Tina wanted a shed. This was important. There were a lot of things to be put in a shed. There used to be a shed in the back yard, when she and Ken moved in some 20 years ago, but it had rotted away.
When we had supper at Chipotle with them almost 2 years ago, we told them our newly formed plan to travel the country with tools and help people out. I believe they were the first ones we told. They had looked at each other, “Oh!” Their eyebrows were up, “We have a shed,” Ken said. “In the garage,” Tina said. “That needs put together,” they said together, smiling big smiles.
“Yes,” we said, “That is the kind of project we would enjoy.”
“And …” Tina listed off about 5 other projects to be done. “There’s also …” Ken listed another 5.
We told them it might be awhile before we got our plan rolling, but they were definitely on our list of stops, never suspecting they’d be our second.
They told us about their store. It was moving. A few years before, Ken and Tina quit their jobs and started a scrapbooking store called Café Crop. Business had been scant. The location was not good and the landlord was not cooperative. They were just about to sign on a new location but it would be stepping out on faith. It’d take everything they had. For us it was great to see them doing something together. Something life-consuming. That was right where Bethany and I wanted to be; eyes glowing, scared to death. It was inspiring.
We pulled up to their driveway 2 years later. The pouring rain had just stopped, and there they were; waving and smiling. Ken guided me in, we unhitched, and spent the evening reminiscing on the back lawn. Ken got out his wiffle-balls and gave the kids a golf lesson. That night we slept in the camper.
Tina had emailed us a week before to say moving the business and getting it running had occupied most of their time and the shed was still a project waiting to happen. We were gung-ho to start in the morning. Monday.
There was a good thunderstorm right before dawn. The rain had quit by the time breakfast was over. Tina went to work at Café Crop. We staked off an 8’ x 12’ footprint of the shed and began removing the ground cover and bushes. It was muddy work. It began to rain again. We looked like mud-wrestlers. It began to pour and we could hardly stand up. The clay in the soil was very slick. We decided to wait for the rain to stop. “Can we open up the shed kit, while we wait?” Bethany asked.
“Well … that might be hard,” Ken said, “why don’t you come look at it.” We followed him to the garage and stood dripping with amazement in the doorway. “That’s a corner of it, right there.” He pointed towards the bottom of a vast heaping of boxes, tools and equipment. “We’d have to move the stuff off it,” he lamented.
“But,” said Bethany, walking back and forth in the 4 foot path cleared to the fridge, peering on tiptoe into the garage, “there’s nowhere to put it!”
“If it stops raining, we can move it to the driveway.” Ken suggested.
“Hang on.” Bethany was still pacing. Then with great formality she turned to Ken and said “Ken, may I have permission to organize your garage?”
“Sure,” said Ken, “go to town!”
“OK.” Said Bethany “Here’s what we’re going to do. Open the awning on the camper. All the big tools, mowers and blowers and anything that goes in the shed goes in the driveway under the awning …” And so it began. 8 hours of hefting, consolidating, stacking, and shifting all under Bethany’s command. By the time Tina came home, there were swept paths to every part of the garage and the shed lay fully and circumnavigably exposed. Later in the week when Tina was hounding Ken to take out the garbage, he said “Sheesh! You’re almost as bad a slave-driver as Bethany!”
That evening, it began to rain in earnest. It rained all night. By morning, it was thinning. “We’ve got a nice lake in the yard!” Tina said brightly, as she left for work.
We went outside to look. Sure enough, right where the shed was to go, stood a three to four inch lake. “Hmmm,” I said, “this appears to be the low spot in the yard.”
“That would explain why the last shed rotted away,” Ken mused. We considered building it up with gravel, but decided the water would still sit on the clay under the gravel. We discussed drainage this way and that way for half an hour, before Ken, arms akimbo, said “Wait a minute! I have an idea! Now, this might sound crazy, but 18 years ago I promised Tina a pond … “ Bethany and I exchanged worried glances. “I actually promised it in writing,” Ken confided. “What if we dug a pond lower than the foundation, and the water could drain into it.”
“Well,” I said slowly, “That WOULD give us the dirt to raise the shed foundation.” We began to talk about what a pond would involve. Bethany and I got some garden hose and made a pond shape in the grass.
“I just had another idea.” We looked up. Ken’s arms were akimbo. “What if we made a waterfall with a stream that fed into the pond! It could start there behind the shed and flow around this way!”
“Um, Ken,” I said tentatively, “We’re only going to be here till Saturday. I don’t think we can get a pond, a waterfall AND a shed done by then.”
“You’d have to agree, though, that a waterfall and stream would look REALLY nice, and if I’m going to make a pond for Tina I want to do it right. Because, see, what I’m really imagining is sitting over here and HEARING the splashing of water.” I looked at Bethany and could see in her eyes that she thought it was CRAZY but that she was also half convinced. The opportunity to play with rocks was a strong lure.
“Well,” I said, “If you’re ok with doing the shed yourself, I’m game to make a waterfall.”
Ken called Tina and told her the plan to make a pond with a splashing waterfall. She says “OK,” Ken announced.
Ken and I mapped out the pond and stream with electric dog fence flags (did I mention they have poodles?) We began to dig, while Bethany took her Vorpal Blade and began hacking underbrush out of what Tina called the Back 40. Douglas and Fynn pitched in hauling tarps of weeds and breaking clods of clay. Funny thing about clay is, the more that sticks to your shoes, the more sticks to your shoes. Eventually we were digging in platforms too heavy to lift. I opted to dig barefoot at this point which was pure delight to the toes.
We dug down two feet and threw the clay in the lake/foundation. The boys squished it flat. The hole dug, Ken and I went to Lowes to get a liner, a pump, some hose and a wee impulse-buy fountain.
By the time the liner was in and the pond filled, we’d missed Tuesday night bingo at Chick-fil-a, a tradition of Ken and Tina’s. Instead, we sat on the patio enjoying a jar of Knoxville strawberry hooch to the tinkling of the wee fountain.
We’ve known Ken and Tina since way back. Back in the days we frequented the same bible camps; back before any of us were married. Back when love and theosophy swam unblinking wide-eyed circles in our pools of innocence. Tina grew up near Bethany and they got along like sisters. I was fast friends with Tina’s brother. My brother was good friends with Ken. My sister was BFF with Bethany’s sister. When Ken and Tina began dating, their names became synonymous with “Moon-eyed couple,” and after a year or two it was “Couple-who-won’t-quit.” As a 14-year-old I was fascinated. I would splay my angst-ridden soul before each of them late into the nights, hoping their experience might gain me some foothold on the ladder of love.
And here I was again nearly 25 years later, fascinated by their love language. Ken was pleased as punch that he was finally fulfilling his pond promise, and Tina would not give him the satisfaction of her appreciation until she had a shed.
Wednesday, we laid gravel on the foundation clay, and rolled it flat with a concrete roller the neighbor kindly offered. Bethany and Ken went to get rock, while I made the stream bed and the boys chased each other around the yard with sticks they were supposedly bagging. The cats wandered the neighborhood making friends. We unloaded rocks, tested the stream and Ken and I left to get sand hogs for building up breached walls. It was looking like the pump was a little too strong for the job.
Thursday we drained the pond and cleaned it. Some rocks we put in had muddied the water. By afternoon we were testing the waterfall. It was TERRIBLE. The pump was too strong, water was coming out everywhere. So we talked drainage this way and that way. I thought we needed more stone for the waterfall.
“Wait a minute.” Ken’s elbows were out. “I just had an idea!” Our eyes were wide. “If I bought a diverter we could split the line and regulate the flow to make the waterfall the right pressure.”
“And the second hose would go … back into the pond?” I asked hopefully.
“Over a SECOND waterfall, right here!” He pointed triumphantly. I was about to say look, we don’t even know if we can build ONE working waterfall when Bethany jumped on board.
“That COULD work,” she looked at my worry, “We only need one flat stone. It would be a small stream,” she assured me.
We spent the rest of the day cleaning stones, making sand hogs, and perfecting the flow of everything but the waterfall. That night Bethany said to me “Ken has work away from the house till noon, and we need him to get the rest of the stone. Let’s open the shed kit and see if we can get the base laid in the morning. It will feel a lot better if we at least have the shed started before we leave.” I whole-heartedly agreed.
So by noon on Friday we had the floor laid and the kids got to hammer nails. Whee! Ken returned pleasantly surprised, and we went out for stone. He hadn’t been able to find a diverter. By 6:00 pm we had stacked and restacked the waterfall many times to no avail. It was a sloppy mess.
Ken had to take a load of grilled chicken to Café Crop and we sat down to eat some of the same. It was really good. We looked at going back to the waterfall. Bethany looked like the waterfall was about to come out of her eyes. She was spent. I was out of ideas. We prayed. “Hey God, we really would like to be in Chicago for Father’s day. Give us an idea for this waterfall, like, right now.”
We crouched by the waterfall. Bethany lifted a stone, languidly, and set it back down. I realized this one was on me to see through. And then it came to me. “OK.” I said. “Here’s what we’re going to do. We’ll cut a big piece of liner, lift up the whole inner stone stack and wrap it from underneath till the liner comes above the top cascade stone, and all water exits towards the stream.”
And that was it. I’m sure any fountain builder would look at me and say “Duh!” Not only did it work to contain the water, we no longer needed a diverter, the pressure was fine. With renewed energy we set to finishing by dark, when Tina came home.
Ken was bristling with excitement to show Tina the finished pond and waterfall. Tina was bristly. She spent 10 minutes in the kitchen talking to Bethany about her day while Ken opened and closed the patio door, saying “Can you hear that?” Eventually we all filed outside. Tina made a beeline for the Back 40 and began questioning Bethany about everything she’d removed. Ken was nearly beside himself with impatience. After another 10 minutes she sauntered over to the pond where Ken was basking in the babbling sound of the waterfall. “What do you think?!” Ken asked proudly.
“It’s nice,” Tina said minimally.
This was certainly not the effusion Ken was hoping for. He climbed on to the shed base “AND,” he spread his arms wide, “we have a shed floor!”
“Yes, but no shed,” Tina pointed out.
“But … “ Ken was reeling. This was so anticlimactic, it was ludicrous. “Just listen to the waterfall!” he pleaded. Bethany tried to help by pointing out some of the features and how we had made them. Tina engaged her coolly, but it was clear she had taken a stance and was not going to be budged. Ken came and stood by me. His mind was in full gear. He still had one card up his sleeve, if he played it right. “Does anyone in your family like pancakes?” he asked innocently.
“Oh my, Yes!” I exclaimed. “Bethany can’t eat gluten, but the rest of us can’t say no.”
“Well, there’s a Fireman’s pancake breakfast tomorrow morning I’d like to take you guys to. We’d have to leave at like 6:30, but it’s all you can eat and they let you climb in the fire trucks.”
“Do they have sausage?” Bethany abandoned her and Tina’s pond-side chat.
“Oh, yes!” Tina joined. “Stacks of it!”
“Why don’t we invite Lisa and Shaun?” Ken suggested idly to Tina.
Lisa helps at Café Crop and has been invaluable to Ken and Tina. Her husband Shaun is a veteran handyman with a lot of tools. He helped build out the new Café. I was told earlier in the week that he had offered some time ago to help Ken build the shed but I didn’t make the connection until I met him over pancakes the next morning.
Our plan was to go to Café Crop around 11:00 am and see Tina in her element, which we hadn’t gotten to do all week. We were hoping maybe to try a Family Drawing with her, and get on the road by 3:00 pm. As far as work was concerned, we were done, finished. Kaput.
“How many pancakes?” The unsmiling senior lady asked the man in line ahead of me.
“Three.” She robotically moved the tongs to the mountain of pancakes.
“How many pancakes?” She asked his daughter in the same monotone.
“Two, please.” The tongs went for two.
“How many pancakes?” She asked me flatly.
“Twenty,” I said. The tongs moved automatically, then stopped.
She gave me a big grin. I was still chuckling over this small victory when Shaun joined me walking back to the table.
“S-so when do you want to s-start on the shed?” Shaun had a slight stutter and eyes glowing with enthusiasm. “I’ve got a truck f-full of tools. I’ve got a n-nail gun. I can start right after we eat.” I suddenly realized how Ken had orchestrated this. I smiled.
“Ken DID tell you we were leaving today?” I asked, sitting down by Bethany.
“What? N-no! What time are you leaving?”
“3 o-clock.” Bethany’s horror-stricken face said she realized what we were discussing.
“Well, we could g-get the walls up by then.”
I looked at Bethany. Don’t-you-dare lasers were shooting from her eyes. “We’ve also promised Tina we’d come to Café Crop at 11:00.” I glanced at Ken who was studiously eating his pancakes.
“We b-better get s-started soon then!” Shaun said, grinning. Shaun’s drive to work had been hinted at before but facing it head-on I had no resistance. I gave Bethany a pleading look. She too was crumbling under Shaun’s confidence and excitement.
“We HAVE to leave at 11:00,” she conceded.
After the kids toured the trucks, we headed back to Ken’s.
MAN could Shaun work! The walls flew together and were ready to be put up by 11:00. Bethany called Tina and put off our arrival till 1:00. By 12:30, we had the walls up and were ready to start the roof. I said, “You boys are on your own” to Ken and Shaun, and we headed off to Café Crop.
“I see you got the walls up!” Tina had received a text from Ken.
“Yeah!” We were exhausted and happy.
Now I don’t know much about scrapbooking, but from what I could tell, this was scrapbooking heaven. One half of the store was dedicated to merchandise. Hundreds of patterned paper stacks, rubber stamps of every kind, assortments of stickers, fringes, tassels, ribbons, buttons, and best of all baskets of found objects like scrabble tiles, sea shells, and small toys. (Fynn picked out what looked like an old clasp and immediately had built an entire medieval costume in his mind.)
The other half of the store was spacious work tables surrounded by comfy chairs, a third of which were filled by ladies working on projects and chit-chatting animatedly. The atmosphere was very conducive to creativity. There was a side counter laid out with muffins and lunch meats and snacks, which we gladly dug into before setting up for family drawing. Had I any mental energy left from a week of hard work I would have designed a drawing that incorporated some of the cool stuff from the store, but I opted to repeat an older drawing, modified slightly for our time constraints. We had a great time.
As we left, Tina let her composure melt, hugging us with tears streaming. “Thanks guys! You got more done in a week than we could have in a year!” And that felt SO GOOD!
We drove back to where Ken and Shaun had the rafters half installed, hooked up the camper, hugged Ken goodbye, hugged Shaun goodbye, and headed for one night alone together at a campsite with direct sewer hookup. The next day we’d be in Chicago, where at least 5 people had projects waiting.