Tag Archives: fathers and sons

Don’t Look Down….

garg_grimstonchurchtower28_1aJack tackles the topic of stress in this week’s guest blog.

When things get a bit fraught around the bookstore, such as when yet another unexpected litter of kittens appears, or we discover a leak under the water heater (Chef Kelley joke there) I only have to think back a few years to put it all into perspective.

Years ago I was an apprentice painter and decorator in my Dad’s business. Being the boss’s son, I was usually the one to be called on to do the particularly mucky or scary jobs–such as painting the drain pipe running from top to bottom of the bell tower on an old church in Kinross–full height of the pipe about 50 feet, starting more than 200 feet off the ground. On its way down the pipe passed about a foot away from the louvers where the sound of the bells issued.

The trickiest job was of course put off until it was the last thing left, so finally it just had to be done. We assembled our longest three-part wooden ladder with ropes and pulleys that weighed a ton, only to discover it didn’t even reach the bottom of the aforementioned louvers. Nothing daunted, we lashed an extra length of ladder onto the three-parter and that did just get to those pesky sound emitters.

Feeling a little nervous I looked to my two older workmates and realized they were making no moves towards the ladder(s). Sizing up the situation my Dad put his foot on the first rung getting set to put everyone to shame. “Hang on,” I said (after all he was approaching retirement). “I’ll do it.”

So, up I went until the ladder bent in so far, hardly and room remained for my toes against the wall. Still couldn’t reach the whole pipe. Down I came and tied the brush to a length of scrap wood and ascended once more. That got the pipe painted from the ground to about 1/3 of the way up, past the bottom of the louvers.

Pondering on how we’d get the rest done I followed my Dad as he entered the tower and climbed up the stairway until we emerged on the roof, carrying the paint pot and the brush still attached to the scrap wood.  We managed the middle next to those blasted louvers; I put my arm out of the nearest opening to the pipe (which I couldn’t see from inside) while my colleagues shouted instructions from the ground – “left a bit, right a bit, up a bit, down a bit.”

That still left the top of the pipe, just below the battlements. I looked over at my dad. He was looking at me in a speculative way, rubbing his chin. A horrible thought struck me….

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I found myself shortly afterwards dangling upside down outside the tower between two battlements with my Dad holding my ankles while I stretched as far as I could with the extended brush.

Once you’ve been suspended upside down 50 feet off the ground by your ankles, there’s not much that happens in a bookstore that can faze you. I remind myself of this as I play with our new foster kittens.

Epilogue: Years later Wendy and I were visiting my elderly Mum and sharing stories about my by-then- deceased Dad. I was certain she would never have known about the Church tower, but I had hardy started when she began chuckling. “I knew about that before you got home, Son. Don’t think I didn’t speak to your father about it, either!” Her chuckle erupted into laughter. Let that be a lesson to you; don’t think your Momma don’t know!

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, Scotland, small town USA, writing

Brief Encounters of the Close Kind

Riding the Subway in NYC, we had some up-close anthropological observation points. Here are three of my favorites:

Encounter one:

A 40-something woman with frizzy hair, wearing jogging shoes, got on the train with three smartly-dressed young women in their twenties, knee-length boots, and smart coats. Blond highlighted hair swung seductively at their jaw lines. They wore make-up; she did not, but her eyes were wide and awed and shiny with adoration as she looked at one of the girls. Her daughter, it came out as they talked about where they were taking her and the delights they would show her, had been in NYC about a year and a half, and established herself in some career that involved fashion and seemed to be going pretty well.

“We’ll get off on 14th and change trains,” she told her mother after checking her iPhone with unselfconscious deftness. Her mother beamed. Her tennis shoe accidentally touched my foot in the crowded car and she immediately apologized. The flock of girls looked on with bemused smiles.

Someone said something about the color of their boots, and they began to compare. Mom said, eyes worshipful on her daughter, “Oh honey, when you were small, you had little brown boots just that color, and your gran made you a brown hat with red flowers to go with them, remember?”

I glanced at the girlfriend posse. They were staring at their friend–probably picturing the hat above that cashmere coat–and the smiles on their faces ranged from shark-esque to sweet. Daughter stared at Mom, smile fixed, expression flitting between not wanting to embarrass and not wanting to be embarrassed. She said, perhaps seeking compromise, “Gotta love Gran. Now, we’re two stations away….”

Gotta love Mom.

Encounter two:

I hauled the Korean paperback edition of my book from my backpack and stared at it–probably with an expression similar to the Mama above watching her baby-made-good. Aloud I said, “This is the cutest cover yet. I’m so happy to have gotten this today!” Andrew and Jack said something about when it had been published, and the English version, and the business-suited, bearded man (lawyer, was my guess) traveling across from us looked up. The train wasn’t crowded, so he could see what we were talking about, and put two and two together. His smile resembled one you’ve probably used yourself, when you see a woman at the grocery with a new baby dressed all in pink, big bow over one ear, and people gathered ’round cooing.

By the time he got up at the next stop, I’d put my baby back in the pack, but as he passed me the lawyer-esque man said, softly, “Congratulations.” I looked up in time to see him smile at me before he disembarked.

It felt good.

Encounter three:

On the train home to Virginia, a man and his son sat down in front of us. The man said, rather loudly, “We’re gonna sit here, Alex, because that man behind us was talking too loud and never stopped. Remember that. It’s good to take a break every now and then, and listen to other people.” He then proceeded to keep up a running narrative balanced against his son’s constant stream of questions, comments, and movements, which included staring over the seat back at us (me with my yarn, Jack with his computer) and his father’s command to “Stop terrorizing those people. Not everybody likes kids. Kids can be annoying, did you know that?”

Jack and I exchanged glances. As we got out the good cheeses and tomatoes and crusty loaf we’d bought at the Farmer’s Market that morning with Pamela, Dad started reading Alex–loudly, so the whole car could enjoy it–a story about a hero factory that made robots to fight the evil brain that turned people’s eyes a glowing red. As Jack concentrated on breaking the crusty loaf, I tucked two cherry tomatoes behind my glasses and gave him my best evil grin.

He nearly choked to death when he glanced over.

They were just having fun. So were we. It was a nice ride. And in case you were wondering, the hero robots defeated the evil brain, and we ate the cherry tomatoes.

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