Winter in Wisconsin seems to have been particularly long this year, and especially in the north woods where my parents live. I visited them last week and was shocked and depressed at how high the snow banks were still and how unrelenting the ice on the lake looked. I wonder if we’ll be able to open our cottage the third week of April as is our custom. While my parents are understandably sick of winter, they appeared to be in the same good spirits they have displayed all winter. “Farting through silk” is how my dad has characterized their lives whenever I have inquired as to how they were doing over the last several months. That, and the “turkeys are eating us out of house and home,” referring to a flock of wild turkeys that have grown accustomed to eating at or on top of their bird feeder.
Dad has whiled away the time this winter by finishing up an enormous (6-ft. wingspan?) radio-controlled model airplane (see photo), which he is now preparing to fly with some trepidation. I took him to the hobby store (“the candy store”) recently so he could buy an extra propeller, a spinner (the cone that goes over the prop) and some “moonshine,” (fuel).
Other activities include delivering the Meals on Wheels to four other households in the area, something he has come to enjoy, but which he began doing as a way of paying for the program that benefits him and my mom, but for which they aren’t allowed to pay other than a nominal $3.95 per meal. Now he is concerned that the program may fold, or be cut back from three times a week to only two due to lack of participants. In the meantime, Dad has learned to cook a few dishes: chuck roast, pork chops, ribs, steaks and hamburgers. You notice a pattern here? Reluctantly he has learned his way around the grocery store, and makes his “Momma’s little helper” run to the same once or twice a week. I’ve noticed a lot of store-bought pie and cookies in inventory that my mom never would have allowed when she was in charge of the kitchen. Nonetheless, she doesn’t remember that she used to be an excellent pie and cookie baker and is happy to eat the (very inferior) baked goods.
Dad’s most recent activity, and probably one of the most rewarding of the last few years, is teaching his grandson and namesake Bill Pence, age 18, to machine aluminum parts for a model transmission. Young Bill is developing a fascination and talent for design and fabrication using machine tools, thanks to a high school shop teacher that recognized his unusual ability. Grandpa is in seventh heaven. They are spending countless hours together in Dad’s shop making lots of metal shavings and precision-machined pieces. No doubt there is a lot of wisdom being shared as well, and Bill is the kind of kid that appreciates Grandpa’s vernacular.