Uppermost House: Serendipity in the barn

PeterLewisTreehouseCMYKBy S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

“Hey dad, can you come out to the barn and help me with something?”

Coming from a normal person, this sort of innocuous request would barely raise your level of consciousness, being on par with such trifling matters such as being asked to loosen the lid off a jar of pickled herring.

No cause for alarm, right? I mean, it couldn’t possibly be dangerous, or anything…

But over the last three decades I have learned to respond to insipid requests like this from my son Jeremiah with a combination of excited anticipation and caution. I’m not afraid, exactly. I just have a heightened sense of awareness and a sudden yearning for self-preservation.

It turned out that Jeremiah wanted me to help him lift something. If lifting had been part of the original request, I may have declined, but my son is very clever the way he asks things. For Jeremiah, “lifting something” does not mean, “Can you help me carry this box of broken Christmas tree ornaments out to the garage?” In this case, it meant, “Can you help me lift my houseboat?”

So out to the musty old barn we went and we clambered over a bunch of old junk to get to the back of his houseboat and then we just latched on and “one-two-three” heaved upwards. Considering that the houseboat weighs about a ton, and anyone can see that just by looking at it, this was clearly a dumb idea. But blind optimism is always worth a try.

I won’t bore you with the details, but they involved a car jack, a stack of old boards, a rickety sawhorse, various hand tools, and a trolling motor. And there was, of course, the requisite crawling around in the dark under the boat and fussing with things, and one of us holding something while the other one pushed or pulled or said, “Gosh no! The other way!” And it’s an old barn full of stuff, including squawking swallows and at least one raccoon, and nothing is organized (unless you count piles) and so the grubbiness level rose until there was generic barn grunge hanging all over us and we were pretty filthy.

The high moment of anxiety came when the boat was at its teetering apogee and the jack was straining and things looked precarious and yet at least one of us still needed to be under the boat and then my son uttered the dreaded phrase, “Golly, I’m not sure about this.”

It turns out that reason for this whole lesson in physics and leverage was that Jeremiah needed to remove the trolling motor from under his houseboat to use on the new submersible vehicle that he’s building so he can drive around on the bottom of Sebago Lake. I wish he’d just said that in the first place.

Anyway, this was his project so I mostly stood around and watched, at the ready to pull or push on something, or dial 9-1-1. And soon watching turned into admiration as I marveled at my son’s creativity, ingenuity and energy. He had cobbled the houseboat together from scratch, a sophisticated wonder of engineering and electronics and bungee cords, with all the accoutrements of an expensive RV, and which he operates entirely by remote control from a lawn chair on the roof.

Jeremiah, the engineer by education and trade, now the husband and father, and always my son and best friend. How is it even possible, I wondered, that he could know and do so many things, and so well? It’s humbling (and wonderful) when your offspring turn out better that you did.

And then at my feet I found an old, discarded, crumpled piece of paper. One side was a drawing that Jeremiah had made when he was five. Our house, with the little stick-boy standing happily in an upstairs window and his name written in awkward block letters. On the back I found a note that I had written, dated December 30, 1989, detailing a conversation I had with my young son.

“Dad, how do they make trains?”

“I don’t know.” (Too tired to answer)

“Yes you do, you’re a big strong guy.”

“Miah, you know, dad doesn’t know everything.”

“Well, guess. You’re guesser is bigger than mine. Mine is really little, (shows w/fingers), yours is bigger…I don’t know how it fits inside your head.”

My son and I, both certain that the other is more brilliant.

I struggled for a long time how to end this essay, but nothing seemed to work. So I just sat there at my computer, staring at that little serendipitous note in my hands, amazed, proud, happy and weeping.

Please follow and like us: