Posts Tagged ‘husband’

“Surprise”

March 8, 2012

The problem with giving my husband too much credit for a job well done is that he takes over my project. After I found this sad little kitchen cabinet on the porch of a local antique shop and Bruce talked the owner down a hundred dollars from the asking price, I guess he felt like his bartering skills gave him special privileges.

We stopped off at the hardware store on our way home with the cupboard to pick up some sandpaper blocks and a putty knife I wanted. I planned to scrape the curling peels of paint and sand down the finish to a “distressed” look. I saw the end result in my imagination. Sometimes I don’t have the words to describe what I want. It takes action to reveal my intention.

“You want to do what?” Bruce asked.

“I want to feather out the bare spots, elongate them, flatten the edges of the paint so they don’t look chipped.”

“Why don’t we just refinish it?” Bruce asked.

“I don’t think I want to do that,” I said. “Do you have any idea how many coats of paint are on this cupboard?”  From what I could see of the layers, there were at least four different colors and probably some varnish to boot. “It would take weeks to scrape all that paint off and you don’t even know what’s under all that mess. It could be some ugly-grained wood. Besides, if I don’t like the way it turns out, I can always slather it with a fresh coat of white paint.” 

Bruce and I have refinished our share of furniture. It’s hard work, scraping, sanding, applying chemicals that burn your hands and your nose, that ruin your favorite knock-around clothes.  I have a love for primitive pieces though, and we have rebuilt jelly cupboards, lingerie chests, dressers, wardrobes, and farm tables.  My favorites are the pine pieces we’ve refinished with their warm tiger stripe grain glowing a soft golden brown when rubbed with tung or linseed oil.  With this project, I didn’t feel up to the intensive labor involved in stripping it. Besides, this was the cabinet I fell in love with, not some undressed version in Bruce’s imagination.

He bent down and looked under one of the shelves. “Might be pine,” he said, plying me with possibility, but I was trying to stand firm in my conviction. I really liked the distressed look of the kitchen cabinet, and that weary façade enhanced the chicken wire covering the areas where there was once glass.

I ran my hand across the cupboard door. I turned the wooden spool knob. I wondered about the family who first owned this piece and how proud they must have been to have it standing in their kitchen. “Look at it,” I said. “It’s charming just like it is. All it needs is a little TLC, just some touch-ups, a little scraping and sanding, that’s all.”

“It needs a whole lot more than that,” Bruce mumbled under his breath. Louder, he argued, “I don’t think it would be so hard to strip it,” as he scraped at the peeling paint with his chisel, sending little chips flying toward me and raining down on my head. He wiped away the paint dust with his hand. “See,” he said, “not hard at all.”

Once the man gets an idea into his head, it’s there. He doesn’t listen.  I tried again. “Do you see how the front of the cabinet looks?” I asked, pointing to the areas of worn paint with wood grain showing through. “That’s how I want the whole thing to look.”

“Let’s see what the wood looks like underneath,” Bruce pushed. “Here, I’ll turn it over and scrape a section that’s not so noticeable.”

“No, that’s alright. I’m going to work on scraping and sanding. You go ahead and work on that lawnmower carburetor over there.” Bruce shrugged his shoulders and turned to his workbench, picked up the carburetor, his screwdriver, and began working on the hunk of metal in his hand.

I took up my putty knife and began scraping the curls of paint. When all the loose paint was chipped off, I took the coarse sandpaper block and started the back and forth rubbing that softens the edges of chipped paint. The emerging hints of wood beneath shone gray under the paint. A fine white dust powdered the floor under my ministrations.

After three hours of sanding, the bottom of the cabinet was looking like I wanted it. I stood back, pushed my hair off my forehead with the back of my hand, rolled the tension out of my shoulders, and wiped my dusty hands down the front of my jeans. I turned to Bruce who was putting the carburetor back on the lawnmower. “What do you think?” I asked.

“Can’t see a whole lot of difference from here,” he said, getting up and walking over.  He reached out and ran his hand over the sanded areas. “Ok, I see what you’re doing. And you like the way this looks?” He asked with a frown.

“I think so, but I’m not finished yet.  I won’t really know until I get more of it done. I’m a little worried about the shelf here though,” I said, running my fingers over the work surface of the cabinet. It had suffered the most damage from years of being used as a cutting board or chopping block. “It has some places that are really gouged out.”

Bruce bent down and lifted his glasses to peer under them. “Look, the paint’s a lot thicker on this part. I don’t think it’s going to feather like you want it to,” he said, chipping at a small crater with the putty knife.

“We’ll see,” I said. “Anyway, I think I’m done with it for today. I have the funeral to go to in South Hill tomorrow. I’ll work on it again Monday.” My best friend Trisha’s mother had died and the service was three hours away.

I left for the funeral the next morning and didn’t think much about my little cabinet in the garage until I pulled back into the driveway late that evening. The light was on in the garage, and the door was open. I smelled the high-inducing fumes of lacquer thinner. I felt my stomach drop as the realization and dread filled me.  I took a deep breath and looked through the door.

There was my cabinet, turned on its side with my husband bent over it, covered in paint dust. He looked up at me and grinned with his excitement.  I stood there stunned, absolutely stunned. It was like coming home to a room whose walls had been a familiar white to find them painted purple. I couldn’t speak. All I could do was stare.

Bruce called out a hearty, “Surprise!”

Yep, I was surprised.

“ I’d have gotten more done, but I thought you were going to be gone longer,” he said.

“Oh,” I said with a weak smile. “You’ve been busy.”

“Worked on it all day long for you. What do you think?”

What could I tell him? That I wanted to cry? That I wanted to ask him what in the heck he thought he was doing? That I wished he’d stuck to repairing his lawnmowers and left my cabinet alone? That I wanted to turn back time and give his free day back to him again? That I hated what he’d done?

Half of the cabinet was down to its natural wood.  All the chicken wire had been pulled loose and was in a tangle on the garage floor, and Bruce had worked the whole day on the cabinet…for me. He was happy. He thought I’d be happy. “I’ve been thinking,” Bruce said.

From the looks of it, he’d been doing more than thinking. “Yeah?” I asked.

“Are you OK?” he asked, looking at me and frowning.

“I’m OK, just tired. It was a long trip and just such a sad day,” I said.

“Oh shoot, I didn’t think,” he said, straightening up and coming over to put an arm around me. “How was the funeral and your trip?”

“Lots of people there,” I said, hugging him and staring over his shoulder at my half naked cabinet. “She was loved. Trisha did alright. I didn’t stay for the meal afterward. I wanted to get home before dark, thought I might work on the cabinet a little before I went to bed.”

Bruce isn’t one for funerals or emotion. He doesn’t talk about his feelings or ask me about mine much. He does tangible things to show his love and support, like refinishing a piece of furniture.

“So, what I was thinking,” he went on after his brief assessment of my emotional state. “We could put glass back into the top where that god-awful chicken wire was, or do you remember the tin my Daddy put in the pie safe he made? He got a pattern from a book and punched the tin himself with a hammer and nail. We could do that.”

“I really hadn’t thought beyond sanding it,” I said.

“Well, let’s sleep on it,” Bruce offered. “We’ll figure it out tomorrow.”

Yep, tomorrow, I thought. We’ll have to figure this mess out tomorrow.

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The Lure of Chicken Wire

February 29, 2012

Have you ever fallen in love with a piece of furniture? Out of the blue, just looked at it and said, “Oh my gosh, I have to have that dresser,” or “that’s the prettiest blanket chest I’ve ever laid eyes on,”  or “I can’t imagine sleeping under any other headboard but that one?”  Well it happened to me again on Saturday. I was driving past the Greenwood Country Store, and there it sat on the front porch, pretty as you please, a kitchen cabinet.  It called to me. I could hear it through the closed windows of the car, and as I got closer, I realized this was the exact same piece of furniture I had missed out on five years before.

It looked at me and said, “I need a home.”

And it did.  I felt just as sorry for that piece of furniture as I would a stray dog. It almost looked the same as it had five years before, but was now a bit worse for wear.  When I parked the car in front of the store, I was also in front of the cabinet. It was like a hoosier cabinet, but a poor man’s version. It stood about five feet tall, three feet wide, and two feet deep. The bottom half had closed doors with a wooden spool knob. The top was what grabbed my heart though. At one time, I think the cabinet doors had four panes of glass, but something must have happened to break them, because in their place, was chicken wire.

The last time I saw this piece of furniture was at the antique sale at the park in town. The cupboard had a three hundred fifty dollar price tag then, and I didn’t have the funds to buy it. Bruce said he wasn’t putting three hundred fifty dollars into anything that had chicken wire stapled to the front of it.

“Oh I’ve found you,” I said to the little cabinet, knowing this was a match that was meant to be. I got out of the car and stepped up beside the piece of furniture. I pushed on it to see how sturdy it was. It stood solidly, didn’t even groan under my weight.  I opened the cabinet doors to find four holes drilled into the back, and a shelf missing. There were layers and layers of peeling white paint on the outside and someone had painted the upper inside of the cabinet turquoise. Still, it made my heart happy to find it even in the shape it was in.

The bell jangled when I walked into the store.  “Come on in,” the owner said. “How are you today?”

“Doing fine,” I said. “How much you want for the white cabinet on the porch?”

“Two-fifty,” she said.

Well that was better than its original price of three-fifty, but with all the wear, the holes and peeling paint. I still didn’t like it two-fifty worth.  I called Bruce.

“What kind of shape is it in?” He asked.

I explained.

“Where are you gonna put it?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “But I really like it. Remember we saw it a few years ago? Beverly showed it to us at the antique show and I wanted it then.  I still want it.”

I could hear Bruce scrubbing his face with his hand, trying to remember something that he hadn’t liked to begin with, and not having luck.

“I know you remember the chicken wire,” I said, trying to make him remember.

“No, I don’t,” he mumbled, and then said something about wanting a Mercedes Benz himself, but not needing one.

“You ought to see it though,” I said. “At least come look at it.”

“The trailer’s hooked to the truck. I’m not going to drag all the lawn mowers up to Greenwood. Offer her one-fifty and see what she says.”

I walked around the store. I hate haggling. My mother’s an antique dealer and my husband wheels and deals all day long with equipment. I was not born with the haggle gene.  I looked at china plates, antique school desks, framed prints of horses and children, silver plated tea sets, and tin biscuit cutters. I wasn’t interested in any of those items. I was gathering courage.

“Would you take less for the cabinet?” I asked.

“How much less?” the owner asked, looking out the window at my little kitchen cabinet.

“One fifty?” I asked.  I know I flinched when I said it. That offer seemed like a slap in the face to me.

“I can’t take less than two hundred,” she said. “The couple next door bought it from me for three-fifty, used it as an entertainment center until they found something better. They’d like to at least get two hundred for it, no less.”

Now I knew why there were holes in the back, and it made me mad. Why do people want to ruin something perfectly wonderful?  “I’m just not sure I can afford two hundred, and they drilled holes in the back,” I complained, hoping she’d see my side. When she didn’t come around, I said, “Let me call my husband.”

I went back out to the car and called Bruce back. “Come and get me,” he said. “I’ll ride with you to take a look at it.”

As I drove home, I thought about someone happening upon the store and my cabinet, whisking it out from under me before I got back. I drove like a mad woman, taking all those crooked back roads like something big and bad was chasing me. I kept hearing that cabinet call my name.

When we arrived back at the store, Bruce got out and stood in front of the cupboard.  He frowned and I just smiled big, so excited to find it again, to have the opportunity to actually own it, hoping my enthusiasm would rub off on my husband.  “You realize its been sitting out here in the weather for awhile don’t you?” He asked me. “The paint’s peeling. Who drilled holes in the back?  There’s a shelf missing.”

My little cabinet sagged under Bruce’s scrutiny and insults. Leave it to Bruce to point out everything about that beautiful piece of furniture that needed fixing.  I countered with every good point I could think of. “It’s a perfect small size for the house. It has good storage space. It’s quaint and original.”

“Original is the word alright. Whoever saw chicken wire on the front of a kitchen cabinet? The only thing chicken wire will keep out of a kitchen cabinet is chickens and they don’t roam around inside the house.”

“The chicken wire was what drew me to it in the first place,” I said. “It’s my favorite part of the piece. Don’t you remember it now?”

He didn’t.

We walked into the store and Bruce scanned the shelves, picking up old tools, looking for a brass belt buckle. He showed the owner a picture of the vintage candy machine he has in the garage. He wants to sell it and hoped she’d put it on consignment.  He stalled, not saying a thing about my cabinet, making me squirm.

Finally, he asked the owner about the piece of furniture. She repeated her story to him. “I can’t take less than two hundred. The couple is already losing money on it.”

“They didn’t do it any favors by drilling holes in the back, adding that turquoise paint or letting it sit outside for the paint to peel.  I can’t see putting more than one-fifty into it,” Bruce said, turning back to a cross cut saw on the shelf closest to me.

I had my checkbook with me. I had two hundred dollars. I was willing to write the check, hand it to her. The little white piece of furniture was out there on the front porch, begging. I inhaled, starting to say something, but Bruce shot a look at me.  I kept quiet, but the owner didn’t budge.

“You open tomorrow?” Bruce asked.

I had a funeral to go to the next day. I couldn’t come back the next day. Someone might buy it before the next day. What was my husband thinking?

“Twelve to five,” the owner said.

“We might be back,” Bruce said, taking my hand and leading me out the door.

My hang-dog look didn’t stop him. Bruce didn’t turn back, didn’t even look back, didn’t slow his stride. He walked out the door and past my cupboard. It whined behind me. I followed Bruce, planning to give him a piece of my mind once we were in the car. I’d stomp back into that store and buy my cabinet, support or no support from my husband.  We stepped off the porch, Bruce opened the car door for me, and I sat down heavily into the seat, crossing my arms over my chest. Before he could close the car door though, the owner came out with a cell phone pressed to her ear. She held up a hand, beckoning us to wait.

“They said they’ll take one seventy-five,” she said.

“Tell them we’ve got one-fifty,” Bruce said.

I held my breath, and so did the cabinet.

I beamed as we placed my little kitchen cabinet gently into the back of the Honda.  “Come on little cabinet, we’re going home where you belong,” I said, hearing the piece of furniture sigh contentedly as I closed the hatch.

We got in the car and left the store behind. “Thank you,” I said to Bruce, leaning over to give him a peck on the cheek.

“Chicken wire,” Bruce said with disdain as he shook his head.

Birthday Presence

November 14, 2011

 

Tonight I opened the hinged wooden box on my dresser and dropped a solid white glass marble and a 2003 copper penny into it. The two items found their own spots among the collection in the small pine container.  They joined a menagerie of keepsakes including a rusted gate hinge, a quartz rock, a hand-forged nail, a triplet of brown acorns attached at the stem, a brass button with an anchor embossed on it, a heart shaped rock,  and a small scrap of blue paper folded in fourths. I smiled at the contents.  If the house should catch fire, and my family and animals were safe outside, I’d grab this box second only to the photographs of my children.  

I’ve known Bruce for thirty-three of my fifty birthdays. As I sat in a hotel bed this morning, sipping the cup of coffee he brought me, I tried to think of the birthday presents he’s given me over the years.  I can’t remember a single wrapped gift placed in my hand or on a table in front of me. Bruce hasn’t even presented me with the proverbial vacuum cleaner that women complain about.  He’s not one for fancy trimmings, romantic gestures, or grand hoopla.  What he does, is proclaim a rousing “Happy Birthday,” and then, he gives up his whole day to me.

This year I wanted to go to Chincoteague, to spend the weekend of my birthday walking the grounds of the wildlife refuge, feeling that ever-present wind blow through my hair. I wanted to take as many photographs as the memory card could hold, and wander the island thrift stores in search of a good book to read. I didn’t want to cook. We packed the car and left early Friday morning. We didn’t come back until tonight.  

When I was a little girl, I remember making wishes on my birthday candles. This year, fifty candles would cover the entire cake top. Even at my age, I still make birthday wishes.  When I think back on it, I’ve rarely wished for things, even when I was very young. What I mostly wished for was the presence of someone I loved, or the presence of someone who would love me.  

Saturday we woke early and rode over to our half acre lot. I pulled out the folding chair, and sat at the edge of Big Glade Creek, reading Out of Africa while Bruce ran the weed eater for the final time this year. Canada Geese honked overhead in their migration south, ripples stirred across the top of the water and the few leaves left on the trees rustled in the breeze. I smelled wood smoke in the cool air.  I didn’t hear Bruce come up behind me, but I felt his presence.  “Hold out your hand and close your eyes,” he said.

I did. When I opened my eyes again, there was a round white glass marble there.

“I think it’s a pearl,” he said laughing and bending to kiss my cheek.

“First real pearl I’ve ever gotten,” I said, admiring my gift.

“Must have come out of an oyster in this very creek,” he said. “I found it a few feet from here.”

I put it in the pocket of my jeans. Bruce went back to work on the broom sage, and I went back to reading.

That same evening, we walked the beach of Assateague, picking up and admiring shells. I was turning a conch over in my hand, watching the light play off  its pink iridescent wet underside, when Bruce bent down and picked up a shiny copper disk in the surf.  “Look,” he said, handing it to me, “pirate treasure.”

“2003,” I said, holding the penny up close to my bifocals. “Some of Jack Sparrow’s booty maybe, but not Black Beard’s.”

Bruce shrugged his shoulders. “Treasure’s treasure,” he said. “Doesn’t matter where it comes from.”

I put the penny in my pocket with the white marble. We walked on, continuing to search the shoreline, stopping to watch a boy skip shells off the waves, and another learn to fly a kite.

Tonight when I opened the treasure box on my dresser and dropped my two new gifts inside, I glanced at the other things housed there, each one special,  each one given to me by a man who doesn’t use pretty paper or ribbon to wrap his gifts to me. He wraps them in memories.

A Post Hurricane Update

September 3, 2011

I was called to help un-evacuate the elders from our sister facility in Hampton Roads on Sunday after hurricane Irene. Eight of us spent fourteen hours transporting, reassuring, feeding, assisting, and making comfortable thirty-one displaced and replaced elders. The trip gave me almost two days overtime, and permission for another trip to Chincoteague. Bruce was anxious to check on the dock.

We turned the corner, and with relief, found the dock, but not in the water. It had beached itself during the hurricane.

Bruce got out of the car, stepped up onto the 16×12 ft. structure, now perched on shore among the trees,  and he bounced around a bit. “Still in good shape,” he said.

“It’s on dry land,” I said. “We’re going to have to hire someone with a bulldozer to push it back into the water.”

He looked at me and laughed.  “Did you ever attend a sixth grade science class?” he asked me.

I’m sure I looked confused.

“Simple tools,” he stated. “Did you learn about wheels, levers, fulcrums, inclined planes?”

OK, those terms sounded familiar. Seems to me I studied drawings.

“Let’s find a tree limb,” he said.

There were plenty to choose from after Irene’s winds.  He picked up a long piece of pine, wedged it under the dock and pushed. That mammoth structure moved. I was amazed, stood with my mouth open. “You moved it,” I said.

“Yep, you going to just stand there, or help?” he asked.

I went and got the camera. I had to have a picture of my man with his tool.  

Along the Shoreline

August 20, 2011

We take our teenager to the beach today. He wants to show off his new swimming trunks, splash in the surf, girl-watch, and ride a few waves. Bruce and I don’t have to run after Ryan now, we can sit in beach chairs and let him swim on his own. He keeps us in sight; and while Bruce naps behind dark shades, I look up from my book every so often to make sure I see Ryan’s head bobbing above the waves.

 Bruce and I gave up worshiping the sun awhile back. We are content to sit in our folding chairs under the shade of a striped umbrella, share a smoked turkey sandwich with tomato slices from the garden and a bag of potato chips. He drinks iced tea and I pull a bottle of water from the cooler for myself. Between chapters and naps, we chat about our boys, Ryan’s upcoming school year, and Ben’s obsession with finding a truck.

Bruce takes off his glasses, pushes up from the arms of the chair, sneaks me a kiss, and grabs the boogie board, heading in Ryan’s direction. I know how the water draws the boy in Bruce to it. His strides are long and sure as he steps into the surf. I grab the camera and run to the water’s edge to capture a father/son moment.

As I make my way back to the umbrella, I hear the cell phone ringing in the side pocket of the cooler. I answer the phone to my Dad’s voice. It’s been almost a month since my step-mother died. The loss has been hard on him. They’d been married thirty years. We talk for a few minutes about the weather, our vacation, and the boys.

“What have you been up to?” I ask.

“Cleaning out drawers,” he says, with a small catch in his voice.  I want to reach through the phone and hug him.  “I clean awhile and cry awhile,” he says. “When I can’t take it anymore, I go outside. That helps.”

“You know Labor Day Weekend is coming up,” I say. “Why don’t you plan a trip to our house and join us for a picnic?”

I hear him flipping the pages on his desk calendar, the one that has all of his and my step-mother’s doctor’s appointments written in it. “I could come for a few days,” he says. “My dentist appointment isn’t until the following Wednesday.”

I tell him I’ll invite his sister, my Aunt Marsha, Bruce’s parents, our friend Robert, and his girlfriend.

“Tell your Mom and Gilly to come too,” he says.

“OK,” I say. “We’ll make a day of it.”

“I’ll be in touch before the first of September,” he says.

“Do you need anything?” I ask.

He pauses, a long pause. “No,” he says in a very small voice.

“I love you,” I say.

“I love you too,” he replies, and the line disconnects.

I hang up the phone and look out to the horizon, catching a glimpse of my husband and son, riding waves and splashing each other. I pick up the camera again and walk toward them.

In the periphery of my vision I catch a glimpse of a military cap, the kind my Dad wears with the name of his ship, The USS America on it. I turn and find it on the head of an elderly man who’s walking hand in hand with the woman he loves.

I follow them for a few minutes, watching as they take slow, careful steps along the shoreline. They don’t talk, but every once in a while one squeezes the hand of the other.

 I lift my camera to take a picture. I want to capture this moment, not for them, but for myself.

I feel a cold spray on my back. I turn to find my husband cupping more water in his hands to splash me again. I put the camera in my pocket and bend down to the water to give him just as good as he gets.

A Boat, Wrapped in Red Tape

August 12, 2011

Bruce and I have spent a month in the garage, just the two of us. July and August are miserable in Virginia. Humidity hangs in the air, and we’ve had two weeks straight of temperatures in the upper nineties with no relief.  I sit in a dry-docked boat, no water lapping at the sides, no ocean breeze, no cool drink. Sweat runs down my forehead and drips into my eyes. Box fans don’t cut it.  I remove my glasses again, wipe at the salty sting, and curse the day we decided to buy a boat. How could this much work be worth it?

We have less than a week before our Chincoteague trip and not only are we still without a title, we don’t even  know whether the Evinrude outboard motor will run. It sits, attached to the end of the boat, its cover off, wires, like wild hairs, stick up in all directions.

Bruce stripped the boat when we got it home. The hull was fairly sound, but everything else needed an overhaul.  I’m no mechanic, nor am I a carpenter, and I’m certainly no boat repairwoman, but I have cleaned, scraped, sanded, and patched fiberglass, measured, cut and pieced the wood flooring, laid carpet, stapled upholstery, cursed bolts into uncooperative holes, then held parts in place while Bruce cursed the same bolts. He’s in charge and I’m the fed-up helper. We’ve barked at each other, pulled ourselves up and over the side of the vessel hundreds of times, and so far, our only reward has been a dizzying high of inhaled epoxy and fabric adhesive.

My back can’t take much more. Last night, I stretched out in the bottom of the boat, looked up into the spackled sheetrock of the garage ceiling, and grieved the loss of seven hundred fifty-two dollars spent on this sixteen foot untitled, unregistered, illegitimate watercraft.

My plan had been for Bruce do the boat repairs while I handled the paperwork involved in getting the title and registration for the boat.  I found that although I’m very efficient in collecting the evidence needed, the state of New Jersey and the state of Virginia are in no hurry to help me.

I go to the mailbox each afternoon, hold my breath, reach inside and look for that Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries envelope. Our illusive title is so close. The process began June  24th, but nothing involving the government is easy or quick.  

The state of Virginia requires that a buyer without a title (that’s stupid us), make every effort to contact the previous owner of the boat to obtain the original title. This involves sending a certified letter, return receipt requested.  If the title is not available, the former owner is asked to send his own certified letter, to us, stating that the title is lost. If the previous title-holder has been searching for his boat, he must send a letter stating that he wants it returned immediately as it’s been lost or stolen. If the past owner is dead or has moved without a forwarding address, our certified letter is required to hang around the post office for fifteen days, after which time, it is stamped as undeliverable and returned to us. Our letter was mailed July 6th. We tracked its location online and waited. The letter returned to us, unopened, undeliverable and un-signed for on July 26th

The state of Virginia also requires that the unopened certified letter, along with a copy of the letter inside the sealed envelope, the New Jersey lien-holder form, a copy of the bill of sale, copy of the cancelled check, copy of the former registration/title holder information, a notarized  Affidavit for Transfer of Watercraft Registration/Title form, all be sent to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  Within thirty days, if all checks out, we receive a title in the mail.  Thirty days from July 26th is August 25th.  Our vacation falls in the middle. We’re screwed.

 Bruce punches numbers into his cell phone.  He explains what we have done so far, that the papers and the check are in the mail.  “There’s no way to float this boat until we get a title?”  he asks the person on the other end at The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

 The nice lady directs us to Walmart, where we receive our temporary boat registration. It’s good for thirty days. The form states however, in big bold letters across the top: “This form does not constitute ownership.” 

No worries. No one, not even the two of us want to own it at this point.

Caveat Emptor

August 3, 2011

So much for my long romantic weekend of boating. I found out on the way back home, you cannot put a boat in Virginia waters without a valid title.

“I thought not having a title didn’t matter,” I accused, staring at the side of my husband’s face in the dark car.  He’d spent the day rewiring the boat trailer, repacking the wheel bearings, adjusting the motor mount on the Evinrude and swatting the biting flies and blood sucking mosquitoes of Seaside Heights, New Jersey.  It was now twenty-three hours into the trip and I was testy.

Bruce shrugged. “I didn’t think it would be a problem. I still don’t.  How hard can it be to get a boat title?”

“Well according to that man at the rest stop back there, he’s glad he’s not in your shoes. He mentioned something about to Hell and back.”

We arrived home exactly twenty-four hours and twenty minutes after we left. I was so tired I didn’t care about being mad anymore. I could be mad tomorrow.  I fell into bed and slept twelve hours straight.

When I woke, Bruce was gone.

I dragged myself into the kitchen and poured cold coffee into my mug. I looked out the window into the backyard. There was my husband. He had pulled the boat trailer into the grass and was stripping the inside, tossing parts and pieces into the yard.  Boat seats, strips of carpet, plywood flooring, vinyl covered bumpers, a fire extinguisher, three bright orange life preservers and a long handled fishing net littered the ground.  Bruce’s shirt was off. He was embroiled in serious business.

I turned away from the window, poured myself a bowl of cereal, and sat at the table, drowning my disappointment in the sweetness of Cap’n Crunch. Fatigue, hours spent in a car, not in a boat, and the realization that not having a title might mean we’d be sailing no further than the yard or driveway, put me in a rare funk.  I’m not touching that boat until I’m sure we’ll be able to use it, I thought.

Bruce came in a little while later. “You want to ride with me to Ace Marine in Stuarts Draft?” He asked. “I need to look about a new bilge pump, and some other things.”

On the way over the mountain to the boat dealership, Bruce talked non-stop about flooring, fiberglass, repair and patch kits, marine grade vinyl and indoor/outdoor carpeting.  The boat needed two new car batteries, the bilge pump, some half inch pressure treated plywood, a few two by fours, and new stringers.  I recognized some items, but was clueless about others.  I remembered his comment about this being the only boat he’d ever owned.  He sure seemed to know a whole lot more about the Larson Shark than I did.  It seemed he’d given up online auctions for boating websites now.  

We browsed the aisles and shelves of the boating store. The salespeople were outside showing brand new vessels, so we were able to pick up items, compare prices and talk without interruption. As we looked at various types of anchors, a miniature dachshund came wagging his tail in our direction. His toenails clipped along the floor and he walked right up to Bruce for a head pat.  “Well aren’t you the cutest one,” Bruce said, reaching down to rub the little brown dog.

“Charlie, where are you?” A woman’s voice called from the back room. She stuck her head out the door and whistled.  The little dog left us, running in the direction of his master.  She picked him up and noticed us alone in the showroom.

“Hi, didn’t realize anyone was in here. Anything I can help you folks with?”

“You don’t happen to know anything about titling a boat in the state of Virginia do you?” Bruce asked.

She laughed. “Do it all the time here. That’s my job. I complete the paperwork for the boat sales,  get the registrations, titles, all that stuff.”

“We bought a boat in New Jersey in an online auction,” Bruce said. “How hard is it to get a title in Virginia?”

“Not hard at all. You just take the New Jersey title to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and have it transferred to your name.”

“We didn’t get a title with it,” I said.

The woman frowned. “No title, huh?  Well that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.  If it was in Virginia, I’d know what to do, but since it’s from New Jersey, I’m not sure.  Tell you what, if you can give me a few minutes, I can make a phone call for you and find out.”

Bruce thanked her as she walked back to her office, then he turned to me and grinned, as if to say, “See, no big deal, she’s gonna fix everything for us.”

I rolled my eyes.

“You got the hull number with you?” She called from the other room.

Bruce pulled the information from his pocket and took it to her. We stood just outside the door, petting Charlie, who’d come back out to visit us.

I listened as the woman began the quest on our behalf. She was transferred from one person to the next, then to someone else and again to someone else. She was put on hold and transferred again, and again. She was more patient than I would have been. If it was me, I’d have handed the phone to Bruce so he was the one pushing buttons, and repeating information over and over again.

After a good ten minutes, she hung up the phone and handed us a piece of paper.  “You have to go on the New Jersey DMV website and get the D-21 form, print it off, fill it out, attach the information you have and send it to them with fifteen dollars.  They will check to see if there’s a lien on the boat. If you’re lucky and there isn’t one, you get to go on to the next step. The website explains it all.”

“Wow,” Bruce said. “I never thought about liens.”

“All I can say is good luck. Glad I’m not in your shoes,” she said. “You may get the boat in the water by next summer.  Sorry it’s not better news. Sounds like a lot of red tape.”

I thanked her for her time and for the information. She was the second person in two days who was glad not to be in my husband’s shoes.  Bruce put down the anchor he’d picked out and we walked back to the car empty handed. “Damn,” he said.

I patted his back. “Let’s go home, look up this website and print off the form. It’s not like we stole the boat.  We’ll just take this mess one step at a time.”

Bruce dropped his head. If he had been a little boy, he would have kicked the dirt with the toe of his boot. “I wanted to get her into the water on our next trip to Chincoteague,” he grumbled.

“We’ll get it straight,” I reassured him. “I’ll take care of the forms and you can concentrate of fixing up the boat. Just think, the extra time will give us a chance to do it up nice.  She’ll be the prettiest ’71 Larson Shark out there when we get her into the water.”

“If we get her in the water,” he muttered.

The Skipper and His Little Buddy

July 16, 2011

The email Stated: Congratulations! You are High Bidder.  

Then in bold letters:

Note: Failure to pay for this item as agreed to in the terms and conditions will result in a server fee of 40% of your winning bid.  Promptly contact the seller to discuss terms and conditions, times and location for pickup/delivery options, etc.

The terms and conditions box was blank.

We waited two days to receive an email with instructions from the Seaside Heights, New Jersey Fire Department. Nothing.

“I’m sending an email tonight,” Bruce said. “We’re not asking them if it’s alright to come on Friday to pick up the boat. We’re telling them we’re coming for it.  If I have to stick the check under a door somewhere, we’re hitching to a boat trailer and hauling it away from there.”

He woke me at 2:22 Friday morning.  “You ready to go?”

I turned over to the smell of coffee brewing and could see the light from the kitchen across the hall. I’d taken the day off for a long weekend of travel to pick up our newly purchased boat. I was sure we’d get in some actual boating too.

I hadn’t planned to start the trip quite that early though. There is no going back to sleep once Bruce and the coffee are percolating. It was too late to coax him back to bed.  I groaned and pulled the covers over my head. 

“Can you go without me?” I mumbled from under the sheet.

He laughed and pulled the covers off me quick, like a band aid.

I grabbed for the sheet, but my reflexes were still asleep. Curling into a ball, I mumbled, “OK, OK, give me at least five minutes to wake up.”

He reached out, pulled me up to a sitting position and put the coffee cup in my hands. I sipped and watched him stuff clothes into his overnight bag.  I’d packed my things the night before and put them in the car along with all the stuff from the garage he’d already packed, the toolbox, spare parts, grease gun, shop towels, bungee cords, and other things I didn’t recognize.  I wondered why we needed so much stuff just to hook a trailer to the car and head to a water adventure.  I shrugged; Bruce always over-prepares.

We headed out of the driveway at 2:38 a.m. and traveled north. Bruce’s goal was to miss the rush-hour traffic in DC and Baltimore.  Once we got out of that area, he figured we would have, as he said smiling, “Smooth sailing.”

We set our compass on the computer generated directions, skirted the DC traffic at daybreak, and enjoyed the view from the interstate, including Baltimore harbor, the wide Susquehanna, and the Delaware River from the Memorial suspension bridge linking Delaware to New Jersey. As I peered over bridge railings to each body of water below, I imagined us in our boat, cruising along, stretched out in the sun, drinking something cold, and fishing.

We don’t leave Virginia often, so we’re used to a slower pace of navigation than what whizzes past north of us. The New Jersey turnpike turned out to be different from what we’re used to.  Where we come from, you pay tolls when you enter the highway. We sat confused over the ticket we received at the toll booth.  We couldn’t find an attendant to ask what to do with it.

We looked around for cops.

“Take off,” Bruce said, trying to read the fine print on the piece of paper.  “If they pull us over, we’ll plead southern ignorance.”

I peeled out and checked in the rearview mirror every few seconds, listened for a screaming siren behind me, expecting to be hauled off to some jail in New Jersey for going Bonnie and Clyde onto the toll road.

The lady at the booth who collected our $1.90 fee when we exited the turnpike laughed at our story. “Welcome to New Jersey,” she said. “Enjoy your weekend.”

We pulled into Seaside Heights under heavy fog.  It’s a small coastal town with cottages, ice cream parlors, a boardwalk, and sixties era motels with names like Sea Breeze, The Neptune, and Cloud 9 Inn. We smelled the salt in the air and the wind came from the east off the Atlantic.  For late June, the place looked deserted.  I glanced at my watch and realized it was still too early in the morning for vacationers to be up and about.   

Finding the firehouse was easy.  It butted up against the police station, and public works department on Sherman Avenue. A big statue of a Dalmatian guarded the two bay doors and the large American flag was snapping overhead in the wind.

The fire chief would certainly be in his office by 8:45 a.m.  Bruce walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. No one answered.  I shrugged and suggested we try the police department. We walked from the street into a small hallway with a door at the end.  Bruce tried to turn the knob, but the door was locked. There were two windows, one on each wall at eye level.  The girl behind the one on the right sat at her desk doing paperwork.  She looked up.

“Can I help you?”

“We’re looking for the Fire Chief,” Bruce said.

“Oh,” she said. “He’s probably not in.  Check across the hall at the Police Department. They can page him for you.”

 We peered into the thick glass window across the hall. In our town, you walk right into the police department, shake hands with the man on duty and fix yourself a cup of coffee. Here, people milled about on the other side of the glass, not paying attention to us.  I pressed the doorbell next to the window.  Still no one looked up.

“Must not work,” Bruce said.

“Try knocking on the glass,” I suggested.

He knocked on the thick glass, making a heavy dull sound, and still no one looked up.

“Do you think the glass is bullet proof?” I asked, excited at the prospect. I hadn’t seen anything bullet proof in my life.

“You think they’re deaf?” Bruce clipped out his frustration.

About that time, a girl moved into view from a hallway behind the window and Bruce frantically waved his arms to try to capture her attention.  She looked up, surprise on her face and came across the floor to us to ask what we needed over an intercom. Bruce explained about the boat.

“Oh yeah, the boat,” the girl said. “I’ll page Sammy for you.”

We stood for awhile and waited. Bruce kept looking at his watch, then up at the window. Finally, he went outside to smoke a cigarette and I walked to the car for some ibuprofen. The turn of events had upped my stress level.  

I had expected to pull right up to the boat at the fire station, endure Bruce’s usual inspection of the equipment, hook to the trailer and head to the water.  I hadn’t expected to wait.  I was leaning against the car, taking deep cleansing breaths of ocean breeze, when an older gentleman wearing a white helmet whizzed past me on a red moped. He stopped in front of Bruce who was leaning over the rail outside the police office.

“You here about the boat?” The man on the Moped asked.

“Yeah, are you the Chief?” Bruce answered.

The man laughed, “Nope, but if you follow me, I’ll take you to look at the boat.”

He waited for us to get in the car and pull out behind him. At the first stop light, I read “Old Guys Rule” on the back of his t-shirt.  Bruce and I looked at each other, smiled and shrugged.

“If this thing is in awful shape,” Bruce said, “we’re leaving it behind, sale or no sale.  They didn’t list anything about what shape it was in, didn’t return phone calls and didn’t list terms or conditions.  Seems like we have an out if we need one.  I hope the trailer’s not a bucket of rust or the wheels aren’t dry rotted.  It might be so rough we can’t pull it.”

Now I really did feel like Bonnie and Clyde.  Bruce would inspect, give the signal, jump into the car and I’d be the get-away driver.  I hate conflict and confrontation. I’m lost without a GPS, and with my luck, we’d end up right back at the Police station where we’d be arrested for non-payment. No one we know would make the trip to New Jersey to bail us out of the brig.   I prayed for an intact hull, and decent wheels with no rust on the trailer.

We crossed the bridge to Pelican Island and turned right into a neighborhood with neat yards and bay views.  A couple left turns later, I spotted the boat from the auction website photos. Its bright, spring green hull screamed “Far Out”, and suddenly I wanted to don bell bottoms, a peasant shirt and let my long straight hair loose again.  My index and middle fingers raised to form a peace symbol.

The “Old Guy” on the Moped, whose name coincidentally happened to be Guy, introduced himself as the treasurer of the fire department. My husband shook his hand, but didn’t stick around for pleasantries. He left the two of us standing in the street while he inspected the boat, motor and trailer.

Guy was a salesman.  He obviously hadn’t been informed of the done-deal sale because he kept touting the positives to me: “Sound hull, no cracks in the windshield, decent seats,” he said.  “Man offered me three hundred bucks just for the trailer not too long ago. The man who donated it said he’d put a new floor in and all the motor needs is a tune up, maybe a spark plug.”

Bruce is never so easily convinced and doesn’t take anybody’s word for condition. Guy finally got tired of watching Bruce pull aside carpet, poke around the dash, flip levers, and fiddle with the engine. He perched on the seat of his moped and gave me the skinny on the boat.

“Fella who donated it never did bring us the title to it.  I’ve got his name, address, phone number and last registration for the boat and the trailer.  He kept promising to bring the titles by the station, but never did.  What’s the fire department gonna do with a ’72 tri-hull?” He asked.

The tires on the trailer had lost pressure and the boat had been sitting for so long, the tires had sunk into the sand. Bruce kicked the rubber, then bent down and rubbed the sides. “No dry rot,” he said. He picked up the tongue of the trailer and rolled it backward.

Guy was in awe. “That thing’s heavy,” he said. “Hey want to use my compressor to pump the tires?”

“Brought my own pump,” Bruce said, extricating the bicycle hand pump from the car.

“Whew, you got more stamina than me,” Guy said, watching Bruce pump the handle while the tires inched fatter with air.  Both held. Bruce’s look made me think I’d be leaving with a boat. I let out a breath just like the valve stem under the tire gauge.  Things were looking up.

Bruce reached into his front shirt pocket and handed Guy the cashier’s check for seven hundred fifty-two dollars. 

We were on our way now.  I could feel the rock of the boat on the waves.

Guy wrote his phone number on the paperwork and said he’d be at work for awhile, but if we needed anything just to give him a call, he’d help us out anyway he could.  He got in his truck and waved goodbye.

“Look,” I said. “We have a boat.”

“Yep, needs work, but nothing I can’t do myself,” Bruce said.

“Do you think we can go home via Chincoteague?” I asked.

Bruce laughed. “Not hardly,” he said. “We’re not nearly finished here.”

“Oh,” I said, disappointed.

It seemed the trailer had passed Bruce’s initial inspection, but would need its wheel bearings repacked, and its lights re-wired before we could even pull it out of Guy’s driveway. I had a sinking feeling about my weekend float. Friday was waning, we still didn’t have a road worthy boat trailer.  Bruce hadn’t even begun to determine the sea worthiness of the boat.

“Let’s get to work,” Bruce said, lifting the tool box from the car.

I followed him to the tongue of the trailer where bare wires awaited his attention.  “Aye, aye Skipper,” I said.

Going, Going, Gone

July 9, 2011

I’m sound asleep under a light cotton blanket. The air conditioner blows a sweet sixty-five degrees over the bed. Bruce pulls my big toe.

“Come on, there’s less than ten minutes to the end of the auction.  Your boat’s on the line.”

I slide out from under the cover, walk to the kitchen, and lean over Bruce’s shoulder as he stares at the Mac, his finger pressing the refresh button every few seconds.  The boat has been at six-hundred-one dollars for the last three hours.

“What’s your highest bid,” he asks.

“I don’t know. What’s it worth?”

“Good question. The listing says: ‘Boat with motor and trailer, no title’. I’ve had to guess at the condition from the pictures, no mention of the kind of motor it has. I think it’s a Johnson.  If we get it, we’ll probably get there and find the tires on the trailer dry rotted. Who knows whether the motor even runs and exactly what condition the boat’s in.”

“Well should we even be looking at it,” I ask, watching the clock tick down to four minutes and twenty-two seconds.

“Doesn’t cost anything to look,” Bruce says in that helpful way of his.

“Did Ralph ever call you back?” I ask. Ralph was the only non-answering machine voice we found when we called to get information about the boat.  He was in shipping, didn’t even know that they had a boat up for auction. He was going to see if he could ‘investigate’, and get back to us.

“Nope, never heard from Ralph.”

The clock is at a little over two minutes now.  “Do you think it’s worth a thousand?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never owned a boat before.”

“We used to go out on the river in a Jon boat and I remember a canoe,” I say.

“Jon boat belonged to my daddy. Canoe belonged to the neighbor.”

“Oh,” I say.

The clock is now at one minute fifty-four seconds.

“You paying half?” Bruce asks.

“Sure,” I say.

“You got five hundred?”

“Yep, a little over.”

The clock has ticked down to twenty-seven seconds and the price of the boat is now at seven-hundred- twenty-two dollars.

“You up for a trip to New Jersey next week?”

“I’ve got three personal days and two weeks vacation left.”

Ten seconds.

Bruce types in $1000.00 and presses the ‘I agree to terms and conditions’ button.  We are high bidder with three seconds left.  Bruce pushes the refresh button. The screen goes blank.

“Did we win?”

“I don’t know, never had that happen before.” 

He refreshes the screen again and grins.

“I think I’ll  call Ralph,” he says, laughing. “Wonder if  our winning bid of seven-hundred-fifty-two dollars includes shipping?”

Left at T’s Corner, Ten Miles Due East

June 25, 2011

It’s the first time I’ve been excited about an online GovDeals.com auction.  Bruce trolls the site like an online dater of heavy equipment.

You get the idea, junk. I have dragged myself up into the dump truck on more than one occasion to ride along for the inspection of some rusted hulk, dying in the weeds at the back of a city yard in a distant town, and rolled my eyes at Bruce’s taste in scrap.

I’ll be honest, though.  He’s never bought a piece of equipment that didn’t return an investment, or that he couldn’t fix and resell for a profit.  He finds what he’s looking for, researches the make and model, looks for a better deal somewhere else, calls for information and more pictures, then sets his limit and bids only to that amount.

 I really can’t complain, except that the GovDeals auctions on his Mac seem to be his entertainment of choice lately.

After our last trip to Chincoteague, we decided we want a boat.  I know, when you think about the shore and a boat, you think of a sixty-five foot sailboat with crisp white triangles of canvas snapping in the wind, or a fishing troller with big nets hoisted on booms, or even a speed boat with swivel captain’s chairs and a sporty little windshield.  You don’t think of a glorified Jon boat. That’s what we’re looking for.

I’m not much of a sailor.  I get motion sickness, but I can handle being on the bay or an inlet when the water and weather are calm. Besides, I’ve been informed by my husband that puke makes good chum for fish.  

What we’re looking for is a Carolina Skiff.  It’s a fifteen foot, flat bottom tri-hull with bench seats and a stow away compartment for fishing equipment.  The Evinrude motor on the back is a hundred-fifty horsepower. My Honda  is big enough to pull the trailer. It’s the perfect size boat for Big Glade Creek.

Bruce found it on GovDeals.com.  It belongs to the fire department in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The boat is even a pretty color green. Puke is green.  There’s no title, but that doesn’t seem to raise any red flags for Bruce, so I’m OK with it too.  The price is right at three-hundred-fifty-one dollars with a little over a day to go.

I’ve made up my mind. I can ride along to New Jersey to pick up the boat if we win it without complaining.  New Jersey is six hours north of us. I’ve mapped the route back. After we pay for the skiff, and hook the trailer to my car, we head due west from Seaside Heights to a place called Manchester Township. I-295 South will take us into Dover, Delaware. There, we pick up Rt. 13 South. That highway takes us right to T’s Corner; and  I know exactly how to get to Chincoteague from T’s Corner.