Appliance addendum

The garbage disposal sprung a major leak during our Mocksgiving cleanup.

I’ve lost count of how many appliances we’ve had to deal with in the last three months. (Do cars count as appliances?) I’ve told my boss I’ll be working from home one day a week indefinitely to deal with whatever contractor related issues arise.

He says that sounds like a reasonable response.

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing

This has been a hard week for me, and for people I love. For example, I have a dearly loved family member who is transgender and gets life-saving medication with their coverage through the ACA. For them, the current president-elect is an existential threat to their life. And other than my support, I don’t know how to help.

I find that one of my usual consolations – my friends on social media – is full of pain. And I need solace, and to remember the good things in the world.

I'm proud of my church for working to do good in the world!
I’m proud of my church for working to do good in the world!

One of those good things is coming tomorrow! The seventeenth (I think) annual Mocksgiving is tomorrow! I took today off work to bake (and tend to my schooless Thane – Grey is at a church field trip to the Heifer Farm.)

Anyway, I always miss “you guys” on Mocksgiving prep day. I talk to you a lot in my head – but this day especially. As a complete distraction from weightier concerns, I’m going to live-blog my prep for the 31 adults and 20 children who will come to my house in fellowship to be served tomorrow.

Stuffed Squash (with opportunities for garlic, butter, bacon & cheese)
This is a new recipe to Mocksgiving. Part of being a CSA member is defensive recipe gathering. I found this one last year, and blessed my lucky stars!

Recipe & project plan
Recipe & project plan

My cooking got an early start this morning because I had to drop Grey off for church. I’m not a morning person. Usually I’d start my day off at like 9 or 10. I started this one at the appalling hour of 7. (Shudders). I have a complex schedule today, mostly because this is the only time in a one month period I can actually get my hair cut, so I need to get a bunch done before the haircut, but nothing that needs tending between noon and two. So I usually start with bread, but not today.

Instead, I began with the squash. My plan is to adjust the recipe to twice-bake the squash instead. I baked it with butter and garlic. I’ll wait for it to cool completely then prepare the filling. (Mmmmmm bacon…. although I’ll probably make one vegetarian instead.) Then I’ll stick it back in the oven to warm tomorrow while the turkey is resting. It should be noted that pretty much all my cooking prep during Mocksgiving relies on an enclosed porch and cold overnight temperatures to double as a poor person’s ‘fridge.

Pies
Squash cooking, I turned my hand towards pies. Now I am caught on the horns of a pie dilemma. I have three different pie crust recipes at my disposal:

Butter & Vodka
This has been popular lately. It has the advantage of reducing the water content of the pastry (the vodka burns off). It tasted pretty good. It’s reasonably flaky. It’s a pain in the butt to make the starter for. And it’s moderately finicky to work with. Basically – I use this recipe when I have to but it’s my last choice.

Lard
This stuff is like a dream. It’s super easy to work with. It’s delicious. It’s flaky. It is the ideal, ultimate pie shortening. It’s also, um, not vegetarian. Not even a little. Nor is it friendly for anyone with religious based dietary restraints. (See also: bacon). So if I’m making pies for my own consumption, I’ll use this 100% of the time. But by my count I have five vegetarians coming tomorrow, and stealthmeats in dessert is a cruel thing to do. So lard is right out.

Crisco
For many years, this was the only way I made piecrusts, using the recipe my great-grandmother had made before me. It’s a very “short” recipe (high shortening to flour ratio) making it extremely flakey and light. Then Crisco took transfats out of its recipe. I spent a few Piemases and Mocksgivings in tears, trying to understand why the pie crust I’d used for literally a hundred pies couldn’t be worked. It took me a while to figure out the correlation.

But when I went home this summer, my mom said Crisco had changed their recipe again and it was working for her. This is the idea compromise between vegetarian and pain-in-the-rearness. So I’m going to try Crisco again and see how it goes.

First up, pecan pie
First up, pecan pie

2 pm Update
Well, I got my hairs cut. They are now shorter. Mission accomplished.

My pie plate collection. Many of my standard pies have standard pie plates they get made in every year.
My pie plate collection. Many of my standard pies have standard pie plates they get made in every year.

I’ve been cooking pretty much all day. This is the depressing part. Here’s where we are…

Completed:
1 Pecan Pie (I sometimes make two)

In progress:
Twice baked squash (need to mash up the insides and add bacon and cheese)
Lemon meringue pie (fun fact – I always misspell meringue as merangue) – crust made
Bread – dough kneaded and set to first rise

Not yet started and needs to be finished today:
Blueberry pie
Monkey bread if I decide to do it. (Votes? Do y’all want me to try it, or should I use that time for “cleaning” or “sleeping”?

Lemon meringue crust - came out ok. I had to roll it twice and it was really brittle
Lemon meringue crust – came out ok. I had to roll it twice and it was really brittle

Premium pecan placer
Premium pecan placer

A mere hour or so later, I’m in a much better spot. The bread is on the second rise. The blueberry pie is about 5 minutes from done. Before cleaning up the pie stuff, I decided to make another pie. For most pies, the crust is the hardest part. My blueberry pies, for example, are made during the year when Farmer Dave brings me blueberries and kept in the freezer until pie time comes. I tried increasing the water in the starter and it’s handling much better now. I think there’s so much shortening in it, that it looks wet enough when it’s not. So that’s good!

So my bonus pie is a raspberry apple pie. I had raspberries in the freezer from this summer’s haul (not enough to make a batch of jam from alas). And this is the time of year where apples are inescapable. So we’ll see if it’s any good. No huge loss if it’s not.

The lemon meringue is left to be done. It’s the exception to the above “the filling is the easy part” rule. I have the crust ready to be filled and it didn’t shlump too much. Lemon meringue is my favorite.

I remember when I was a kid I used to be appalled at my mom’s lack of creativity in creating pie vents. Here was this amazing decoration opportunity and she just cut slits! Such lack of imagination.

Of course, now I find myself staring down a blank pie crust and wondering if slits are just traditional. I usually inscribe a pi symbol that looks like a smiley face if you see it upside down!

Time to clean up!
Time to clean up!

Well, the kitchen’s a disaster and my back hurts, but everything has been done but the lemon meringue filling. (Guess what the most pain in the rear thing is?) I’ll pull the bread in about 10 minutes. I got the squashes stuffed. I have three completed pies.

It seems patently unfair that this is the time where I need to ask that age old question… what am I going to serve my family for dinner?

Butternut or acorn, bacon or vegetarian, asiago or gruyere
Butternut or acorn, bacon or vegetarian, asiago or gruyere

You’ll be happy to hear the meringue has been meringued. It didn’t set right. I suspect some of the flour on the beaters from the bread fell in and messed up the set. I couldn’t bring myself to remake it. It will still be delicious!

I always feel sneaky when making lemon meringue pie. The yellow doesn’t come from the lemons – it comes from the egg yolks.

The yellow things in lemon meringue pie
The yellow things in lemon meringue pie

In other news, Civilization 6 has civ called Congo, and Congo has Mbuji-Mayi in it. This is a city that is famous in my family history – it’s where the language school my parents attended to learn Tshiluba is – but I’ve never seen a reference to it in any material. Ever. But it’s in this video game.

Mbuji-Mayi
Mbuji-Mayi

Thane at 8

Halloween eight years ago marked one of my better costumes. Adam had spent all day in the basement putting together a robot costume for our then three year old eldest son. It had light up LEDs on the chestplate and wiggly arms. Grey wept bitter tears because he couldn’t put his arms down. (Oops.) He wore the prior year’s costume.

Not a happy kid
Not a happy kid

But my costume at that Halloween party with friends was an accessory. Specifically, a pumpkin I was carrying in my arms. The day Adam had been making Grey’s costume, I came home from the hospital with my wee Thane. He was a sweet child from the very start. He was little – just over six pounds. He had dark hair and dark eyes. And extremely large feet. He pretty much immediately stopped being little (he’s lurked between 70th – 90th percentiles for height), and dropped his dark brown hair for blond curls.

Look! Brown hair!
Look! Brown hair!

He still has gigantic feet. 8 years old – size four.

Thane has been a joy to parent. He’s joyful, loving, sweet and cuddly. My favorite part of the day is when I get to snuggle him to wake him up the morning. I’m really enjoying this year with him, because while he’s independent and capable he still has some of the sweet innocence of childhood to him (if you ignore the poop jokes).

My youngest has a personality that has two settings: calm focus and exuberant bouncing. He’s a kid who can’t walk because he’s skipping, jumping, hopping or dragging his feet because he’s soooooo tired. But when he sits to focus, he has an incredible ability to zero in on one thing and focus for hours – usually singing to himself while he plays. He also has a long history of being obsessed with one thing: puzzles, dinosaurs, Scooby-Doo (that one lasted literally years). His hyper focus is more spread out now. Current favorite things include Pokemon (he’s my Pokemon Go buddy) and a return to Legos.

One of my favorite pictures of a young Thane
One of my favorite pictures of a young Thane

This year was a breakout year for Thane with math. He showed early promise with his ability to do spacial reasoning problems (like puzzles). But first grade gave him enough of a math vocabulary to start tackling bigger problems. His mental arithmetic is about as fast as mine for the addition, subtraction and multiplication. (OK, he’s actually faster than me on some multiplication.) Division he can do, but has to think about it harder. He went to the Winchester branch of the Russian School of Math for the end of the year and a summer program, and in his first set of homework worked out the Fibonacci sequence (which I’m not sure I was *ever* actually taught). After the summer program he didn’t want to do it anymore because it wasn’t fun. I was disappointed but sympathetic. Forcing him to do it doesn’t seem like the right way to encourage him to love the subject, but I’m hoping that he finds his way back to pushing his knowledge of the subject.

Sunday, he wrapped up his fall soccer season. I’ve just started realizing that both boys have been playing for years – even if neither one has ever fallen in love with the sport. Thane was a major contributor on his team – especially as a defender who will challenge for and take away the ball. He has improved massively on the “randomly falling down” metric. He doesn’t love activity and exercising, but he’s done well by it.

Thane and the Puppy Family
Thane and the Puppy Family

Thane is a cheerful, resilient kid. He seems to not even feel pain. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that his joyfulness covers a very thoughtful mind and kind heart. He’s not a quiet kid by any stretch, but he’s undemanding in many ways. But don’t underestimate his strength, wisdom or insight.

I love this kid with all my heart.

He designed and implemented this pattern of perler beads himself
He designed and implemented this pattern of perler beads himself

Never ask “What else could go wrong?”

So you all ready my slightly annoyed post two weeks ago about how I’ve had to repair or replace five appliances in quick succession. I thought to myself – but did not say – that the only thing left to go wrong was something with a car, the one piece of machinery we own that costs more than a furnace.

I also didn’t note that things come in threes. “Maybe” I thought, “three replaced appliances counts and the repairs don’t.” Or maybe I’m not superstitious and things don’t really come in threes, we just use logic like the above to make them come in threes.

Regardless, I’ll admit that I was really relieved when the AC got fully hooked up on Saturday and NOTHING ELSE BROKE. Finally, done with all the hassle of getting things repaired and service windows etc. etc.

You can see where this is going, right?

A dark and stormy night
A dark and stormy night

Tonight, Adam has invited a few friends over to play a long role playing game to celebrate his 40th birthday. Grey was at a birthday party, so Thane and I went to the Burlington Mall to buy some Legos and kill some time. I was headed back on the chilly, dark night – after the rains of the day had stopped. The car in front of me squealed its tires as it came to a fast stop. I did that quick prayer and slammed on my brakes, relieved that I managed to stop bare inches from the bumper of the car in front of me. Then the car behind me plowed into us. (OK, ran into us. It wasn’t THAT bad.)

I asked Thane if he was ok, pulled over and turned on the flashers. The good news is Thane is fine. My neck hurts. Our airbags didn’t deploy, so it wasn’t a big hit. The front bumper is damaged from where I hit the car in front of us. The rear bumper is damaged. And I think our muffler was impacted, based on how I sounded like I was driving a racing lawnmower. The folks in the fancy car behind us did have their airbags go off (although the car didn’t take that much obvious damage). They behaved so weirdly we weren’t sure what the story is, and I didn’t get their insurance info (although the police did, so I’ll be able to get it).

Here’s the thing. I just got the car detailed today. I was talking with the dude about what a great, reliable car it is. Having a 9 year old car that runs really well is like money in the bank. You can’t buy a car worth the value of the car you have. I was joking any time I started to think of buying a new car, I’d just get my car professionally detailed (he does a great job) and then I stopped thinking about a new car for a good year or so. I really don’t want to buy a new car. They’re expensive. It’s a hassle. There are few less enjoyable experiences than going to a car dealership. I’m really hoping the car isn’t totaled, but I’m guessing that it wouldn’t take much to total my 2007 Toyota Matrix with 88k miles on it.

I do know this: more obnoxious logistical handling is in my immediate future. Time to go file the accident report, I guess. And schedule a chiropractor appointment. And figure out where to bring my car to see just how bad it really is.

Ugh.

The Bargain of Benjamin Gerry

Benjamin Gerry is said to have been a man of great courage. The following incident will prove it to be the fact. At that time this country was inhabited to a considerable extent by wolves. On a certain day, Gerry was out either for labor or business. He called upon a family, living upon or near where the Almshouse now stands, about dusk. It was thought rather dangerous for him to return home; however, having an axe with him, he proceeded homeward, but before proceeding far, he came in contact with a number of wolves. He braced himself against a large tree and pitched battled with his antagonists. The neighbors heard the conflict, notwithstanding he was left to conquer or die. He conquered, and returned home. In the morning, he went to the place where he fought, and there found that he had killed no less than four wolves, the fifth having walked off, leaving blood to show that he also had been wounded…

The house … afterwards occupied by the father of Benjamin Gerry .. was formerly known as the Matthews place. It is thought to have been built about seventy years since… At the season of harvesting a quantity of pumpkins were carried into the garret; one evening while the father was absent, and the mother with the children and other members of the family sat by the fireside, a noise was heard; something appeared to be coming down the stairs. It came stamp, stamp, down the garrett stairs; it then came to the entry stairs, which led to the lower door, and with increased force, came pound, pound into the entry below. There the noise ceased. The afrighted family waited with great anxiety for the return of the husband and father. When he returned, the news was communicated to him. He repaired to the entry, when on opening the door a good lusty pumpkin was reposing on the floor. Whether the house was ever afterwards haunted, is not known.

Gerry remained here for many years, but was called upon to fulfill his engagements, made previously to settling here. He left his wife and children, never to return; as it is said he fell during an engagement with a foreign enemy.

A Brief History of the Town of Stoneham, Massachusetts: From it’s First Settlement to the Year 1813 With An Account of the MURDER of Jacob Gould on the Evening of Nov. 25, 1819

Written in 1870 by Deacon Silas Dean


Everyone said my father was the second bravest man they knew. This was an old yarn they’d spin out. I think Scotchman Hay told it best, wicked grin curving around the stem of the pipe which was the only thing he’d brought from the old country. As stories about him told, whenever we were confident he was not listening, he’d even left his clothes behind when he showed up naked in my father’s barn. He had been running, as he said, from an impression aboard a redcoat war ship. But he brought the pipe, and he kept it with him.

“Ye see, my lad,” he’d say above a haze of blue Virginia smoke, “The bravest man I know’d was braver than he was wise. It was Phillips, laddie, who was the bravest I ever did meet. Why, he was out with the other men, a few years after the unpleasantness with the British, chasing after some Indians who murdered a local family. They followed ’em all the way to Concord – and a long way it was too. The sons of the forest were hiding in a rye field, and Phillips – he was warned they were there. Told him to be on his guard, they did. Told him that there was death and trouble in that field. But he answered in his decided way that ‘I am not afraid of the black rogues!’ Scarce had the words escaped his lips, ere a musket was discharged. Phillips took a fatal wound, sprung several feet off his horse and died right there on the spot.” So see, you dunna want to be the bravest man, son. You want to be the bravest man alive, lad. And your father, he is that.”

As my father’s eldest son, I worshiped him from afar, working hard on my labors to win his approval, and facing all life’s young challenges with the resolute chin and unwavering hand that seemed his legacy to me. But the closest I ever came to shaming my name was that All Hallows Eve night when he made his name as the bravest man alive.

As the sun on that day reached it’s zenith, my father made known to us that he intended to go up to see Richard Holden before dark, for he had promised his aid in setting some foundations for a new house before the ground froze for the winter. We’d spent a long morning in the uncommon heat of the fall day harvesting all our pumpkins from the patch. They’d done well this year and were plump and plentiful. We had a time carrying heavy loads of them out from the fields and straight up the stairs into the garret, where they’d be safe from freezing. Even my littlest brother had to take a hand carrying one small pumpkin at a time up the narrow, dark stairs.

It was heavy work, and we were all tired by the time the sun reached the top of the day. I hadn’t thought my father would then go on to more heavy work at the Holden’s – which was quite a walk away besides! But Benjamin Gerry was a man of his word, and he said that he thought as he carried the pumpkins that the cold might come early this year, and he had said he’d help. So weary though he was, he left after wetting his lips and tasting a morsel.

Wanting, as I did, to make my father proud of me, I returned to harvesting the fields. Without the watchful eye of my father, my brothers found other occupation in fishing nearby Doleful Pond for stripers, and I cursed them under my breath as I carried heavy load after heavy load up the rapidly dimming stairs. As the evening purpled, my mother greeted me with a cold heavy mug of cider, and turned with her faithful broom to sweep the stairs of all the mud we’d tracked in with our labors. Her face had a look of concern under her bonnet.

“Mother,” I asked, “I thank you for the cup! This year’s press is particularly fine I think. Does something give you fear?”

She turned in the black door frame, broom in hand, and looked back at me. “Well, son, I don’t doubt I’d not dare to say such a thing if your father was here. But it’s All Hallows Eve. In the old country, we’d be extra careful on such a day. We’d not go haring off to our neighbors’ so late when the work could just as easy be done on All Saints Day. Your father is a honest and brave man, and takes no stock in foolish nonsense. But I can’t help but wish he was already home tonight.”

As I sat and listened to the hiss of her broom on the rough planks, I couldn’t but think that she was right. I lit the main lamp, as the room grew dark and my brothers returned with their catch. Then I lit a second, and hung it over the door frame. I tried to tell myself that the full moon rising thick, twined about by wisps of flog, over the great expanse of the ocean between us and the old country was a good thing. My father was not yet home, but with such a bright moon he’d hardly need a lamp to find his way.

My mother had just latched the door to the stairs and switched from her cleaning apron to the cooking apron and was putting on our dinner when we heard, thin against the cold air of the night, the voices of the wolves raised in fearful chorus, rising and lapping over each other like a braiding of fell songs. My heart knew fear. My father was out there. The wolves were hunting. And it was All Hallow’s Eve. My mother’s face in the lamplight looked pinched and scared as she raised her face to the one glass window whose shutters remained open, to look at the moonlight streaming past.

“I’m sure father will be home soon, mother” I comforted her. We sat at table, my father’s place laid but bare of food. I led us in grateful thanksgiving, letting the food cool a bit as I asked that my father return safely to us, when we heard the first stamping sound from the attic, as though of men’s boots. After a quick Amen, I turned to the window to see if it might be my returning father. It wasn’t. I sat back down, and started in on my porridge.

“Stamp, stamp”

The sound was clearer now. It was certainly not outside the house. It was inside. My littlest brother left his place at the table and climbed onto my mother’s frail lap. My younger brothers, the twins, exchanged guilty looks. Poor five year old Paul dove under the table and couldn’t be brought out.

“I must’ve stacked the pumpkins wrong. A pile must’ve knocked over. Maybe if I’d had a little help,” I shot a meaningful glance at the twins “They might’ve been piled better.” Wee Tommy began to wail “I tried to help but my legs is too smaaaaaallll” he bawled.” “Crying is for sissies, Tommy. Father will be wroth if he catches you at it. Besides,” I added – a little ashamed of my temper – “I didn’t mean it for you.”

Stamp. Stamp stamp.

There was far too long between those thumps to be a settling pile of pumpkins, and we all knew it. We waited in silence, holding our breaths, the lamplight flickering over uneaten porridge and fish still steaming on the table.

Stamp stamp stamp stamp.

“Dear God, it sounds like it’s on the last stair” said my stricken mother.

There was a knocking – a polite rap – on the door to the garret stairs, as if some stranger waited there requesting entry. I thought of my father, and of his bravery, and I called out “Who is it who goes there.” The only answer was the howl of the wolves.

We waited a few minutes. I looked at the porridge – my appetite vanished despite the labors of the day – and thought of what my father would do. I took up my spoon and begin to eat. After a few moments, my family did likewise. My sister Ruth had almost coaxed young Paul out from under the table, and the twins started arguing about who’d caught more fish, when the rapping came again from the door. This time, it came louder.

The spoons clattered to the table. I held mine in limp fingers. Paul fled under the table, and after a moment of quick reflection, Ruth went with him.

Over the next hour, the banging grew and increased in intensity, pounding on the door as though the very fist of the devil knocked and sought entry. Four great crashes it gave, quick against each other. The door shook and rattled with the battering from the darkness on the other side. I looked at the latch and wondered if it would hold. I took the splitting maul from the side of the door – my father had taken the axe with him when he went to the Holden’s, as there would be cutting to be done for the posts – and stood in front of the door in case it should break. My mother, sister and brothers all clung to each other – backs pressed against the far wall – porridge and fish alike uneaten. After the fourth crash, there was a smaller pounding, and then all fell silent.

When the door flung open, I nearly jumped out of my skin. Not the door to the garret, no. But the front door. And in strode my father, limping, carrying an axe covered in blood and brains and fur – as he himself was.

He stopped short when he saw me, pale as February, facing the door in fear.

“What’s happening lad?” he asked.

“Father,” I gulped. Here he was covered in blood, and I needed to explain that there had been knocking on the door, and we had been scared by it. I was saved from this when the door gave the most terrific crash.

“Ah, I see.” He said. It seemed like he did. He was totally unsurprised. He walked over to the door, raised the sturdy latch, and the moonlight through the yet-unbarred window streamed past the golden lamplight to reveal what had knocked.

There, at the landing to the door, were five pumpkins. Or rather, they had been five pumpkins. They were smashed to smithereens. Their pulp reached all the way up the walls in gory orange entrails – up to even the ceiling itself. It showed brilliant against the new whitewash. In the oozing pulp, you could see the tops of four pumpkins scattered amidst seeds. On the third stair up there stood a more whole pumpkin. It was cracked down the middle, and juice leaked down the stairs in a trickle, but it looked to my fevered mind as though it was escaping from the slaughter below.

My father raised his axe and smote the last pumpkin, smearing it on either side with red blood. The blade bit deep into the stairs, almost cleaving the broad board in two.

He turned back to us, staring white-faced and wide-eyed.

“I smell fish.” He said, “Is there enough for a hungry old man?”


I was a man grown, and my own eldest son was the age young Paul had been, when my father got news that he was needed and that he must go. In the few days given him to prepare, he found time to pull me aside.

“Elbridge” said he. “Do you remember the pumpkins?”

I’d always thought it remarkable that a man of such courage, a man who on that fateful All Hallows Eve had slain four wolves with a back against a tree, and then come home to cheerfully dispense with our fears before digging into my brothers’ ill-gotten-fish, had been very kind in not teasing us about our fears of that day. In fact, he’d never spoken of it, even as the legend of his battle with the wolves was the talk of every tongue, and the 16 pound bounty he’d claimed from their pelts had allowed my father to pull me from the fields and send me to Harvard, an act which would change my life. The only change was that we no longer planted pumpkins. Given that none of us could even stomach a pumpkin pie, this seemed no odd thing to me.

“I do father. Will you throw my fear and cowardice in my face now, when you have forborne to do so for so many years?”

“Nay” he said. “Before I go, I wanted to explain. You see, there was something great to fear that night. I never should have left under that cursed witches moon, on that cursed night, in the twilight. You know the story of how I set my back to a tree and faced those wolves. It was a mighty pack. I killed four and mortally wounded the fifth before the others fled. But what I never told anyone was that it was uncanny. I knew as they circled me in the dark, the full moon gleaming off their eyes, that I was already as good as dead. I prayed as hard and fast as I could. It’s possible that I forgot to be quite a good Christian man at the worst possible time, and I found myself praying for a bargain, to anyone who might be listening.

“It came to mind mind that someone was very curious what bargain I’d make. I said I’d pay later if I could come through this all right and make it home. I said that for each wolf I’d kill, I’d ask for a year years. It made no sense, even in my head, even as my axe spun around me.

“But it came to me that my bargain was granted, and that my family would be let to know too. That part didn’t seem quite… nice shall we say.

“So I laid about me with my axe. I killed two easy. The third I took a wound in my leg as I killed it. The fourth is the one that got me arm. And the fifth knocked me down to the ground and it’s teeth were bared to rip out my throat when I laid about with the axe and managed to knock it off me. It slunk away bleeding, and the rest of the pack went with it, but…”

He paused from oiling his old sword.

“Well, son.. it talked to me as it went, laughing. It said, “Four of us killed. Very good. That’s four years. And I’m wounded, you might call me almost a fifth. Not quite five. But when not quite five are come, it will be your time to make good on your bargain, Benjamin Gerry, and present your soul to the one you bargained with. You know old Jack. He makes a good pie, and a better bargain. Go home to your family. Jack o’ the lantern knocks on their door too. And think to that day when you will be called upon to keep your part.

“And then, son, he faded into the darkness. And I came home and found the four and a half pumpkins, and I knew.

“That was four and a half years, ago, Elbridge. And now I’m called – old though I am – to go fight with my former legion. I think that I shall not escape death again. But I wanted you to know. Never again plant those devilish gourds. And never make a bargain where your soul is at stake. Pray for me, for I will never see your face again nor know aught of heaven’s joys.”

That All Hallow’s Eve, I found on the front steps of my house a pumpkin, carved with a face like a wolf, gleaming in the light of a full moon.

Of my father, no word ever came again.

Notes:
1) Silas Dean makes it clear that Benjamin Gerry was not actually the father in the pumpkin story – only that it was Benjamin Gerry’s father’s house prior to the incident.
2) Scotchman Hay did come off a boat and did work on Benjamin Gerry’s land, and there WAS a naked sailor who showed up naked in a barn, but it wasn’t Scotchman Hay, it was a man named Hadley. There are no fewer than three residents of Stoneham who got their start jumping overboard from unwelcomed stints in Boston harbor.
3) The story about Phillips is also in the book, and much of the language is exactly what Silas Dean used in telling the story. Nineteenth century authors were often very racist and one-sided. They omit to remember in their writing that they were conquerors who had stolen much of this land from the native folk they rightly feared.
4) I’m not sure exactly where Richard Holden’s land’s, or the Matthew’s place, are. We know that the wolf attack took place near the Almshouse – which is now the Senior Center and the soccer fields nearby. I often think of this when I watch my sons play soccer there, and wonder just where Benjamin stood in his fight for his life against the wolves.
5) Silas Dean says that Elbridge Gerry served in the Madison administration. There’s an localish Elbridge Gerry who signed both the Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation, but did not sign the constitution. That Gerry doesn’t seem to have grown up in Stoneham. His father owned major mercantile resources, and was less likely to be out late at night taking on predatory carnivores. There was also a line of Elbridge Gerrys in Stoneham, but none of them were born to Benjamin. I think Silas may have gotten confused with the reoccurrence of such a rare name.

Appliance gremlins

When Adam and I got back from our vacation this summer, we discovered two rather unhappy facts. 1) Our microwave wouldn’t turn on at all. 2) Our dishwasher no longer worked. It was now more of a dishwetter. Kind of.

I went to Target and bought a new microwave. Adam called a repair company from the dishwasher’s paperwork to come fix it. In the way of such repair companies, they had no record of the first appointment we set. When they came for the second appointment, they didn’t have what they needed to fix the dishwasher. They finally fixed it on the third time.

I often wonder how service providers think people make the money they use to pay for service providers services. I mean, we can work from home with more flexibility than most. But still.

I also remembered sincere appreciation for having a dishwasher, and used more paper plates than we’ve ever used before.

The day after the dishwasher resumed working, Adam was finishing one of the final loads of laundry when the door locker thingy stopped door locking. It made sad sounds of not locking. It’s a side washer, so it just doesn’t work if it’s not locked. This time, I called 1-800-SAMSUNG. They have this rigamarole where you call person one (in this case, she gave her name as Hope Destiny) who passes your information through “a system” (which I can totally picture in my mind and I hate from afar) to a third party who actually schedules the service. So Hope Destiny says things like “You should get a call Friday about when you can schedule.” You spend a week picking up all the spam calls just in case, and then they call during the middle of an important meeting.

The dishwasher had set us back about $360 for a hermetically sealed motor. (It’s almost, but not quite, cheaper to buy a new one.) The wee plastic bit for the washing machine was $60 and the labor was nearly $200. I think I might go into appliance repair for my next job. But they fixed it in one trip and I was grateful for that small mercy.

That same day we noticed that all our beverages in our aged fridge (which we’ve never replaced because it would either need to be counter width or we’d need to renovate that wall, and renovating that wall is a better idea but it’s load bearing and we’ve never gotten around to it) were freezing solid. Like, you know, the milk. And eggs. Frozen eggs are no good. We read internet articles about load-balancing your fridge, and we vacuumed the coils and I pondered whether I could just call the frozen milk ice cream. And then we went online to buy a new ‘fridge (which is nearly the same size but admittedly much nicer). We scheduled the delivery date.

Those delivery dudes were great. But I had a 6 hour delivery window. And I was working from home. And somehow I thought it was a good idea to play a funeral that day because it was with my favorite funeral home and I was working from home anyway. So I called and asked them to shift the delivery time to avoid that window. I think that they may have written down that I specifically wanted it during that window, because just as I was pulling up to the funeral cortege, I got the note that they were on their way. I called my neighbor, fidgeted next to the piper, and played a very allegro taps (ok, not really, but I left immediately thereafter which I don’t usually do).

In a feat of over-scheduling, I also lined up the furnace service folks to come that morning to do the annual service. (I mean, I was already working from home… do you see a trend? Just FYI I often work about 2 hours longer when I work from home because I don’t commute, so my employer is truly not shortchanged by all this.) Well, the furnace guy called me down with this fancy camera he had. “Do you see all that?” He asked? “That’s rust. It’s ready to give at any moment.” On the service report he wrote optimistically “Unit operating at present time”. He gently asked if my carbon monoxide detectors were all up to date.

Not good news
Not good news

I’d known this day was long in coming. The furnace was 22 years old and had died on us at least once a year for the last three years. I knew when we did the home inspection that we had an older furnace. It was clearly time to replace it. And there was no way I was replacing the furnace without adding air conditioning, even though we’d need to add a cold air return to the second floor. It’s been very hot these last few summers. So I got two quotes. The first quote, the guy refused to quote me AC. So I went with the second quote.

I got a call last Thursday, right after I signed. “Hey, we had a cancellation for Friday. Would you like us to install then?” Well, I’d been planning on being home Friday anyway, to superintend Grey’s half-day sleepover birthday party. So what’s a little more fun? Thursday night Adam and I frantically clean out the basement and hall closet. Friday morning at 7 am a team of six burly guys arrives and begins taking hacksaws to various parts of my basement infrastructure. I hadn’t quite been warned that the high efficiency AC I ordered came with the world’s most ginormous compressor – thing takes up half the back yard! They ran tubes and wires and vents and gizmos throughout the house, competing for “most noisy” in the latter half of the day with four ten year old boys playing XBox. (Ten year olds won – the workmen were very respectful.)

Of course, I’m not quite done yet. I still need to run the electric for the AC (which is a rather expensive part of the whole project). I just tried to find another good day to work from home for that.

I can only hope that no additional appliances pick that day to shuffle off their mortal coil!

So anyway. It’s been fun.

In moderately related news, we ended up getting four bids for our attic project. One of them came in ridiculously low. Low as in “You don’t really understand this project do you” low. The other three were all right on. And they’re for a number that is just well beyond what I was planning for. We’ve saved for this for quite a while but it’s been an expensive summer (see above). I just can’t justify the cost and disruption and aggravation and stress of the project versus the benefit. So we’re going to shelve it for now. In another two years, we might have saved enough to handle the project price. Or if the housing/construction market slows, those bids might get significantly more aggressive. (Right now it’s definitely a contractor’s market.)

I don’t regret all the cleaning out we’ve done. I’m sad that I still have to share a bathroom with my sons. (Including one legit preteen!) But sometimes you just need to be the grownup who says you haven’t saved enough to do what you want to do.

New Furnace
New Furnace
Old Furnace
Old Furnace
Half the fleet
Half the fleet
Staging area
Staging area
My little backyard
My little backyard
New cold air return
New cold air return
New duct
New duct
Gigantic air conditioner
Gigantic air conditioner