I’m hurrying to get this down. I fear it may be the last missive I write for a long time, maybe ever. If this be my last communication to the readers I love, know I did not faint nor flag in the fight. I pressed onward, met my enemy, and conquered him, but every victory has a price and this one is no different. In my zealous prosecution of the conflict, I have angered ancient foul beings of immense power and no mercy. I broke a sacred vow nearly two decades old. Now the cold hand of panic, raw gnawing terror grips me as the focus of their wrath turns towards me in its fullest. Already my fingers stiffen, my lower back is beginning to lock up, I cannot lift my arms above my head, my legs are in such knots I dare not attempt to poop for fear I may not be able to stand up from the toilet. These eldritch abominations possess long memories and when they are trifled with, they will have blood.
I can hear you thinking, “What, dearest Feet, have you done to deserve such a black fate? What vow could be so solemn its foreswearing cost so great a price?” The answer is as simple as it is deadly . . . I have constructed a stone walkway. I swore a blood oath I would never attempt such an undertaking again, but I did and now I have enraged the Dread Gods of DIY.
To fully understand the gravity of this matter, I must take you to the time I made this ill-advised oath. It was early in the summer of 1996. Budge and I had successfully navigated two years of dating and engagement without the principal of the school where I was a teacher and Budge a student discovering our love affair and having me summarily executed . . . or at least fired. I know I have piqued your interest, but alas, tis a story for another telling, and should I survive my current entanglement, I will tell it in due time.
For now, join me in a postage-stamp-sized backyard in a gated community where Budge’s dad decided it would be a capital idea to build a patio and walkway of concrete and flagstones. I had serious doubts about the endeavor, but I owed quite the existential debt to Dad since I’d dated his daughter for over a year without him knowing. Once he found out — Budge broke down and told HIM without first telling ME she was telling HIM — he took the whole matter in stride, as he does most things. Still, he’s a shrewd man who knows when he’s got a wriggling worm impaled on the hook and ripe for catching a fish or a favor. In this case, my brutal, Herculean labor was the favor in question.
The day before, Dad “dug out” the shape of the patio and walkway. I cast aspersions because “scratched” would have been more accurate. The entire excavation dirt pile fit in a decent sized wheelbarrow with room to spare. Dad allayed my doubts about the ability of this small quarrying to hold enough concrete to anchor the flagstones by pointing to a pile of wood-looking stuff that upon closer examination proved to be slats cut from paneling. According to Dad, we were going to build a concrete form around the dugout area by stapling the slats to strategically anchored 2×4 stakes he had driven into the ground. It seemed a sound enough plan to me . . . this was before I learned Dad had never actually built a form or POURED any concrete slabs in his life . . . and he’d picked up the notion somewhere (I still think it was Budge) that I knew how to work concrete.
Any doubts I had about the disaster potential the day presented dissipated with the very first action Dad performed that fateful morning. We were going to staple the paneling to the aforementioned stakes with ¾” heavy duty staples. For this project, Dad replaced his venerable Bostitch stapler with a Black and Decker PowerShot stapler. The new model advertised much easier stapling and I must say the PowerShot easily sank a monster staple all the way to the bone of the heel of Dad’s hand with his very first shot. Dad winced at the pain, but when he moved the staple gun, no staple was in the stake. Dad thought he’d had a misfeed so he promptly shot another staple . . . right into the same hand. Turns out, the PowerShot is ass-backwards . . . something about leverage . . . and the staple comes out the opposite end from all other stapler. When no staple appeared the second time despite the pain in his hand, Dad looked down at the stapler and saw the blood seeping around two bottomed-out staples. It took a pair of needle nose pliers, two hearty yanks, and generous application of the curse word vocabulary Dad accumulated in a 20 year Navy career to remove those staples. The dew wasn’t dry on the grass; we already had bleeding.
I’d love to say Dad’s blood sacrifice paved the way for a smooth day, but I’d be lying. After we finally managed to get the “form” secured around noon, we discovered WHY professional cement finishers can make a good living. First, the cement mixer Dad rented wouldn’t fit through the gate into the back yard so we had to mix a batch, dump said batch into a wheelbarrow, and maneuver the wheelbarrow across the driveway — slopping cement every step of the way – and pour the remainder into the excavation. Our batches of cement followed the “Goldilocks Principle.” The first batch was too thick, the second batch was too runny, the third batch was too stiff again . . . it was about ten batches before we finally achieved “just right” status and woefully few batches duplicated it. The Sun lay low in the sky before we had the form filled with something resembling concrete. I’d have loved to call it a night, but we were committed now the concrete was poured. We had to place the flagstones before it hardened.
Now, the “plan” called for us to CAREFULLY place each stone in its ideal location where it would harmonize with its neighbors. That lasted MAYBE four stones. We unceremoniously plopped the rest wherever our strength gave out with a given rock. Turned out, the lack of excavation depth was a blessing. If we’d dug properly, the stones would’ve been submerged. As it was, we laid a field of icebergs . . . some jutted proudly from the grey sea; others only a hinted at what lay beneath. Past midnight we heaved the final rock into place. It wasn’t very level, it wasn’t very uniform, but Sandy (Budge’s stepmom) declared it beautiful so it WAS done. I made my vow, with Dad as witness; I’d never build another stone walkway again and I kept my it. . . until today.
Today, I broke my word to the DIY Dread Lords and finished MY stone walkway. My design was much simpler. I didn’t use concrete, just dug a trench 5″ deep, 3′ wide, and about 20′ long from the driveway to the front steps, lined it with landscaping fabric, poured and leveled sand on top of that, installed some plastic edging, then filled the trench with 40 bags of pea gravel and raked everything smooth as a Zen monk’s rock garden. Each bag of sand and gravel weighed 50 pounds. The last time I moved 50 pound bags of ANYTHING, I was sixteen years old working at Community Cash in Fountain Inn. The electric pallet jack ran out of juice so three of us had to unload a semi trailer truck load of dog food by hand. So, my walkway is done; my vow broken. Budge has proclaimed it “beautiful.” Now I must pay the Gods of DIY. If you never hear from me again, you’ll know I was unable to appease those black hearted monsters and have gone to my doom (or at least to bed early) broken and in pain, but with all flags flying and pea gravel in my Crocs.
Love y’all, and keep those feet clean!