My father was a bit of a pocket philosopher. There wasn’t an occasion or event that couldn’t be summed by a clever quip that he had learned while growing up. Some of these clever quips turned into what appeared to be stories of wisdom and sage. You may have read one or two of them on this blog. On this particular occasion however, Dad imparted his wisdom as if from God himself.
I never noticed that he was religious. I can only remember one time that he attended church with the rest of the family. But Dad did seem to have a knowledge that was based in the scriptures. I never heard him quote from the Bible, but he would often paraphrase a biblical story as a basis for one of his own stories. On this day he began, ” There are three things in this world that are provided to all of us equally, water, air, and dirt. No one should ever have to pay for them.”
As a pre-adolescent, I took this all in as the gospel that he portrayed it to be. However, what followed was a seemingly endless series of descriptions of where water came from and how it was naturally recycled, where the air came from and how it was naturally cleansed, and that dirt was just dirt. These explanations were a curious blend of the scientific and the divine that would often be repeated throughout his lifetime.
My father’s career was in the manufacturing industry. Clearly, he had a keen sense of the meaning of ‘quality’ and how that term changed the price points of products. However, any discussion about the differences in the ‘quality’ of water, air, or dirt was an open invitation to a three-hour dissertation that included the scientific and the divine. As a result, these subjects didn’t come up very often, until 1976. That was the year that Perrier began selling bottled water in the US for the first time. From that moment on you didn’t want to be caught in a grocery store with my father, because ultimately you would round the next corner and find yourself surrounded by those curious green bottles of water. The penalty for your lack of planning and foresight was another three-hour diatribe that would include such phrases as ‘sin against nature’ and ‘how dumb can people be.’
At some point in the 80s, I began to notice that various stores were selling “potting soil” for $1 a bag. It had been several years since my last diatribe so I made the mistake of mentioning what I had seen at the local Ace Hardware. Well, his eyes got big, his face turned red, and the veins on his neck started to pulse. He hadn’t even said a word yet and I knew I had made a terrible mistake. By this time, he was nearing his 70th birthday and the three-hour speech had been reduced to just thirty minutes, ending only in ‘how dumb can people be.’ I retreated, shaking my head and thinking ‘next time keep your big mouth shut!’
As the 80’s turned into the 90’s, every business looked for new ways to make a little extra money. The ‘loss leader’ was slowly disappearing, as did penny candy decades before. Every gas station now had separate pumps for self-serve at a reduced price as well as a few cents off for cash vs credit. The days of the attendant washing your windshield and checking your oil were long gone. It was during this period that I saw, for the first time, a sign at the local gas station that made me smile and shake my head; it said “AIR, 25 cents a minute.” It was for pumping up your tires of course, but I was just glad Dad wasn’t with me. He was getting close to his 80’s by then and the discussion was no longer necessary.
But that three-hour diatribe never left me. There was a lot of truth in it; simplistic perhaps, but still good clean common sense. As I went about my life, I tried to use that common sense whenever I could. To some degree, I have solved the ‘water, air, dirt’ problem.
I live in the country so I always have clean air. There are times when a grey fox marks his territory and the air gets a little foul, or the occasional skunk will make you sit up straight and head for the door, but generally the air is pretty good here. Oh, and Dad, my tires don’t use air anymore. They actually fill them with nitrogen now and the dealer fills them for free.
Another by-product of living in the country is that we have well water and a septic system. In a warped sense of economics, you could say we don’t pay the county for water/sewer, but we need a 15-amp pump to bring the water up, we need to filter the silt out of it, and we need to maintain the system. Free, well sort of. If you want the best water in the country, [sorry Colorado] the place to go is New York City. Sorry Dad, I don’t care how much it costs, that is great water. The dirt problem is the easiest one I think. If you take one part grass clippings compost, add one part of ordinary sand, and one part of fireplace ashes, you will have great dirt.
So Dad, I think I’ve got it all solved. I go outside and breathe the free air, work up a sweat making my free dirt, and come back inside for some free water. You’ve been gone for 10 years now but, I’m sure you’re watching and smiling.
© J T Weaver
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