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Mud and blood brother


On my recent trip home for my folks’ 70th anniversary, I found myself digging in the garden with Brad.
Of my three brothers, Brad’s the one I relate to the least. That’s not to say I don’t like him, it’s just that we have different interests. As kids, he was the least likely to join in a board game or cards, for example, choosing instead to work on a model airplane or other projects. Some of things he built were very impressive, including remote control airplanes, a canoe from a kit, a working steam engine in high school metals class and, my favorite, a real working crossbow with a draw of several thousand pounds.
The stock was made from wood, but the bow part was a leaf spring from a truck Dad brought home. The whole thing went together nicely, except for one problem, there was not a lever big enough or person strong enough to cock the dang thing. Dad came up with the solution. Putting two big blocks of wood on the ground, he laid the bow across makeshift piers and then raised the old Ford up in the air with a jack sitting square in the middle of the metal arc.
The arrow was a quarter inch in diameter steel bar, on which Brad welded fins to one end and a sharpened point on the other. We propped a thick slab of plywood against a couple bales of straw. Letting fly from the end of the driveway, the bolt went through the plywood, the straw, the garage door, the back of the garage, through the kit canoe and disappeared.
Even if he didn’t like to play pinochle, he was a cool brother.
The garden we were tilling for spring planting happens to be behind the garage, but I held no hope of coming across the long lost missile. Over the years, I’ve dug there too many times. Mostly I, or we, dug to prepare the soil for planting. Who heard of a rototiller? Who had one? At least one time, I dug for my own reasons. Best friends Dave Buzzello and Tim Gallagher and I got it in our heads to dig a tiger trap one summer after watching a Tarzan movie.
“Mom, can we dig a tiger trap in the garden?” I asked.
“Okay,” she answered, but threw in the standard caveat. “But if you hurt yourself don’t come crying to me.”
So we dug and dug some more, making a pit deeper than we were tall. Dad came home from work and asked us what the heck we were doing.
Digging a tiger pit we told him, Mom said we could.
“Oh,” he replied, “but if you get hurt...”
Digging up the garden for agricultural purposes, or to catch alpha predators, was child’s play compared to some of the projects Dad signed us on for. The biggest mission by far was to dig the crawl space for a room addition to the house. The folks paid for the foundation to be dug and poured. But when they heard it would cost extra money, probably some piddling amount like $20, to dig out the interior of the 16 by 24 rectangle a light went on in their heads: the boys can do it.
And do it we did, all one hundred thousand pounds of it. Each shovel full had to be lifted three times. Once from the ground to the staging area on the driveway, from the driveway to an old trailer and finally out of the trailer and onto the ground.
We did it together one summer, oldest brother Bruce, Brad and I. Each and every day, we were expected to fill one trailer and dump another. I’m sure we did some whining and bickering, but mostly we worked together hard and long.
So it was with a little bit of history that I took up shovel alongside Brad on this latest trip. I’d only taken a couple of spades full when I hit something flat and solid about six inches under the ground. Was it an old sheet of plywood? A box? A coffin!? I asked Brad but he only grunted as if to say, just keep digging. So I did and eventually uncovered an old rug that Mom must have put down as a kneeler or weed block years ago. In her younger years, something like this could never have gotten by. But now she’s 90 and slipping a little, but just a little.
When the remnant of gardens past finally gave up its place in the dirt, I went to move it to the corner of the plot for future removal. As I hefted it, I realized that there was way too much soil stuck to it. So with some effort I pulled it up in front of me and yelled, “Hey, Brad.” Without a word, he came over and started knocking the chunks off.
Brothers by blood and mud, but not by Monopoly.