Green Frog Cafe

"Living in nature, listening to the rain, Green Frog Cafe, that's where I want to be. The hemlocks are green, the creek is tricklin, there's geese on the pond, the forest sighs. Green Frog Cafe that's where I want to be, home of my soul, spirit of the mountains." Ruminations of Rhona McMahan

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

My Grandfather's Shovel

It snowed lightly this morning, and the temperature was 15 degrees F. The boiler was off when I awoke and the house was very cold, leaving me with a fierce all pervading sinus headache. After two hours of steaming my head with the teakettle my sinuses had released enough for me to rush out the door to work, taking the risk of fine and imprisionment for not shoveling the public sidewalk in front of my little Brooklyn townhouse. (This is the New New York of Giuliani and Bloomberg, where things work better, the streets are cleaner, the sex clubs are shut, and scofflaws are prosecuted). When I returned from my office on Long Island in the late afternoon I learned that I had slipped by with no fine. I rushed around searching for my shovel to see if I could still get something off the sidewalk even though by this time it was well packed by the heels of pedestrians. At this point I paniced. Someone had stolen my shovel. I cursed the people who have been walking off with all of my things since I have been emptying the house for renovation.

Now you might think it odd that I became upset at a missing shovel, but that would be because you do not understand my youthful formation. I grew up in a shoveling family, at least the people working for the family did a lot of shoveling, and I as a youngster often joined in for the shear pleasure of it. There is a satisfaction which comes from filling a shovel with snow, or gravel, or soil, and throwing it neatly six or eight feet so that it falls in a well contained pile. My family was in the builders supply business, and someone was always building things around our homes or the businesses. Later, when I was in high school and college, I became a professional shoveler, working on the labor crews in the family business. We would empty the hopper cars full of sand or gravel or slag brought on to our tipple by the Aliquipa and Southern Railroad as well as ashes from the Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill furnaces and ovens. That's where my grandfather's shovel comes in. We used short handled, square bladed shovels of an industrial weight. It was great exercise, and I loved the way my body felt after a summer of shoveling in the sun. Years later, when we were emptying my grandmother's house after her death I ran across one of those shovels in the garage. My grandfather had been in charge of the tipple for years during his working life, and the shovel had survived in pristine form in his garage. I took it as a small inheritance, and have carried it with me to every home I have had ever since. Usually I carry it in my car in the wintertime just in case I have to dig out. It is a real shovel, not a new fangled el cheapo version of a shovel made out of plastic, aluminum, or thin steel. You need a heavy shovel to really deal with ice and snow in the days after a snowfall when the flakes turn to frozen chunks. I have had many people come up to me in the street and try to buy my shovel on the spot for big bucks, but I would never sell. It is a fine tool, apart from reminding me of my grandfather, my youth, and the family business which has long since disappeared. So I was distressed when I could not find it today. I searched through all three floors of the house and finally found it near the downstairs door to the back garden. Pop Pop, fizz fizz, oh what a relief it was. I put on some work gloves and hit the sidewalk, making short work of the 18 linear feet which falls under my responsibility as one of the disappearing small home owners in my neighborhood. Then, in a nod to advancing age, I sprinkled some blue chemical crystals given to me by a gentleman friend who buys in bulk over the icy spots. I felt the satisfaction of a job well done, and the small pleasure of knowing that for another day I had unheld my responsibilities as a citizen of New York City.


At 8:32 PM, Blogger stepbroinTx said...

I can realte to the story on a very personal level. My wife has no feelings of nostagia, while myself, am fasinated by the things my grandfathers and great-grandfathers used for survival and pleasure. Sixty years from now, no one will be able to use my blackberry or my laptop. I still find time to sharpen my grandfather's pocket knife which I carry and use daily. My wife complains about the "old junk" I keep in the garage and at times the neighbors have complained as well when the "junk" can be seen by the outside world. Some of it may be junk, but most of it was salvaged from grandparents' houses before estate sales and garbage pick-up. Each time I hold a tool that one of my ancestors used, I feel a sense of purpose that I just can't seem to find on the tool isle at home depot.....


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