Confessions of a Middle-Aged, Overeducated Idiot

Russell Frank
By Russell Frank March 15, 2011 11:17

Russell Frank

I don’t know what kind of winter you had in the Sierra, but in central Pennsylvania the weather gods became my personal trainers. They would summon me to my morning workout through the good offices of the local school district, which would robo-call me just after 6 a.m. to tell me our schools were on two-hour delay.

That’s how I knew it was time to get up, suit up and man up – which in central Pennsylvania means shoveling my walk and driveway before my snow-blowing neighbors beat me to it (people with snow blowers would gladly clear Interstate 80 from New York to San Francisco if called upon to do so).

Two of the crazier things I’ve done in my life: leave temperate Sonora to return to the chilly Northeast, and buy a corner house, which makes me responsible for clearing the snow on two streets instead of one.

Let me be precise about this: I have 50 sidewalk squares to shovel, each 5 feet long, which easily works out, if you add the front walk and the driveway, to more than the length of a football field.

It’s a great workout, but at my age, I can’t help picturing myself gasping, collapsing and being hauled, half-frozen and ghastly gray, to the ER, where they would know what happened just by looking at me: another middle-aged snow-shoveling heart-attack victim.

A little voice in my head says, “Don’t overdo it,” but a bigger voice in my head says, “The faster you shovel, the sooner you’ll be done.” My old pal Bub Dambacher, black sheep of a Gold Rush family, used to call me “one of them overeducated idiots who don’t know which end of a shovel to use.” Well, I’ve learned which end of a shovel to use, but otherwise, guilty as charged.

Thinking about snow and Sonora inevitably calls to mind the birth of my daughter Rosa in February 1990:

I am working in the Jamestown office of the Modesto Bee (a lot of my stories begin with my working in the Jamestown office of the Bee). The phone rings. Disgruntled subscriber wondering why he didn’t get his grocery coupon inserts? Disgruntled reader wondering why the Bee won’t get rid of that Russell Frank and hire a real reporter? Pregnant wife: “Have you looked outside?” Me: “Not lately.”

I peer through the slats of the Venetian blinds: snowing like crazy. “I think you’d better come home while you still can,” says pregnant wife. I concur. My car fishtails up Shaws Flat Road, but I make it back to Banner Drive, heart pounding.

It’s one of those wet, heavy snows that the foothills get from time to time, the kind that cause tree branches to lean on power lines. “I bet we’re going to have an outage,” I say. Amazingly, I find the flashlights. Even more amazingly, I find some fresh D batteries. I feel like a genius, for at the very moment I am unscrewing the base of a flashlight to swap in a fresh power supply I see a flash of blue light through the kitchen window and the house goes dark. A wire dangles over the driveway. Now what?

“I think you’d better read the chapters on home birthing in the baby books,” says ever-practical pregnant wife. I scoff. But then I begin hearing the noise of snow-laden trees and branches cracking and crashing to earth. One falls across the intersection of Banner Drive and Shaws Flat Road. Another blocks our path up Banner to Springfield. Twapped like a wat in a twap, as Elmer Fudd would say. I begin my home birthing tutorial. Fortunately, precocious not-yet-named-Rosa determines that this is not the most propitious time to exit the warm and comfy place where she has spent the preceding nine months.

Next morning, power still out, we dine on thawed French fries and melted ice cream. I set aside the baby books in favor of work gloves and spend the afternoon clearing downed branches from the yard while all around me, chainsaws munch through the trees blocking the roads.

Still, not-yet-named Rosa sits tight for another 24 hours, just to be on the safe side, then makes her glorious debut at the birth center, under professional supervision. And now here she is, 21 and in college while her proud papa’s heart, fortified by all those years of parenting, has withstood another winter of shoveling snow. Up next: circling the house with an extension ladder to clear the last leaf-glop from the rain gutters before thunderstorm season – another activity not recommended for us alte kakers (Yiddish for old farts). Here, the little voice says, “If you reach too far for another handful of glop you’re going to fall and break your back.” Only to be drowned out by the big voice that says, “If you can grab another handful of glop you won’t have to climb up and down the ladder as many times.”

I have friends my age who wouldn’t dream of shoveling their own driveways or clearing their own gutters. I also have friends my age who wouldn’t dream of hiring somebody to shovel their driveways or clear their gutters. I operate in the muddled middle, dreaming of hiring, but too stubborn (or cheap) to do so. Ever the overeducated idiot.

Russell Frank teaches journalism at Penn State University, where he can be reached at rbf5@psu.edu.

© 2011 Friends and Neighbors

Russell Frank
By Russell Frank March 15, 2011 11:17