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There's No Such Thing As a Free Lawn Chair

by on August 06, 2014 6:00 AM

I have a magic ring. It was my dad's.

I put it on when he died in April at the age of 96 and quickly discovered that this was no ordinary ruby ring (or fake ruby ring).

The family had gathered at my sister's house in Dallas the weekend of the funeral and we were all trooping back and forth between the backyard, where the pool was, and the kitchen, where the refreshments were. Each time one of us entered or exited we struggled to open and close the sliding glass door.

Now in most ways I am an apple that has not fallen very far from the tree. But there is one way in which I do not take after my old man at all: He was handy. I am not.

So when I rummaged around my sister's garage for an oilcan and a rag and then lubricated the runners of the sliding door, I wasn't doing anything especially ingenious or skillful; it was just totally out of character.

"It's the ring!" I declared. "I'm doing what Dad would have done."

Since I was just about to become a born-again homeowner, I figured I'd better keep wearing it.

Cut to mid-July. My wife and I have just moved into our new house. Out for a stroll, she calls me from an Adirondack chair in West College Heights. She was passing by just as someone banished two such chairs to the curb. She is going to sit in one of them until I arrive with the car to take them home.

We had seen new Adirondacks made from recycled plastic milk jugs that were selling for a couple hundred dollars per. These are classic wooden ones, free to our good home-in-progress. I drive right over.

All we need to do is slap some new paint on them. That's fine by me. Painting is my least objectionable household chore. Well, the painting part of painting. The prep work and the cleanup I'm not so crazy about.

Chairs off-loaded, my beloved resumes her walk. Soon she calls again, this time from East College Heights. Someone is getting rid of a glass-topped outdoor table. Again, I drive over and load up.

In the backyard we set the tabletop back onto its tubular metal base and find it to be wobbly, but serviceable.

"You're on a roll," I tell my wife. "Keep walking."

The next day I start in on the Adirondack chairs but only after ...

Hardware Store Trip No. 1: Amazingly, steel wool and sandpaper were among the items I had put in storage when I sold my old house two years ago, so we don't need to buy those. But we do need facemasks. Ka-ching. And tri-sodium phosphate to de-crud the chairs. Ka-ching. Which means we'd better get rubber gloves. Ka-ching. And of course, the paint, one can of Safety Red and one can of Safety Yellow (wouldn't want to stumble around trying to find our outdoor furniture in the dark). Ka-ching, ka-ching.

The sanding, steel-wooling and TSP-ing of the chairs convinces a couple of earwigs to seek lodgings elsewhere. It is while doing all that rubbing and scrubbing that I discover three loose slats. One, I am able to bolt back in. The other two have nothing to bolt back into: The wood is rotted. Time for...

Hardware Store Trip No. 2: While buying wood filler (ka-ching) I run into a colleague who is dealing with a plumbing problem. If you've ever wondered how college professors spend their summer vacations, here's your answer: They visit hardware stores.

The wood filler is tricky to work with, at least on a hot day. It begins to harden the moment I mix it. The good news about that is, the loose slats are loose no more. The bad news is that they have adhered in a way that is not quite aligned with the other slats. Not quite up to my dad's standard, perhaps, but good enough, for free furniture.

Now we are ready to paint. I am Safety Red. My wife is Safety Yellow. We work side-by-side, maybe too much so. As I lean in to daub a hard-to-get-to part of my chair, I lose my balance and bump my wife's brush. I now have a Safety Yellow streak on the seat of my pants.

I resist the urge to go Laurel & Hardy at this juncture. We realize we are having a house-bonding experience: By virtue of this little project we are making this place our own.

The next day, my father's ring still strong with me, I address myself to our rickety new table. The nuts and bolts are totally rust-encrusted, which necessitates...

Hardware Store Trip No. 3, for household oil and new nuts and bolts (ka-ching, ka-ching). Naturally, I meet another vacationing colleague.

Spraying on oil, then applying myself with might and main, Allen wrench on the bolt head, ratchet wrench on the nut, I extract all the old hardware and replace it with the new. Success! The table wobbles no more.

Thanks for the ring, Pop. Thank you, my beloved, for having such a keen eye. And thank you, fellow State Collegians, for kicking your discards to the curb.

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Russell Frank worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years before joining the journalism faculty at Penn State in 1998. He roots for the Yankees, plays blues guitar and harmonica (badly), bikes and hikes for physical exercise and does The New York Times crossword puzzle for mental exercise. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away all the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. He is the author of "Newslore: Contemporary Folklore on the Internet." His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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