The Colonel’s Plan – The Heat is On

“The Heat is On”

December 12, 2018

Dear Daddy–

It’s officially Winter. Actually, it’s not. Winter comes in nine days, I believe. But the days of below-freezing temperatures, frost on the grass, aching muscles and leaving the water trickling in my kitchen (old pipes near old farmhouse walls tend to freeze) have begun. Mother had her first oil delivery of the year and was astounded at the bill for over $500. I explained to her that I paid $250 every month last year, and over $1900 in August to make up for the rising cost of oil. Her response was, “Yes, but my oil bill was $500.”

My mother awaiting the filling of an oil jug in the stove room–or “lab room”–of our basement, c. 1980. Reading, not playing Solitaire, most likely because the workbench behind her was filled with equipment. Note the oscilloscope, a staple of my childhood, behind her on a cart.

The furnace is heating the house nicely, though. No more space heaters. No more blankets and curtains in every doorway. The whole house is warm and usable.

I was explaining to Renee last night why this house always had oil tanks, when the furnace wasn’t active until last year. She had forgotten the Sears Oil Stove in the basement.

It went like this…

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The Colonel’s Plan – A Gold Mine of Junk

December 5, 2018

Dear Daddy –

Tonight I’m cleaning up the basement a bit more. Still working in the train room, as I’m calling it now. “We have a train room?” Christian asked me recently. “I’m just so amused that our family has a house with named rooms. Do we have a skinning and tanning room?” (He may not have said “skinning and tanning.” It was something just as absurd. It may have been “taxidermy.”)

This is a somewhat cleaned-up view of the East room of the basement. Before about a 40% clean-out, no view from one side of the room to the other was possible.

In all these weeks, I don’t believe I’ve discussed, in depth, how the basement came to look the way it did when you left us—the way it had looked for decades before that. I believe I mentioned the dreaded trip to the Sacred Heart Hospital in Cumberland, but I don’t think I told the whole story. So here goes.

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The Colonel’s Plan – Nutty the Squirrel’s Revenge

November 15th, 2018

Dear Daddy—

I once played a squirrel in a school play, in fifth grade. Nutty the Squirrel. I would say that you would recall it, but I don’t think you made that performance. The show was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” an operetta written in 1938. It was released a year after the Disney film, and, as I recall, was trying hard to cash in on Disney’s version without paying them royalties. Hence the inclusion of my role as a furry animal companion not in the Brothers Grimm original.

I remember auditioning for the part, in the same ballroom at Glenelg Country School where Renee and I later held our wedding reception. I don’t know if the gray sweats and bushy tail I wore as Nutty would elicit as much comment today as the white tux I wore to the wedding, but I do recall being asked why I thought I would make a good squirrel. I believe I said I was small and cute like a squirrel.

Yeah. It wasn’t an easy childhood.

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The Colonel’s Plan – Twisted, Bent and Worn-Out

November 7th, 2018

Dear Daddy –

Well, it’s November. Was it November the last time I wrote? Maybe. It’s been a very hectic week, and I don’t remember.

Last night was election night—the 2018 midterm election, and the one in which Maryland picks its governor and Howard County picks its executive. Our incumbent governor, Larry Hogan, is very popular. His competitor, Ben Jealous, is a Californian who was running on what he said was not a socialist platform, but which his deep-pocketed West Coast backers declared would turn Maryland into a “laboratory of democratic socialism.” Predictions said he had no chance of winning, and predictions were right.

But predictions also said that our County Executive, Allan Kittleman, had a double-digit lead over his opponent. Those predictions were wrong. Allan lost by about 6,000 votes, or about 4%. I’ve spent the last six months or more working Allan’s campaign. He’s an honest man and a solid leader, and I think the County was better for his being here. He was endorsed by the police, the firefighters, the Baltimore Sun and an independent ethics committee, not to mention our very popular governor.

It’s sad, but I guess that’s politics. Politics is a very ugly game right now.

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The Colonel’s Plan – Well-Covered

November 1st, 2018

Dear Daddy –

This morning I insulated the well. I’ve written about the well before, and how you and your father installed the pump yourselves all those years ago. I believe I also said that the supervisor on the job of replacing it this Spring reflected that he had seen designs like yours many times… in Florida.

The supply line that draws water out of the ground comes up out of the ground, at which point it’s galvanized steel. It makes its connection to the house line (also galvanized steel, I believe, because the Verizon crew was able to find it easily with a metal detector) above ground, and then the whole thing goes underground again to the house.

While writing this, I realized that I had no idea what galvanization actually is (other than a word that is drattedly hard to type correctly on the first try!). I know galvanized metal when I see it, and you taught me the word. I inferred that it was a protective process. So I just looked it up, and I was correct in my assumption. Galavanized pipe is steel pipe dipped in zinc to prevent rust. I learned something else, courtesy of the American Vintage Home website, which seems to specialize in talk about old houses in the Chicago area.

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The Colonel’s Plan – The Immortal Window Air Conditioner

October 24th, 2018

Dear Daddy –

I won’t lie, I’m not very happy with you right now.

“He’s been in his grave for 18 months,” my mother says. “You’re not going to hear back from him about it now,” my mother says.

And yet, 18 months in your grave, your idiosyncrasies are still coming back to, pardon the expression, bite me in the ass.

It was a list of simple tasks that I set out to accomplish today. No grout, though the pink bathroom still has need for grout, and no tile-mounting, though it still has one bare wall. No building enclosures or fences, or hanging doors. Just cleaning the chicken coop, putting in fresh pine shavings and straw… the chickens are very impressed by straw–damndest thing… making a list of the kinds of things we have in the garage that need storing, putting the drawers in the computer card cabinets into alphabetical order, according to their computer card labels… and getting the old window air conditioner out of the window in the family room.

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The Colonel’s Plan – A Low Place

Once again I remind my kind readers that this entry was written some months ago. It is not a cry for help. I simply believe that, if you’re going to document an experience, it’s important to document all of it. Please don’t worry over me, and, if this account brings you down or tests your patience, please just skip it. I know my problems aren’t of the scope of those being suffered by others, but our problems are our problems. If yours have you in this place, let these words serve you as a reminder that we all land in the low place sometimes. If you’re there, please keep moving forward. You will climb out. Like the theme song of a show the Colonel hated says, “So while you’re here, enjoy the view. Keep on doing what you do. Hold on tight. We’ll muddle through one day at a time.”

October 10th, 2018

Dear Daddy –

It’s hard to know what to write today. Honestly, I’m battling depression. I have been for some time. I’m sure that shows up in my earlier letters, but I’m finding myself needing to admit it out loud, and in writing, for my own benefit.

This image of the back of our tractor shed has nothing to do with the article, but it certainly makes me think of a low place. Don’t worry–it’s looking better!

I don’t think it’s a chemical depression. What did they used to call a breakdown? “Psychosis Situational?” Not that I’m psychotic, either. But a situation is causing my depression, and, dammit, the situation is psychotic. Over the course of the last two days, reading up on the things that I’m dealing with, and reviewing notes and emails, I’ve wondered just how in the hell I’ve coped this long with this much.

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The Colonel’s Plan – Of Triumph, Telephone Poles and Teeth

Hey, everyone, Steve here. Apologies for the unannounced hiatus. I published a non-Colonel’s Plan reflection, and then I had to take a week off to put intense effort into a presentation for Carroll County Libraries this past weekend–a presentation enjoyed only by close friends and family, it turned out! But I’ll be offering that up to conventions in the coming months, so it will yet see the light of day. Anyway, back on track now!

October 3rd, 2018

Dear Daddy –

Tomorrow would have been your 96th birthday. I guess a fitting present, one day early, is that Susan learned she is cancer free. Her surgery removed the tumor, which was categorized as stage 1A, and 12 lymph nodes, which were clear. No chemo, no radiation. One big sigh of relief all around.

Unrelated to the subject Ethan did some decorating today, hanging a B-29 model…
…handmade by you back in the 1940s. It hung over your bed in your parents’ house on Rocky Fork Road until their deaths in 1989. It’s spent the intervening years either in a box or on your dresser.

Not much has gotten done on the house since I wrote to you last. The week was filled with doctor’s appointments for Renee and Christian. Christian had a follow-up appointment with his oral surgeon to verify that his bone graft had taken. It had healed beautifully, we were told.

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Speaking Personally

“It isn’t personal,” they say. “Don’t take it personally,” they say.

Well, I take things personally. Always have. Probably always will. For me, there is no “just doing my job,” or “just following the rules.”

When my First Grade teacher taught me to read, she was just doing her job, but it was personal to me. She called me her “Young Spaceman,” and I loved her. She had given me the greatest gift in the world.

When my Third Grade teacher threatened me with a tree branch, because she was following her rules and I wasn’t, it was personal. I frustrated her. She pretty clearly hated me. When my other Third Grade teacher (my father fired the entire school on my behalf and took me elsewhere) taught me my multiplication tables, a year late and after much struggling, it was personal, and I loved her too.

In high school, when the yearbook advisor told me that our senior yearbook would likely not be published until the class after ours had already graduated, it was personal, and I stayed late every day for two weeks, getting the layouts finished, meeting the printer’s deadline. We had all worked hard on that book, and I wanted it in people’s hands. That wasn’t just my job or my grade, it was personal. I could make a difference, and, dammit, I was going to.

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The Colonel’s Plan – Where’s My STUFF?

September 25th, 2018

Dear Daddy –

It’s been a bit since I’ve worked on the pink bathroom. Susan was having surgery, and Dawson was coming to stay, so I wanted to get the green bathroom downstairs in shape to be used. That meant sealing the grout, caulking, and—very important—getting a door up. I believe I’ve talked about that already, missing hinges and all. But all of that is done, and, though there’s still work to do in the green bathroom, the pink one has tile in place that hasn’t been grouted. Without grout, tile stuck to the SimpleMat or the MuscleBound adhesive mats (I use whichever one the store has when I need it) tends to fall. I find the MuscleBound holds the tile better, but the SimpleMat is more broadly available. In any event, they expect you to put the tile up and grout immediately. Not so for me, especially with all the tile that needs to be cut.

The living room, before clean-our. The 2×4 on the left is holding up a section of the ceiling, blown out by a lightning strike c. 2010. The mounted jigsaw is behind it. The table saw, center, is buried.

So today I grouted one wall of the pink bathtub. Rather frustrating work, what with the grout glopping all over the place as you go (wasteful process!), but I got the wall done. I may do the last bits today—the narrow wall on the end, and the trim above the toilet and sink. Then again, I may decide to let some of the dried grout scale off my hands for a while, so I can get them coated again on a later date.

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