The Shovel (and me)

Credit: Wonkee Donkee Tools

I grew up in New England, in a working class neighborhood of 3-decker houses, large multi layered structures with a family occupying each floor. My family had the first floor, and why not, it was ours. Renters took floors two and three. From my earliest recollections, the house was heated with coal. A coal shovel, or two, was always laying on the dirt floor of our cellar, between the furnace and the coal bin

The ‘coal man’ would drive his delivery truck along side a ground level window above the coal bin, and deliver the coal via a long chute from the truck, through the open window and into the bin.

It was my dad’s job to shovel the lumps of coal into the furnace, regularly, to keep a steady flow of heat into the house. The heavy steel shovel with upturned sides was the tool he used for the job. It was laborious.

I was still a youngster when dad converted our furnace from coal to oil, but the shovel still had a purpose. It became my tool of choice, my only choice actually, for shoveling snow. Never mind the weight of a big snow, the shovel, itself, was a man’s size tool, heavy, and using it to move snow was laborious.

Along came the light weight aluminum snow shovel, specifically designed for that job. What a blessing. Of course, aluminum isn’t as strong as steel and it strained under the weight of a blade full of snow, rivets loosened, the cutting edges bent* and the shovel became less stable. Snow removal, became frustrating, as well as laborious.

Ahhh, plastic. So many products once made of steel are now made with plastic because today’s resins used in plastic are super strong, resilient. The plastic shovel has proven to be very light weight and durable. I have two that I’ve used for years. They moved with me from house to house and do quite well at removing snow. Nevertheless, the very task of removing snow, itself, is still ever laborious.

As time passed and I could afford something more elaborate, my choice of snow removal tools and methods changed. I bought a snow blower, or thrower. It’s big, powerful and noisy. However, while it shortens the labor time, I’m still challenged with the physicality of operating this machine. It’s remains laborious.

This year, I splurged and hired a plow service. While he plows the driveway with his truck, often before the first light of day, I watch from my kitchen window, between the slats, coffee in hand, slippers on my feet, and dressed for indoors in flannel pajamas. I find it to be less laborious.

Oh, yes, I still use a shovel to even the edges. Easy!

Steve (srbottch.com). February 2021. *thank you, Liz!

For more fascinating shovel info, check out ‘wonkee donkee tools, an English website and it’s not laborious https://www.wonkeedonkeetools.co.uk/shovels/what-are-the-parts-of-a-shovel

Today, I Shoveled Snow

Here’s another story that I first wrote several years ago. I thought it was worth reposting in view of this winter’s weather. Enjoy!

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, Arrives the snow…” RW Emerson

Today, I shoveled snow. Yesterday, I shoveled snow. And the day before that, I shoveled snow. It’s winter in western New York and we live with a steady diet of snow

Along the winter shores of Lake Ontario, steady snowfalls are the norm and removing it is more than a daily ritual. It’s a right of passage for youngsters and an absolute necessity for adults who get up, get out and get to work. Commerce doesn’t stop for weather, here.

Growing up in central Massachusetts, where measureable snowfalls also were a common occurrence, kids there learned to shovel at an early age, too. It was not an option in a blue collar neighborhood where dads had to be at work early and on-time.

All able bodied males in the house, young or old, manned shovels, clearing driveways and walks to help get workers on their way. Plow service and snow blowers were an unaffordable luxury for most families.

All that was heard on eerily quiet, ‘three decker’ lined streets the morning after a nor’easter, was the scraping of metal shovels over frozen pavement, and dry, fluffy snow squeaking underfoot with each twist of our black buckled boots. The task of finishing a job fell to the young school boys with nothing but time on their hands. Time and energy.

Snow shoveling is a low skill task, even the tools are simple and aptly named, ‘shovels’.  Bend, scoop, lift, toss, use your legs not your back. But those weren’t instructions my dad gave. He was more direct, knowing that I could figure out the mechanics, myself.

“I expect this driveway and sidewalk shoveled by the time I come home from work”, he announced, without mentioning my name or even looking at me. It was understood whom he was addressing, the skinny kid and the only one left home after he and big brothers went to work.

My dad’s directives were always clear and concise. The fewer the words, the stronger the message. Besides, mother always made sure the work got done, as prescribed.

And when the jobs were done, the neighborhood became a bevy of street hustlers, as I and other like-minded junior entrepreneurs with shovels slung over our shoulders, eagerly slipped and slid through heavy snowdrifts, knocking on doors with wet mittens, competing for whatever snow removal opportunities were left at neighboring houses.

We had no business plan or even understood the value of our labor. Regardless, we would shovel walks clean to the pavement, keeping tempo to imaginary cash registers ringing in our collective heads, totally dependent on the client’s generosity. Sometimes it was good and other times, not so good. But the greater lesson of work and reward was invaluable.

Now, I still find myself taking on the task of snow removal. It rekindles frigid memories of finger and face freezing days under the watchful eyes of my father and the lessons he ‘taught’ me.

One thing is certain…I can’t wait for the return of summer in western New York!

srbottch

To Adie, With Love…

A young lady will ‘meet’ her great grandfather for the first time, thanks to a small tin box of flies and a good story teller. She has the story teller, her grandmother, my sister, and soon will have the flies, a small metal box of fishing flies, tied by the skilled hands of her great grandfather, four generations earlier.

Imagine, a family heirloom, of sorts, being passed down, not to a daughter, nor a granddaughter, but to a great granddaughter. Not a fancy piece of furniture, nor a sparkling broach, but flies. From one long-passed outdoorsman to a young vibrant outdoors woman, three generations removed.

My dad was an avid fisherman who enjoyed making his own lures. He turned wood dowels into ‘plugs’* on a lathe, and strung eels for surf fishing in the rough waters off the duned beaches of Cape Cod. He tied flies, lures that mimicked real flies, to attract trout in the placid ponds populating the rural countryside of central Massachusetts. He was proficient, passionate and a perfectionist about both skills, making the lures and catching the fish.

I kept his tin of flies, and other lures, upon his passing, some 40 years ago, as a reminder of the man. But these feathered and fuzzy creations go back even further in time, at least twenty years prior to his death. Hunched over a folding metal table, squinting through bifocals balanced on the end of his nose, and surrounded with the tools of his ‘art’, he meticulously hand crafted faux bugs to the smallest detail.

Supplied with an array of brightly covered feathers, buck tails, various size hooks, a vise to hold them and thread to join all the components tightly together, he would produce stunning replicas of the local insects that he hoped would help him land the next ‘big one’. A reference book of flies always lay open next to him as he meticulously tied them to the exact specifications, as outlined.

This story isn’t about catching fish, though. It’s not about about tying flies, it’s about a man, his passion and preserving his love of the outdoors by gifting an ‘heirloom’. It’s about connecting with following generations to keep his story alive. And, it’s about love.

It’s very likely that if my dad was here today, then he, Adie and her dad would be at the closest fishing hole, enjoying the outdoors and each other’s company, maybe spinning yarns of ‘the one that got away’.

“Adie, I want you to have these flies. Use them to catch the big one!”

Love,

Great Grandpa Bottcher

Steve (srbottch.com)

February 2021

To Adie and avid young outdoors lovers, everywhere. ‘Keep a tight line’ and keep making memories.

And, to June, my big sister, Adie’s grandma


*Plug (Swimming Plug) – A hard plastic or wood artificial lure that is usually cast and retrieved or sometimes trolled.

“I’m That Guy!”

Lawn 2

As kids, summer evenings would often find my sister and me in the back seat of our box -like 50 something Chevy station wagon, windows cranked down for fresh air, enjoying a ride away from the city to surrounding towns. Our dad would steer us through upscale suburbs to see bigger homes, bigger cars and bigger garages. And, of course, bigger and more beautiful lawns than I’d ever seen.

While my sister and I sat as far apart as possible to avoid catching whatever big sisters and little brothers give each other when they accidentally touch, our mother swiveled her head left and right, giving us her simple  commentary.  With ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, she described the elegance of these sprawling homes and equally stunning landscaping. This must be paradise, I thought.

Our dad, however, took a different approach.  An avid sportsman who generally spent his leisure time in pursuit of, or preparation for, time on the water, fishing, lawn maintenance was a low priority.  He had little regard for the home owner who spent hours mowing, and he expressed himself succinctly…

“Look at him, you wanna be that guy?”

*

It was a sultry summer evening, the kind that makes ‘life’ come to a crawl at the end of an eight-hour shift, nothing or nobody wants to move. From my bench by the back door, I scanned the east and north section of our lawn as it ran away from me toward the street, like a wave rushing back to its ocean after washing the shore.

I had just finished another session of mowing and was tired, but satisfied. These two sections presented a near picture perfect postcard of how a lawn should look after a meticulous manicure.

Passersby surely were impressed as they intersected the cross streets.  The four-way stop gave drivers a moment to pause and enjoy the beauty of it all. I’m certain they gave me a nod of appreciation. It was hard to tell, as the perspiration dropped off my brow and blurred my vision.

I was exhausted and hot. The cold soda can tickled my nerves as I swiped it across my forehead. Mosquitoes were enjoying my flesh but my arms were too tired to swat them. It’s the price I pay for a beautifully landscaped piece of earth, my lawn.

While admiring my work, I recalled an earlier time when my dad would take us for rides in the suburbs and the rhetorical question he would ask.. It seemed like just yesterday. And with a smile, I answered his question…

“I’m that guy!”

Lawn 1

Steve Bottcher
srbottch.com

To gardeners everywhere who take pride in their lawn and have wonderful family memories, as well.

To Brighton Mowers who keep ny blade sharp and encourage me to keep mowing…and writing!

“That’s Why They Made Arms…”, A Father’s Lesson

1951 Dad at Ptown

“Pardon me”, I mumbled, while stretching and reaching in front of a shopper more involved with a cell phone call than picking a yam and moving outta the damn way… (excuse my tone, but, yes, I was becoming impatient in a grocery store).

“It’s okay”, she replied curtly, “besides, that’s why they made arms.”

Regardless if it was sarcasm, naïveté, or simple courtesy, her reply completely disarmed me, no pun intended.

I had no retort except to sigh and smile, which was not a bad thing. If we all could be coy enough to react to interruptions and interferences with a bit of sugar-coated sarcasm, there would be fewer angry people.

My ‘old man’ (I never called him that, but it seemed to fit well here) was a hard worker in every sense, fishing being no exception. He would rouse us early from our warm bags and onto the water before sunrise and before the fish started feeding. We worked hard for the catch and ridiculed, even scorned, the late arriving boats, the ‘9 to 5ers’.

A late Spring morning found us fishing for striped bass in a small bay somewhere on the Cape Cod coast (fishermen never reveal exact locations). With anchor down and the morning fog burning off, we were surrounded by schools of stripers and enjoying water thumping hits every cast. The late arrival from a shoreline dock noticed us and slowly motored his skiff closer and closer, casting deeper and deeper into ‘our waters’, hoping to be part of the action, himself, but failing miserably.

You could see it coming, my dad’s tolerance level fading fast, beginning with icy glares over our bow and across the water at this intruder who was oblivious to the angler’s rule, ‘you don’t fish in another man’s water’.

I was impressed with his effort to maintain control and decorum, but not surprised when he dropped his rod, cupped his hands in a funnel around his mouth and delivered a bellowing invitation, dripping with sarcasm…

 “Why don’t you come closer?”

The gulls watched from a buoy, the water went glassy, the fish quit working. We were surrounded by silence, waiting.  And then, it came…

“Thanks, but I think it’s the lure!”

It was a classic mocking response,  deliberate and subtle.  My father was at a loss for words … but not action.

The ‘old salt’ grabbed the wheel with one hand, gunned the motor, spun the boat to roil the water and headed to shore. With the other hand, he reached upward and back toward the interloper, and with nary a glance, delivered the anglers’universal one finger response.*

I realized then, years before my grocery store episode…

That’s why they made arms!

Steve B
srbottch.com

dedicated to ‘the old man’ who has filled my life with stories and lessons

*the writer does not approve this behavior, then or now…

A Hat Story…🎩 

“I collect hats. That’s what you do when you’re bald.”
James Taylor, Singer/Songwriter

I’m not a hat collector, but I am bald, on the top. Heat escapes through that unguarded space like smoke up a chimney.  Hence, I need a hat.

I find hats difficult to buy; so many styles, so many shapes.  A hat literally changes the way you look, for better or worse, often hiding the irregular shapes that a hairless head reveals. It’s important to find the ‘perfect’ hat.

Trying on hats in front of a big department store mirror is awkward, too. I use the dressing room for privacy where I can channel my ‘inner hat looks’ and zone in on the perfect one that fits those ‘looks’ as well as my head. I’m thinking something iconic, like this guy…

brando

I’ve worn a variety of hats over the years: team hats with logos, winter hats with side flaps. fishing hats, those grubby hats that smelled and got tossed around and stored with gear until the next outing. One smell of that fishing hat helped you recall the story of the ‘one that got away’.

hats-3

The Army gave me a ‘Smokey Bear’ hat. Actually, the Army doesn’t ‘give’ anything, I earned it. An odd shape, the Drill Sergeant hat was good for standing close to a trainee and pecking him on the forehead with the hard brim to make a point. I know, harassment,right?

hats-4

When I was six or seven, my parents dressed me for a brother-sister picture. Of all things, they found a soft hat my size that made me look like a little old man escorting a young and much taller lady to the local Moose Club for a night of  jitterbugging. Surely, it embarrassed my sister to pose next to me. I wore it just the one time.

Now, I am an old man and need a hat with a bit more style than my lifeless, faded Red Sox hat. It’s a classic but it’s ready to become a fishing hat.

red-sox-hat

Style, comfort and warmth, the three criteria for a new hat. I found one on a recent solo shopping expedition. It’s the Gatsby or ‘newsboy’ style. My wife is not a fan, says it makes me look old. I think she means ‘old-er’. I like it. It keeps the heat in and that’s good enough for me.

What do you think?

hats-1

Yes, hats can add style to your image, a little pizzazz to your ‘get up and go’. But thinking about the different hats I’ve worn, this one is probably the one I treasure most…

hats-2

Steve

Srbottch.Com

My Father’s ‘Pearls’, a String of Old-fashioned Wisdom and Advice

“Flush the toilet while you’re going, so others don’t hear it”

Pensive Dad

My father had a way with words. He wasn’t eloquent. He wasn’t flowery. He didn’t mince them. He was a plain talker who chose his words randomly, then delivered them firmly. Sometimes, they revealed his temper, but more often they reflected his wisdom. Many were gems that I still recall. Not sure if that’s a good thing but on the whole, I think, yes, it is.

While funny now, the bathroom message was a poignant commentary about life in a large family, living in tight quarters and being considerate of others.  I never questioned him and followed his direction by emptying accordingly.  Today, I chuckle about it ‘a few times a day’.

Like many men of his ilk, he didn’t subscribe to ‘there are no stupid questions’.  He was ‘old school’, and would tell you if it was a stupid question.  He was blunt sometimes. Yet, there was a side of him that espoused his ‘old school’ philosophy as a life lesson, to pass on to me and others.

“Walk on the outside when escorting a woman”
(Lesson: be a gentleman)

“Watch me, some day you’ll have your own house and can do this yourself”
(Lesson: be self reliant)

“Go to school. You want to be a painter the rest of your life, like me?”
(Lesson: education is a stepping stone to success)

“Don’t smoke, drink, go in debt or lie”
(Lesson: be healthy, physically and financially, and be an honest broker)

“Don’t fish in another man’s waters”
(Lesson: be respectful of others)

“Life is hard, don’t add extra baggage”
(Lesson: make good decisions)

Having a limited formal education didn’t handicap my dad, or prevent him from improving himself, and he always strove to do that, whether at work or play. He gave his best daily and expected the same from others, especially his children.  He followed his own ‘rules’ and over the course of his life, became a better man to himself, his family and friends. This is his legacy, and it’s reflected in the words he spoke and how he spoke them, his ‘pearls of wisdom’.

Do you have one or more ‘pearls’ from your dad?  What was the message, or lesson, in his words?  I invite you to share them in the comments.

srbottch

Dedicated to dads everywhere and their ‘words of wisdom’, their pearls.