I was spouting off last week about the idea that men - husbands and fathers in particular - ought to step up and embrace their roles as provider, protector, bug killer, fixer and reacher-of-things-from-the-top-shelf.
Not that women can't or shouldn't do all these things. You may be one of those who is tempted to write something like, "Look, my husband is an unbelievable weenie when it comes to spiders", or, "He couldn't build a sand castle without printed instructions and an assistant". Perhaps you feel led to point out, "I'm a single mom, and I regularly do all these things very well, thank you".
If that is you, please understand that I speak only in the most general terms. One of my heroes, G.K. Chesterton, never seemed to be the rough-and-ready type. His work was at a writing desk, and I never heard of him being a great personal fan of physical labor. I'm certain he understood its importance, but he didn't appear to be very excited about even getting out of bed.
But broadly speaking, men are the nail pounders and bug killers. I used to wonder why I was called on to kill bugs, when the weight advantage of any adult human over an insect is going to make the sex of the bug slayer absolutely moot. But it came to me all at once, and from then on I understood. Protection of the family from any harm from outside is the man's job, from time immemorial, so dealing with home invaders - even tiny ones - is his department.
Myself, I am somewhere in the middle of the scale of manly knowledge and skills. I have had a number of jobs that required not just hard physical labor, but some smattering of mechanical know-how and common sense, as well. I've driven a bulldozer. I'm comfortable with power tools... but I'm no general contractor. I'm just of the opinion that men ought to step up a bit more in the manly skills department, especially at home.
So, it's rather poetic that I have this week been called on to back up my sermonizing by taking on a project the like of which my wife really doubts I'll finish.
See, for a while we thought we might be selling our current house, and so we started to prepare for that by fixing things up and talking to a realtor. In doing so, we came across the original seller's disclosure statement from when we bought the house. There was one item that we had seen and noted, but then had forgotten as irrelevant, which stood out to us now in a different way.
There, scrawled at the bottom of the statement, was the briefest of notes, but one that was laden with import, like "Victory in Europe" or "The Eagle Has Landed". It said;
"Pool buried in back yard".
We took note of this when we moved in years ago, but promptly put out of our heads any idea of ever doing anything about it. I mean, they went to all the trouble to bury the thing, and pools are a pain, in need of constant cleaning and maintenance, chemicals, etc... we were not gluttons for such punishment. Better to let sleeping pools lie.
But then, a few weeks ago, we went to Martha's cousin's house in Oklahoma for a family reunion, and had the greatest time relaxing around their pool. They had taken some trouble with the landscaping and design, and have kept it up well. It was like a little paradise for the kids. The great thing is, when you have a pool on such occasions, you don't really need to plan anything else for the kids to do. They have water to play in, and that will keep them well and happily occupied until they are exhausted. It's like a miracle. The adults could actually visit the whole time, as long as they kept one eye on the pool and didn't mind little pauses for things like drinks and sunblock.
At some time during the afternoon, we made the commitment to have the reunion at our place next year, and so the pool buried in the yard, and buried in the back of my mind, began to emerge into consciousness. I knew pretty well where the pool was, and began even then to form a plan. It will take a lot of hand labor, as a backhoe might damage the pool beyond all usefulness, but I think it might be done.
I jumped into it yesterday, with only a shovel, a hoe and a pair of work gloves. It was glorious. I mean, this is what I did when I was eight and went out to play in the yard. At that age, simply the act of digging was a powerful imaginative experience. In the words of the Old Man in A Christmas Story, "My God, there could be anything in there!". When I was eight I thought there might possibly be precious stones or gold, or that I might strike the remains of a dinosaur or a ship... or (in my more James Bond influenced moments) the body of a Soviet spy, buried in our back yard by the CIA (who would think to look there?).
It was easy digging, at first, as there is about eight inches of topsoil. I dug a series of exploratory trenches, looking for the edge of the pool. The plan was (and is) to find the edge and then follow it all the way around to get an idea of the size of the thing. Then I'll figure out how to dig out the fill dirt and clean it up. It will no doubt need some kind of resurfacing, and perhaps some repair, if it's cracked or something.
I found the edge of the pool in the first hour. The topsoil was easy to move, but I can already tell the thing is packed with of good-old Arkansas fill dirt, consisting of red clay and rocks the size of my fist. Lots of work ahead. The thing is, this will call for months of patient, steady work, with no payoff until the very end. There are two emotional high points to the entire process, and I hit one yesterday. The other won't happen for months.
As a young man, I might have been blind-sided by the inevitable waning of my enthusiasm, but now I'm anticipating it, planning on it, seeing it in my mind. There are months of drudgery ahead, and only disciplined imagination (hope) will bring me through to the end. This is the kind of wisdom that can come with age, if people pay attention, and one reason I don't mind getting older.
I was much better able to dig as a younger guy, but I can tell you already how that would have progressed; I would have dug like mad for a couple of days, wearing myself out, and then likely dropped the project, once the glow of the original discovery had faded into the red clay. After that, it would have only been a matter of repeatedly pledging to finish it "someday", until someone pressed me on the necessity of either finishing the job or filling in the hole, and I would have filled it in, thinking "It probably wasn't much of a pool, anyway".
The remains of an ancient civilization of pool-dwellers.
"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' " - Luke 14:28-29