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

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.

Snowball Fights Make Good Friends

snowballs

“Wop! Wop! Wop!”

One, then another, and yet another, ‘wop , wop, wop’, from different fronts, rock-hard snowballs, spheres of packed snow that when thrown expertly, leave red blotches on the skin or wet splatter marks on clothing. Mostly, they leave bruised egos! In the shoulder, the backside, the legs and the head, if you’re not watching.

“Run! Run for your life!”

War whoops from the neighborhood bullies who gathered to harass my friends and me on a cold, snowy nor’easter day, the kind of days school kids loved. School was closed, traffic slowed and monster trucks rumbled thru neighborhoods, pushing snow into huge piles for more outdoor games, a perfect atmosphere for snowball fights. These ruffians had lots of opportunities for ‘assaults’ on us during the long, cold New England winters.

Slam!

The kitchen door closed behind me.

“Just in time for dinner”!

“Why are you so wet?”  

“Why are you panting?”

My mother didn’t get it, had no idea of the peril I faced in the dilapidated barn behind my house where the ‘bad guys’ had us trapped, on the second floor, the ‘good guys’, trapped and running out of ‘ammo’. Snow fell through the leaky roof of the old building, but nary enough to ward off the lot of ogres, older by two or three years, ungloved and open jackets, impervious to the elements. Tough guys, the toughest, and outside the barn, with an endless supply of ammo, falling snow.

I had been called once for dinner…

“Steeeeeeeeephen!”

“Suuuuuupper!”

She didn’t, and wouldn’t, call more than once.

… but the bullies wouldn’t allow our plea for a truce, a ‘temporary suspension of hostilities’. Only a ‘brave’ jump from the hayloft door into a pile of snow and mad dash to my house saved me from…well, you can just imagine!

Yes, ‘imagine’, and I do. Such a beautiful word. I find that, as I get older, a little bit at a time, ‘imagining’ becomes a key part of what I remember and makes my childhood experiences even more vivid than they probably were.

Oh, the barn was there, leaning, and snowball fights were common. And there were older kids, lots of them in a working class neighborhood of large families, but they weren’t really bullies, ruffians, or ogres. Often, we were on the same side in other activities played outside on the streets, surrounded by fresh air.

However, winter was the season of the toughest games. ‘King of the hill’ saw friends tossed about while vieing for the top spot of a snow mound. Sledding was fast and furious, weaving around cars, trees or each other. Just knocking someone into a snow bank was a game. All of it, the rough and tumble, pushing and shoving, bonded our friendships more.

We wore ourselves out…outside, where we created games all day and came home to the loud yell of, ‘suuuuupper!’

I can still pack a good snowball and hit a target…and imagine…and remember.

Yes, snowball fights made good friends!

Steve

January 2019

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@srbottch on Instagram for photos

To all kids who played in the streets, created fun games with friends and still remember it all.

The Bar Chronicles: #5, ‘Seniors Say The Darndest Things*’

*thank you, Art Linkletter!

Bar Night 2

The heat and humidity has been off the charts this summer in western New York. Lawns are brown, plants are wilting, farmers are worried and throats are parched. Sounds like the perfect time for another ‘bar night’.

So, tonight we found ourselves gathered around a back room table at Johnny’s Irish Pub in Rochester.  Four seniors, friends from our neighborhood, here to enjoy some beer, brotherhood and ‘man talk’, the simple art of filling time with random thoughts, guffaws and past recollections.

Four old guys, we seem to be a bit of an odd attraction to the regular patrons, a generally younger, blue collar type. Then again, everyone is generally younger nowadays.  And the collars?  Well, we’re retired, collars are a low priority.

This is our fifth ‘bar night’, we exhude confidence, experience and maturity as our beer is served.  “Run a tab, we’ll be back for more”, one of us bravely barks out, earning a few approving nods from customers standing at the bar.  There was a time, once, when we could stand at the bar,  but now, sitting is preferred.

The beer was cold and the brotherhood about to begin. With a clinking of our mugs, a “here, here” to each other and our hands cupped behind our ears to catch every word, we leaned in and began our evening in earnest.

The cacocphany of background chatter  interfered with our own table talk, as we huddled closer, like a football team calling a play.  The interval between our yawns grew shorter. Our energy level was was being tested when the call came for a second round. We endured, ordered refills, closed out our tab, and began the ‘second half’ with unexpected profundity.  ‘Who was your favorite teacher and why?’, I asked.

“Simple, it was Miss Sullivan**”, one of us enthusiastically blurted out, “she had the biggest bosom.” The answer grabbed our attention and would have been enough, but he continued.  “And, she dressed provocatively. My 10th grade friends and I never missed a class…”.  I bet they didn’t.

While not the insight I expected, nevertheless, it was honest. More importantly, to the four of us, it was funny, a classic way to end our ‘bar night’; good timing, excellent delivery and a willing audience eager to kick back a chair, slap the table and ‘guffaw’.

The bar quieted as we filed out to a humid night. Neon signs from other establishments gave a colorful tint to the neighborhood and tall street lights lit our path to the car with another good time behind us.

As we drove home along tree lined streets through old neighborhoods, the car was quiet. Two beers may have made us sleepy, but I imagine the real reason was that three of us were silently wishing that we had been in Miss Sullivan’s** 10th grade class, too…

srbottch.com

**name changed for obvious reasons.

Dedicated to Steve, Tom & Jim

The Bar Chronicles: #4, Love Unrequited (How I Met My Wife)

Bar Night 2

‘Tale as old as time…’ 

(Beauty & The Beast)

‘On Friday nights, the boys sat on a bridge over our river, waiting for the girls to come across, hoping to catch the eye of the one we thought was special.  And, I did.’

More than 60 years ago that was a perfect scheme for the young men of a small coal mining town in eastern Pennsylvania. My friend told the story with a twinkle in his eye and a smile, as though it was yesterday.

Here we were, again, three ‘seniors’, in a bar, reminiscing how we met our future wives. It was a moment of sincere reflection as we opened our hearts and shared memories that were a long time put aside.…but not forgotten.

These weren’t ordinary stories and this wasn’t an ordinary ‘bar’, this was the Lock 32 Brewing Company on the historic Erie Canal at the Port of Pittsford, NY. The canal and its towns come to life when the ‘ditch’ regains its waters after the long western NY winter. Working barges, canoes, rowers and yachts commingle east and west from Albany to Buffalo, meandering 400 miles through the Empire State. And, tonight, we witnessed some of it from inside this perfect venue in the tiny Pittsford village.

We found a table facing the canal, where the back wall is a floor to ceiling window that slides open onto the canal’s northside boardwalk, allowing us an unfettered vista of the late evening light settling on the local village. The lovers in front were scooted low enough in their seats that our view was uninterrupted.

 ‘I was a late bloomer in the dating game so I advertised in the newspaper for someone who was sophisticated, fun-loving and liked to dance. She answered.’

A quarter century later my friend and his wife are still dancing. The power of the marketplace.

Cabin cruisers docked on the south side, its occupants enjoying evening cocktails on the aft deck. Ducks collected near us, waiting for handouts, and couples sat on benches, leaning head to head, watching the setting sun lay its fingers across the silent waters, except when an occasional catfish surfaced to snatch an unsuspecting bug.

My eyes locked onto the boats and for a fleeting moment my imagination carried me out to sea, far away from the murky canal waters. Oh, to be an adventurer!

But, fantasies aside, we came here for a purpose, beer and brotherhood. The former started with the house ‘summer’ and ‘scotch’ ales, and the latter with an informal clinking of our glasses and a ‘here, here’, three neighbors relaxing and reminiscing over a beer.

‘I’d like to see number 7, again.’

Being a class officer on campus had its perks, judging cheerleader tryout was a major one. It allowed me to see a freshman girl whom I found attractive. She didn’t need my vote to make the squad and nearly 50 years later, we’re still ‘cheering’ for each other.

A quiet mood settled onto the pub as the evening waned. We emptied our mugs with a toast to marriages and longevity, then went into the night. The boats were dark, the boardwalk was empty, the fish were still active.

We headed home, content, knowing all is well…

 Steve Bottcher

srbottch.com