Christmas Rakes (Part 1)

A wealthy nuclear family lived in a large home in the fashionable and historic neighborhood of Sellwood in Portland. The woman worked in health care billing. The man worked in tech. There was a boy, age 10, a girl, age 11. They were spoiled brats, but not in the classic snotty sense. They were part of the new generation of spoiled brats who didn’t enact traditional bratty behavior. Their quietly obnoxious behavior manifested itself in a total refusal to do anything to help around the house or yard. They had no chores, no responsibilities. They were sluggards, snot-nosed, sloths. They never ventured outside or goofed around in the park or bicycled past the homeless encampment two blocks away. Indeed, the bicycles hung on the wall in the garage and hadn’t been ridden in years.

They had no life outside of the internet.

At one point, years ago, the parents had instructed the kids to take out the trash or dust the furniture, but they did the work so poorly and then not at all, and the parents finally gave up. The kids were so indifferent to anything except their digital gadgetry that they forgot to feed their hamsters and the hamsters starved to death. The kids didn’t cry.

The house sat on a double lot. There was a fancy outdoor kitchen, fire pit and home theater. In the yard, grew towering maples, oaks and a cherry tree that hosted a half dozen squirrels. In the spring, the trees held a million beautiful leaves. In the fall, they dropped them on the lawn.

Simple enough to get rid of them. Call in the Latino laborers to do it. Or perhaps even hit up a homeless man with a $20 bill and a fifth of Old Crow and let your kids watch from the window to see how charitable the family is as the holiday season rolls around.

But this fall was different. The Pandemic had upended the world of work and the family couldn’t find a service to remove the leaves. The homeless weren’t interested, either, even for more money and better booze.

So the leaves piled up.

Thanksgiving arrived and Grandfather came to dinner. He was an interesting man, and his son was definitely not a chip off the old block. Grandfather lived in an old farmhouse on 40 acres outside of Estacada, roughly 20 miles southeast of Portland. In other words, rural Oregon.

He’d been a high school social studies teacher and football coach at the local junior high for 30 years. He wasn’t all that dynamic a teacher or a successful coach, but he was a kind and decent man and cared for his students, particularly when Estacada’s timber economy bottomed out and then disappeared forever.

After retiring, he remained in the area and expected to live many more happy years with his wife. Then she came down with cancer, died quickly, and he was alone on the property.

It was then that Grandfather had choices. Drown in grief and hit the sauce. Turn on Fox News and become deranged. Or continue to engage with the world in positive fashion as he had as a husband, parent, teacher, coach and citizen of Estacada. He did, after all, have a son, a daughter in-law and grandchildren, a family to live for and support in some material and emotional fashion. Thus, he chose engagement and didn’t let his mind or body or property go to seed.

Now about his only child. He was a middling athlete and went on to earn a degree in computer science at Oregon State University. He got a Portland job writing software that his father didn’t really grasp, a job that did absolutely nothing to enrich the world beyond enriching corporations. He was a nice man, kind of feckless, who married a blasé woman he’d met online. They brought the aforementioned brats into existence and bought a dream home in Sellwood.

The couple and the brats paid a visit to the farmhouse every now and then, but the older they got, the less they came. Grandfather had tried interesting the grand kids in work around the farmhouse, but they were utterly indifferent and fell down a lot. The son hadn’t been like that growing up. He performed all manner of chores around the property, from splitting wood to mowing fields. He liked it, but surely didn’t pass this trait on to his children. They’d never done a lick of manual labor in their lives. That was for other kids in Sellwood, and of course, the other kids never did a lick of yard work in Sellwood, either. Just walk the neighborhood when the leaves start falling and you’ll learn that.