Yes, we spent the Summer under construction. The old porch—which my wife called “ratty” but I thought looked “authentic”—(She just yelled: “We’re both right; it was authentically ratty!”) came down, as did the old Cowboy Architecture deck out back—which would have needed quite a bit of improvement to deserve an adjective as lofty as ratty.
That, by the way, is how we solved “The Single Sock Mystery.” That’s right. We all know (too well!) that many socks go into the warsh (proper city of Phil-Elf-Ya pronunciation) in pairs, but become singles by sock-drawer time. There have been many theories about the cause of this age-old mystery: Alien Visitors feeding on Single Socks (SS). Sentient Single Socks (SSS) escaping and finding their way to a remote island, 2500 miles S/SW of Sumatra. Serial Tube Sock Snatchers (STSS) sneaking into our homes and leaving us with one of every possible color.
In those rare instances where a mechanical cause was even considered, dryers always got the blame: Static cling made the Rogue Sock one with the left pant leg of your work jeans. After being washed and dried one too many times, the Single Sock simply became One With The Universe in the lint filter. Sentient Single Socks have learned to cleverly cling unseen to the top of the dryer’s inner drum and then escape at night when the moister air naturally un-Velcro’s them loose…
But I am here today, ladies and gentlemen, to say that none of this is true! The dryers are NOT at fault, no, no, no. It’s not even the aliens! (Cross my antennae!)
And it took our building an addition onto the house to learn the truth…
You see, to make way for the demolition, we had to take down the greenhouse Rodale had built for me back in 1993 to grow plants for the Philadelphia Flower Show. Forget the socks: Now I know where missing pots and six-packs go—under the bench! (Anybody need a couple hundred tomatoes started this Spring?) The top half of the greenhouse came apart fairly easily into big panels, which we stored under the house with all the carefully captured hardware so that we can throw it all away together five years from now when I grudgingly accept the fact that “fairly easily” would probably NOT be one of the phrases I would utter if I tried to put Humpty the Greenhouse together again.
Then two towering tulip poplars and one skinny little brother were removed; a festive, not sad, occasion,
1) Now those #%^&$ Trash Trees won’t be dripping their #%^&$ branches on my roof like fur from a shaggy dog. (Actually, dog fur doesn’t bang on your roof at 3:00 a. m. like a drunken spaceship pilot landing for a pit stop); and:
2) They did it with a 100-foot-high crane. And no matter how old you are, if you have external genitalia, you become a six-year-old boy when a crane that big takes something down where you can watch. Oh, and:
2b) Their equipment was SO butch, it chipped the trunks! Just had the crane lower ten-foot-long sections down, arch them sideways, feed ’em right straight into the giant toothed wheels, and ggrggrrrriinnnnddd, ggggrrrrriiiiinnndddd k’nash, k’nash; p’tooyey!: a mountain of wood chips.
3) If you’re keeping score here in McGrath’s Forest of Poorly Placed Trees, that’s three poplars down, 247 to go.
The one thing we lost that I DID mourn was a cute little pine tree behind the greenhouse. I had “intended” (did you know that the word “intention” is actually Latin for “good thought that is not acted upon”?) to try and transplant it, but then Tony The Builder was out there with the big backhoe revved up, saying “You gonna try and move this thing or what?” I was in tomato sauce up to my el-bows, heard a loud crash from the next room over, and when I screamed “What’s THAT?”, my 12-year-old son answered “Eh—Nothing dad! Honest!” much too quickly, and we were already in the 8th month of a half-year-long tree-killing drought, and…
“Oh, heck—’What’, Tony—the answer is ‘What.’”
I had already cleared some small trees from the other side of the fence (that prevents our Great Pyrenees from doing belly flops into the neighbor’s pond). But when that little pine came down as well, the effect was staggering: You could see actual sunlight striking parts of the garden! (Some plants had to hide behind the sweet corn until they could find their Salvia Screen and Sunflower Glasses.) And a big patch of [insert sound of Angelic chorus] Morning Sun was hitting the back of the yard! The only thing that has ever hit the back of that yard before was me when it was bad!
I had always had a “Minnesota attitude” towards the plants I had inherited with the house—if they weren’t dead, I couldn’t replace them. But now, with an “it’s not my fault” Get Out of Gardening Jail FREE card in my hot little hands, I could actually think about—dare I say it?—landscaping the place! Jump back, Martha—your boy McG gonna put some peach trees in back there while you’re up the river making little doilies out of big doilies!
And that’s not all! After they took down the old porch and deck, they dug a big pit for the new full basement I am getting to replace the greenhouse. Huh? Yes, I know; it’s a basement. But it’ll work. I have lights. A plan. Really.
“Pat? What do YOU want? Oh, OK.”
“Harrumph. Sorry for the interruption but Peerless Publisher Pat has asked that the following warning be inserted here: “HEY KIDS; DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME! This man is a trained [fill in the noun of your choice; no lesser mammals please]! Thank you.”
…Which made for the biggest honking pile of dirt I ever done seed. It quickly filled the back of the yard, and there was lots more to come. So the guys asked if there was any place I could use 50 or 60 tons of fairly poor soil. I suggested they just dump it on the other side of the fence and I “would figure out what to do with it later” (see “Greenhouse,” above). But instead, they said:
“Well, we heard you talking about how you can’t expand your garden any because the road’s in front and it drops off into that steep gully in back. You know, we got enough dirt here to fill up a good part of that gully and make it flush with the back of your garden. It might close to double the space you got to garden now.”
Forget cueing the Angelic chorus. I had to sit down for awhile and remind myself to breathe.
It took them only a few hours to achieve this marvel of engineered earth—and they even covered the crown of the giant multiflora rose down there a good 12 feet deep in the process! (I figure maybe a month before it pops back up.)
Now, on top of this big basement is the raison for our addition: a new first-floor master bedroom, in anticipation of our impending geezerhood (and the realization that the kids’ old bedrooms are more Harry Potter than Richie Rich), a spacious new non-ratty porch, and an expanded laundry room.
And it was in the temporary, makeshift laundry (The Room Formerly Known as “Kitchen”) that the Sinister Sock Secret was revealed!
We had to hook the washer up to one of the kitchen sinks. Yes, “one of”: We had two separate sinks put in, back to back, when we redid that room years ago. (We just wanted more than one wet place to pile dirty dishes: It sure worked out!) However, the plumber worried that the sink drain might not be able to handle the sudden outflow when the washer discharged, so we tested it several times. It was excitingly close, but it all drained out with a good inch or two of sink still showing at high tide.
Then one day, a washrag fell into the sink when no one was looking and the kitchen counter got a free power wash. After that, we enforced a Washrag Neutral Zone on that side of the counter.
And yet, a few days later, we once again heard waves lapping against the refrigerator door. We ran in, reached into the sink and found…
It had come out—as yea, I say unto you now, millions of poor unseen sockies had before it—through the drain hose! The mystery of the ages revealed!
…but ONLY because the drain guard in the sink had saved “THE Sock” from the horrors of the septic tank!
Case closed, Mulder.
So now we know—“To The Plumbing, They Are Lost!” Those brave cotton tubes and 50/50 blends. Down the drain. And to think we’ve been blaming the poor dryer all this time.
All right—that solves The Mystery of The Sock. Now, onto The Mystery of Growing Peach Trees! ❖
This story was originally printed in GREENPRINTS No. 52, Winter 2OO2-O3.