A Tale of Two Sons

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of ….. 5. My son Hoyt is my little buddy. Not the kind of buddy like when parents are friends with their children (there’s time enough for that when he’s 18 onward). Right now it’s like I’m the The Skipper and he’s Gilligan. Like that kind of “little buddy”. To beat this analogy to death, it’s like his youth is us being trapped on an island and every week we’re trying to escape, continually running into some wacky mishaps – minus the laugh track. I could take it a bit further and say his mom is like Mary Ann, but that just starts to get weird.

My little buddy likes to build nonstop with Legos and he’s good to have around the house to help counter the girl power – which currently out numbers us by one. After years of watching Barbie shows, its refreshing to sit with someone and watch episode after episode of “How’s It Made”. Not that 3D Barbie was … who am I kidding, it was horrible.

Before Hoyt was born we became interested in getting off the grid. After thinking about it for 30 seconds we decided that, for the time being, we should stay on the grid, if not clutching the grid like a Linus blanket. But in the name of saving money and slowly heading in the direction of prying our fingers from the blanket, we bought a pellet wood stove. We got the Harmon 1792. This was the basic no frills model. Thus we began our trip into the world of the 1792.

Let me step back, and for the edification and sheer excitement of the kind reader I shall explain how the pellet wood stove works. A small pellet stove, like ours, simply has a metal box on the back that holds about 50 pounds of wood pellets. There is an auger system that feeds the burn pot in the stove. As the burn pot burns the ashes are slowly pushed into an ash bin. The pellets are composed of compressed sawdust and burn efficiently. Sounds nice and off the grid until you add in the electric blower pushing air over the fire and heating the room like a blow dryer. I exaggerate slightly, but it will dry your hair – a multipurpose heating revolution.

Hoyt seems to have a gift for building. Both his grandfathers have the knack for building and fixing. I think it skips a generation. I’ve always been jealous of my friends who enjoy woodworking. On several occasions I had been contemplating a project, then I spotted a bookshelf in an Ikea catalog. One short car ride and 79 dollars later my project was complete. Sure it was crappy and wouldn’t stand the test of time, but that’s more or less what I would have built.

I’m very proud of Hoyt, but at the same time worried that he’ll find out sooner or later that my building skills are inferior. Fortunately, he wasn’t around when I cut my almost straight hole through the wall of our house to install the stove pipe. I’m sure inspectors would pref that the pipe was perfectly parallel with the wall. One day Hoyt will notice this.

As of late my little buddy has been forgetting whose side he’s on. Yes, there are sides. At 5 he’s very concerned about not eating too much sugar and eating healthy foods. You say AOK. I say OCD. But more people could use a little OCD, so I’m fine with it. It’s when my little buddy narcs me out for having ice cream or eating some french fries, thus breaking my diet plans, that I question us being trapped on an island together. I’m sure this is just one of many phases to come, but this telling on me makes me nervous. One day it’s his mom and the next day it may be an anonymous call to the city building inspector about a crooked stove pipe.

One recent winter day the pellet wood stove ran out of pellets. When this happens the fire goes out and every five or six weeks the ash bin needs to be emptied. It was a Sunday evening and we had just got back from a weekend trip. Everyone was unpacking upstairs. I emptied the bin and decided to use my shop vac to clean the inside of the stove. Normally, I brush the stove inside and gently sweep the super fine black ash into a bag. I even wear a dust mask. I had used the shop vac once before and it worked well, so I decided to quickly use it again and skip my dust mask. Hoyt walked in the room and I told him to cover his ears. I fired up the shop vac and started sucking up the ashes. Just as I began, the air vent in the top of the shop vac erupted with a volcano of ash. Hoyt, with his cat-like reflexes from working on bent knees over many a Lego project, quickly bolted to the staircase and up the stairs.

I immediately shut off the shop vac, but the black ash had already been spit into the living room atmosphere. As I looked around I saw fine black ash settling over our Pompeii living room scape. This was not good. I quickly went to open several windows to allow the ten degree wind access, with hopes of it taking away the dust as a gift for letting it into the house. I then felt the dust in my nose and realized that I should probably just get an oxygen tank the next morning. And, in that moment, as I blew my nose to try to remove some of the black sediment, and the winter wind blew through the house clearing the dust, I saw Hoyt at the top of the steps. We had shared a father – son moment. I thought – in a minute – when the dust levels were lower, i could invite him to my side and explain mechanically what had happened to the shop vac filter to make this happen.

A second later, my little buddy quickly turned and ran up the stairs and all I heard was, “Mom, mom! Dad blew up ashes all over the house! All the windows are open and you can’t even see through it!” At that moment I knew my fate and started up the stairs, passing faceless house plants covered in black ash, on my slow march to my wife’s guillotine tongue.

Open letter to Hoyt: Dear little buddy, we need to get on the same page with regards to eating ice cream and in-house dust bowls. We’ve got thirteen (to fifteen- tops) years together living on the best of islands, the worst of islands. I hope you’ll learn to like French fries more, or as I like to call it – your French fry evolution. I know that my crooked pipe is a far, far better thing than I have ever done and the future will be a happier place rising out of the ashes of my demise – as the guy with a faulty shop vac. You’ll always be my little buddy – you tattle tale.


Jason Spafford

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