keep linen table cloths, runners and napkins in. I took pictures of it from several angles to show the before and and after. I'd drop them off at goodwill next time into town to show my appreciation for the piece.

Second Friday-- I scattered the aged night soil around the fruit and nut trees. I found a couple of deer runs near the swamp leading off to higher ground behind my property. I wanted to find out who owned that land to see if they would let me hunt there. My money supply was getting a bit thin considering the long run. I only had about eleven thousand left out of over 14.

free meat was looking awfully attractive.

Second Saturday I hit the auction bright and early with five grand in my pocket, cash money. I spotted one hell of a find in a dusty old barn under a tarp covered in bird shit-- a 1963 Jeep pickup truck that had been up on blocks for 45 years or so. I rubbed away the dust and grime and read the odometer-- it said 11 thousand miles! Good God. This was a real prize. I kept my mouth shut, pulled the canvas back over the thing and registered for my bidding number. I poked around and bought a group of four captain's chairs that needed refinishing. They're comfortable! I also bought three wall-mount kitchen cabinets and a wall mirror for Sam's room. I found her a nice maple chest of drawers that I bought, too. Finally the truck came up for bid. Of course it wouldn't start when the auctioneer's attendant tried. You could see the tires were rotted away and there was a mouse nest or twelve under the hood. They damned near gave it to me for $160.00 cash. I picked up the title and keys then drove into town to find an older service station. I told the guy running the place what I had. He grinned like the dog that caught the chicken when I told him what I stole it for. He agreed to replace the hoses, tires, belts, battery, gas and fluids for $300.00 which I thought was a hell of a deal. In two weeks I'd have an almost-new 4-wheel drive ride. I talked him into checking all the seals for another fifty. I'd cover the bench seat with canvas until I could afford to get it reupholstered.

Second Sunday thru Wednesday I installed most of the rest of the windows and the rear screen door. Then I worked on the shed.

I carefully bored holes in the base plate 4x4s to match the bolts in the footings. I then started framing up the walls with 2x4s. I faced the wall segments with half-inch plywood glued and screwed to the 2x4s. It wasn't going anywhere. The trouble was it was too damned heavy to lift by myself. When it fell on me I thought my arm was busted. Damn, that hurt, and it didn't stop. I needed help. Well, first I was going to read through certain parts of the foxfire books. I went to sleep tired and out of fight.

Second Thursday-- When I woke up I lay there looking at my ceiling. It was raining. I didn't care. This place was mine. Dammit, I was going to get that damned shed up if I had to stick-build the son-of-a-bitch piece by piece in place. My shoulder was fucked up but I resumed reading. A flying A-frame was a hoist/crane that could be controlled by three people and a lot of rope. Around noon I found myself in a diner surrounded by beat-up pickup trucks. Farmers.

I didn't sit at a booth--I sat at the lunch bar and watched the cook dance through his orders. He was good. I ordered and got a fine BLT and an iced tea. I turned and looked at the fellow next to me. He was shrunk down and looked like a lot of bad road.

"Hi. I'm Karl Pilath. I'm working on the old Jenkins place." He gave me the long eye. "Can't make much off of that little bit. Ain't gonna happen." I shrugged. "I had to retire. Can't feel my hand much. Done some, but need help raising a shed. If I can garden and can I can get by--just gotta get started." I grinned. "Come on by and tell me about my neighbors. Give me a chance to sit down and bullshit for a while." I paid up, left a good tip and headed out.

At the grocery I bought some oranges and ginger ale. I had a pitcher and red wine. I bought a half-pint of rum. Now, this is cheap booze bit it's gooood cheap booze. I bought ice cubes and dry ice for the cooler in my jeep. Sangria. Sam was coming.

I wanted to stock up the root cellar so I bought 50 pounds of potatoes and ten of carrots. I didn't have any big crocks so I couldn't make sauerkraut but I did buy 60 pounds of canning salt. You have to buy your salt special for kraut, canning and curing meat. It can't have iodine in it or the food gets nasty. They had a canning kettle, canning tongs lids, lid lifter and canning funnel in a kit so I bought 'em. I also bought ten 2-pound jars of grape jelly and twenty 1-pound jars of peanut butter. It was time to look towards dry times.

Second Friday-- I glued and screwed together a blanket chest for Sam's room. I lined it with sheet tin (stainless LOOKS like sheet tin.), tacked a thin sheet of cedar to the bottom of the lid and finished it with mixed linseed oil, lemon oil and beeswax applied hot, then rubbed in with leather wrapped around a wooden block. A few hours work and it looks a hundred years old. I lemon-oiled and rubbed in the finish on the box bed as well. I started refinishing her chest of drawers.

I had found where two fair-sized holes were cut between the main cabin and each sleeping room up near the ceiling. You had to know where to look. They wouldn't do much without a fan. I'd have to get a couple of 12-volt fans to stir the air if I expected anyone to sleep here over the winter. Jeez. More wire runs to cover.

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