Friday, October 21, 2016

A Family Affair

One of the not-so-great things about having a large garden is the time spent on maintenance.  From early March until the ground freezes solid in November or December, we're plugging away at some task or other here at the old Quarry.  

As any gardener knows, weeds are opportunists.  The minute your back is turned they sneak in and make themselves right at home.  I swear that's how I end up giving a tour and having a (rather snide) visitor ask, "What kind of a plant is that?" as they point to a thistle on steroids which I had apparently worked all the way around for months. Ninja Weeds; I can't match their stealth. 

My mom's yard is also my responsibility and I try to keep it as neat and tidy as possible.  She still has a few small flower beds right up against the house and tends them very well.  I supply her with annuals to brighten things up, but to tell the honest truth, I could do a lot more for her than I have lately.  Guilt is a constant companion of mine, sad to say.  

I mow Mom's lawn once a week, usually on Wednesdays, and use my Stihl weed-whacker three times a year.  Mom's lawn is ridiculously bumpy.  Parts of it are so bad that my rear end comes right off the lawnmower seat which in turn stalls the motor because of the safety switch. And when you have a bladder acting up, it's miserable.   We've tried leveling the lawn a few times, but nothing seems to work.  The only option is to mow as slow as possible.   Or wet my pants.  

Mom is a very tidy woman, even when she farmed she kept a gorgeous flower garden.  I have always been in charge of mowing the lawn there; as a child I tried to use a reel-type push mower, but it proved to be too much for me.  My father bought a gasoline walking mower and every Saturday found me sweating away behind it.  Every week I'd vow to make one lap around the entire lawn and keep going until I was done, but to this day even with my riding mower I've never succeeded in sticking to the plan.  I'll make a few rounds and then divvy up areas and finish them separately.  Going all the way around makes it seem like I'll never finish, though the time commitment is the same.

Time is the big problem.  What with lawns growing as fast as I can cut them and weeds sneaking around and stone castles to build and tours to give and garages to roof, elderly parents to look after and grandbabies to cherish, well, there's just not enough time.   My hat is off to gardeners who also have to hold down a full-time job.  I don't know how you do it. 

Mom's been easy-going about her yard; she often tells me I don't need to mow it.  

"Let it go, who cares if it's long?"

Not to worry my mother, but the tidier the place, the less likely people with bad intentions are to think she's easy prey.  Let the lawn go for a week or fail to plow the snow and it isn't long before unsavory characters become brave.  We don't live in a high-crime neighborhood, but like my Ninja weeds, there's always a possibility. 

We try to keep Mom as safe as possible by installing the cameras in her home I can monitor from afar and going up to see her twice (or more) a day, but we haven't done as much for Carl's parents who are both eighty-six years old.  I guess because my mother is ten years older and alone, I worried about her much more.  But the truth is Carl's folks need help, too.  

I haven't always had a great relationship with my in-laws which makes things difficult.  Whatever the reason things are a bit better now than they were; in the end, it's all water over the dam.  No matter how old I get, my elders can still make me feel like a little kid. 

My father-in-law is a proud man and still working as an ornamental iron craftsman.  But time has gotten away from him, too.  He has five acres to tend which is a big job for anyone, let alone an octogenarian.  Trees which were planted almost forty years ago have grown up and lost limbs, weed trees have sprouted up, grapevines run amok and the lawn was only mowed once this year, prompting several acquaintances of ours to ask if the place is abandoned. 

Since my father was forty-five years old when I was born, I've been around older people all my life. I know how proud they can be and how they fear losing independence.  (Remember when I took Mom's car keys away?  Yeah, that went well.) 

How to offer help in a way that doesn't seem controlling or condescending is very difficult.  My father-in-law fell off of a ladder trying to reach an overhead limb with his chainsaw over two years ago.  He'd put a stepladder in his garden trailer for the additional height, climbed to the top of the ladder and lost his balance.  The chainsaw landed right next to him.  He limped for months, but in reality, he was extremely lucky it wasn't worse.  

He hadn't wanted to tell me what happened due to his pride, I suppose, and not wanting to look foolish.  I told Carl we're going to have to help them more often, but offers to mow the lawn or do any other work are always refused; no, no, they don't need any help.

Growing old is not easy.

However, I drew the line at his plan to cut a big weeping willow down this fall.  I gently chastised him, no, you don't want to cut down a tree by yourself.  

He countered with, "I do it all the time."

"What if something happens and you're alone?"

"I'm not alone, Rosemary's in the house."

Yes.  In the house.  With the TV on. 

So, I tried another tactic.  Joel, Carl and I went over to visit a few months ago and I made a point of going into the back yard to survey the big willow tree.  We set a date for cutting it down, and he promised not to do anything with it until we were there to help.  Carl's sister, Mary, and husband Tom agreed to lend us a hand,  they worry about their parents, too.  None of us are getting any younger, but many hands make light work.

Last Saturday morning at 8AM we set to work.  (Can you imagine being eighty-six years old and cutting this tree down by yourself?)

Tom and Carl, getting ready to hook a cable to the tree.  
We always put cables on trees that are close to buildings or other trees so we can make sure they fall where we want them.  Joel drove the 574 over from our place instead of using my father-in-law's lighter tractor.  I'm way more comfortable on my own tractor, too.

My heart is always working overtime when we cut down trees; I can finally breathe when they are on the ground.
Joel, getting ready to do battle.
Not a great picture of Joel, I was sitting on the tractor at the time, keeping light tension on the cable.  Dave was on the drawbar behind me, taking a video of the entire process.  I don't take my eyes off of Joel (or Carl) when they are cutting a tree down.  My job is to keep the cable snug, but not tight until the tree is cut through.  When Joel gives me the nod, it's time to let out the clutch, get off the brakes and back up in a hurry.  Our system has worked fine for years, but I'm always happy to see the tree lying down.
Carl, Joel, Mary and Tom (and David and I) all pitched in to cut the tree up and pile the brush.   Since the willow tree work was going quickly with all of us there, I asked Joel if he was willing to cut a bunch more trees down if I could get my FIL to agree.  Joel said he was game.  

I wish I'd taken a before picture of the area, but hindsight is always 20/20.  Anyway, Carl's folks live in an underground house they built themselves in the 1980's.  The roof in the distance is over a spiral staircase leading down to the driveway.  The vegetation in the foreground is the house roof.
The roof of the house
In order to mow the 'roof' you have to drive up the steep hill.  I'm a chicken, but my FIL has nerves of steel and has no problem with the grade.
From the top of the house, in the distance is the trailer of willow wood we cut.

Armed with chainsaws, Joel and David start to launch an attack on the overgrown hillside.  We took out approximately thirty trees of varying sizes.  Joel cut down the two big apple trees and we pulled them down off the hill.  When we got to the smaller saplings, Joel and Dave hooked up the chains and I pulled the trees out with the 574.  

We were a Dream Team; it was hard work, but we accomplished so much in a few hours.  We couldn't have done it without everyone's help. 

Thankfully, my FIL was happy to see the trees go, in the end we left just three cedars standing.  (Again, I wish I'd taken a before picture.)

By 3:30 PM we were on our way home.  Carl and I had our 40th class reunion to attend by 5:30PM, so we had to hustle.  

Before we left, I told my FIL I'd like to help him with tidying up some more this fall.  He told me he wanted to move the rocks off the hillside on the west side to make maintenance easier, but he didn't want or expect me to help.  

As we drove home following Joel on the tractor, I told Carl I was going to go back and see if I could lend him a hand next week.  Carl gets frustrated with me because truth be told, we have way more work at home to do than we can handle. We still have to put this silly garden to bed for the season and a myriad of other things need doing; far too numerous to mention.  

"When are you going to get your work done?" he asked. 

"Well...........," I ventured, "I just want to finish up the hillside, ok?"

Carl grumbled.  I know how he feels.  It's the time thing again.  

On Monday afternoon, I did my necessary chores here and when Carl got home we went over to my FIL's again.
There's Carl, looking dejected as he surveys all the stone that needs moving.  We worked until dark, loading stone onto my FIL's tractor bucket and hauling it off to a pile.  

I went back on Tuesday afternoon by myself and worked with my FIL until darkness fell.  We accomplished quite a bit, slowly but surely. However,  I do worry I'm working my FIL too hard; this is heavy work and he's off and on the tractor far too many times.  He says he's fine, but still, I worry.  Thankfully, my continued strength training at home has been paying off; I can hoist most of the stones without too much trouble.  

As we worked our way up the hill, Don decided he wanted one of his three large boulders moved over.  He'd been trying to lift the rock when I wasn't there with a crowbar in an attempt to get a chain under it, but this called for heavier equipment.

I told Carl about the big rock when I got home that night and he grumbled some more; was I going to work over there all the rest of the fall?  When, exactly, was I going to get our work done here?  

"How much are you lifting over there?  I don't need you getting hurt," he said.  (Ok, I admit it, I am a trifle stiff.)

"Just humor me, ok?  We could drag the rock over with our tractor," I said. We agreed to disagree and ate our supper.

"I have to get the H fixed on Wednesday," Carl said.  "Joel's going to help me figure out what's wrong with the radiator."

On Wednesday morning, I wrangled Mom's laundry away from her, again, she put up a fight, "If I could get that spare wringer washer out of my garage and down the basement steps, I could do my own laundry!"

"Oh, c'mon!  Since the boys moved out I don't have enough laundry to keep my wash machine busy.  Why waste the laundry soap?" I teased.

"Well, it's not right, you doing my laundry.  I don't want you to, you know.  I could still do it."

 "Yes, I know, Mom.  But humor me, ok?  I've got to have something to do or I'll get in trouble."

On Wednesday afternoon, Carl came home and set to working on our ailing tractor.  Despite his protests, I took Carl's car and went back over to Don's again.  

Don was on the hilltop, loading up more stone.  They live on a busy highway and the traffic noise makes it hard to hear anything subtle.  I didn't know exactly how to approach him without startling him, so I tried a roundabout way which failed. I still startled him.  I hate  there's no way to get someone's attention more gently.  Mom always jumps a foot when I come in the house or when the phone rings, too.  

Don and I kept working, loading several more tractor buckets.   He'd been at it for a few hours before I got there and we were now up to the big stone he wanted moved.  

At that moment, Joel and Carl drove in to see what was going on. I asked Carl to go get the 574 so we could move the big rock.  Carl said to forget it, let it go, we'll do it some other time. Joel was willing, and off he went to Mom's.

When he arrived with the tractor, daylight was waning. 

After several attempts, they finally managed to get a forklift tooth under the rock so chains could be hooked up.

 We're all used to these antics, after building the Quarry, what's one more rock?  (Don't ask Carl that, he wasn't amused.)  I should add I understand Carl's frustration very well; he's up at 5AM every day, works full-time and tries to come home and get things accomplished here.  By my adding this to his workload, I'm not making life any easier for him. 

Getting dark again.

Finally the chains were secured and it was time to pull. I don't have any pictures of the process since by now we were working by flashlights.  On the first attempt at pulling, a chain broke, so they needed to rehook and rethink the process, but in the end, we managed to drag the big bugger over to where Don wanted it.  


I will admit it's really rather fun to help other people with big projects, somehow it gives me a sense of accomplishment.  And I know my in-laws appreciate the help.  But I can't help feeling guilty for not helping more.

  I don't know where I'm going with this tale except to say everything is a work in progress.  I can't be all things to all people, but I can try to help out here and there.  

I understand how my mother feels; she doesn't want to be a bother.  I also understand how my in-law's feel; they don't want to be a bother.  Growing old ain't for sissies, that's for sure.  And I will say, though both our parents are elderly, they aren't sissies.  

They're tough acts to follow. 







FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Wow, you all amaze me with what you do, especially your FIL at his age.

You are in my thoughts and prayers ~ FlowerLady

Karen said...

Yes, Rainey, the elders on both sides of our family are amazing. We have a lot to live up to. :-)

myomyohi said...

You are right to do everything you can for them. Too soon they will be gone. I would do anything to have my parents back, and do things for them.
Keep spreading love, compassion, and patience.

Pamela Gordon said...

Wow! Reading this post just about wore me out! lol My goodness you are such busy hardworking people. What a big help to your father in law though. I'm sure he appreciates it. Take care of yourself, you still have to put your gardens to rest. :)

outlawgardener said...

Your description of mowing the lawn/wetting your pants had me in stitches. You put the rest of us to shame with all you do both in your own huge garden and in those of your elders! You are such a caring and thoughtful person and I admire you a great deal.

Here's a tip for the snide visitors. Spout off some Latin name for the weed in question and make up a story about how you're testing some new variety of a native plant to ascertain it's possible benefits to the dwindling pollinator population as habitat or food source. Suddenly, you're an environmental hero. Your family is an inspiration and you're in my thoughts and prayers! Glad you're keeping safe around those big trees and boulders!