COUNTY AGENT GUY
The house where my wife and I live is special to us and not just because of all the mortgage payments we have made.
Our house was built by my grandparents. I have fond memories of calling on Grandpa and Grandma on wintery Sunday afternoons when I was a teen.
After yakking a pleasant while, Grandpa would invariably ask me to join him in the cellar. Their venerable old cook stove, a holdover from earlier times and a hedge against high heating oil prices, squatted in a basement corner.
Grandpa would wrap a few sheets of newspaper around some corn cobs and stuff the bolus into the stove. A lit match brought the stove to life and a piece of firewood was tossed into its firebox. The fire crackled and popped like gaseous Rice Krispies.
We would stand and silently contemplate the flames. I marveled at how, decades earlier, sunlight had crossed the vastness of interplanetary space to strike the leaves of the particular tree that eventually became this firewood. My mind reeled with cosmic wonder.
Grandpa must have felt the same. He was so overcome by the miracle of fire that he had to reach up between the floor joists to retrieve a bottle of medicinal brandy.
He would take a healthy snort, then slip the bottle back into its place with a wink, saying, “Don’t tell Ma.” Grandma didn’t believe in the therapeutic value of brandy and forbade it in her house.
We would then return upstairs where Grandma had prepared cream and bread along with coffee that was strong enough to dissolve barb wire. All told, a very pleasant experience.
This year’s infinite winter got me to yearning for the comforting contemplation of a wood fire. We have a wood burning furnace in the basement, but it’s more than 30 years old. Like me, it’s past its prime and somewhat smelly.
Being a procrastinator, I didn’t get around to looking for a replacement for the wood furnace until the vernal equinox was nigh. But being a procrastinator can have its benefits because I found a new wood stove that met my requirements – it won’t leak smoke into the house – at a huge discount. Boo-yah.
Grandpa often said “Shoe the horse all around,” so I opted to also buy new stovepipes. A little research – OK, innumerable hours wasted on the Internet – revealed that what I wanted was double-walled stovepipe. Stovepipe lined with shiny stainless steel. Pretty. Although the shiny parts are all inside.
So I went to a local lumberyard to see about double-walled stovepipe. The guy there told me that they had no such pipes on hand and that they would have to order them. I had assumed as much and was fine with that. Please order the pipes.
The lumberyard guy seemed to lose interest as soon as he realized that I wouldn’t be buying something more substantial such as a kit with which I could construct my own Empire State Building.
Things became awkward so I told the guy I would simply order the stovepipes off the Internet.
Somewhat miffed, I went to a nearby big box store. I probably wouldn’t find my stovepipes there, but maybe I could find some retail enthusiasm.
I buttonholed a helpful clerk and described what I wanted. He said he would have to look it up in their catalogue which – you guessed it – lives solely on the Internet.
He couldn’t find the pipes, so I showed him a photo of them on my phone. It seems that some folks are totally lost without a SKU number.
We soon found the right pipes and I told the guy to order them. He said that those particular items couldn’t be sent to the store and that it would be best if I just ordered them myself and that they would be delivered to my house.
So I expended all that effort trying to source stovepipe locally only to be told – twice – that I should order them off the Internet. Which is too bad, because I’m extremely susceptible to mission creep.
When I go to a building center for paint, I never just get paint. I also get brushes and rollers and drop cloths and – hey – look at that spiffy power painter thingamajig. I need one of those.
I will return home with paint and a bunch of paraphernalia and enough other stuff to add a new wing onto Windsor Castle. So the retailers gave up much more than the sale of a few stovepipes.
An email has just informed me that the new pipes will arrive shortly. The Internet is such a wonder, it makes my head spin. Where’s my brandy?
Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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