COLUMBUS _ It was a sunny day, a week before the start of summer and we were cleaning up, inside and out.
Hon and the kids were going through closets, getting out shorts and building a large pile of outgrown clothes, soon to be oil rags.
Uncle Chet and I were poking through the woodpile, culling punky logs.
``You’ve got brown ants AND black ants in here.’’ He quickly dropped a cherry log into the cart, brushed off his hands.
``We had black ones inside this spring,’’ I said. ``I think they came in on this stuff.’’
``Hate those things.’’
``It took awhile to get rid of them,’’ I said.
``You have to find out where they’re coming in,’’ he said. ``They always go to the ground.’’
``I found them,’’ I said.
``You can hold onto wood too long,’’ he observed. ``Half of this stack is no better than Dick Cheney.’’
``Now that is low,’’ I said, and the light metal cart behind the four-wheeler was nearly full as I dropped in some rotten beech. ``You drive; I’ll walk this load,’’ he said and I fired up Old Reliable, slowly circled behind the barn.
Uncle Chet and Daisy, our Springer Spaniel, took the shortcut across the driveway and met me on the other side, heading down to the brush pile.
``You’ve got enough biofuel there to run the Chrysler Building,’’ he said.
``It’s a big pile,’’ I said.
``Too bad you can’t burn it.’’
``I can, when there’s snow on the ground,’’ I said as the trailer clanked over a rut and came close to tipping over.
``You ought to roll this field.’’ He shook his head, straw hat swaying in the sun. ``Wouldn’t take more than an afternoon with your tractor.’’
``I’ve thought of it, but it’s never risen to the top of the list.’’
``Now that you’re 60, you’ve got to rearrange that list,’’ he said ``You’re on the far side, sonny, and it’s a quick bump down. Take it from me.’’
``I’m not 60 yet,’’ I said.
``You’re quibbling about days,’’ his sunglasses peered out from under the wide brim, ``and I’m offering wisdom from the ages.’’
``Sure. For you, just three words.’’
``Get something done.’’
``Get something done?’’ I said. ``Right now, I’m getting something done. I’m getting rid of the rotten wood.’’
``Is that what you wanted to do with your life, when you hit 21?’’ He asked on this summer afternoon with a light breeze, a smell of mint, the engine idling and the old dog panting but determined to keep up.
``Now I get you,’’ I sighed.
``You have to focus, just as Obama has to focus,’’ he said. ``Ask yourself what’s crucial. What would you do if you could do only one thing? For Obama, it’s reforming health care, isn’t it? He’s said it’s an American right, so why isn’t it underwritten by the government?’’
``The public option?’’ I said.
``Public option, single-payer, something subject to voters’ control,’’ said Uncle Chet. ``All you have to do is look around the world at how others pay for health care. Face in any direction and you’re looking at a country with less-expensive health care.’’
``And lower wages,’’ I said.
``Don’t kid yourself,’’ he said.
``But they have higher taxes to pay for that health care.’’
``That’s not true when you look at the whole package,’’ he said. ``Look at the taxes and fees you pay now and what you get for them. Taxes on your land, your house, your car, your ATV, taxes on everything from baby clothes to old folk’s diapers. Taxes on gas, electricity and telephone, even on beer and wine when you want to tie one on and forget about taxes." ``Must come to plenty,’’ I said and curved around at the brush pile.
``More than enough,’’ he said. ``Fact is we’re already paying for the public option; we’re just not getting it.’’
Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace’s column appears every other week.