VIEW FROM THE HILL

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER
January is one of those months when the only tasks left to do are so mundane. One needs to spice it up. The holidays are over; two of the three adult children have gone home. The other is preparing to leave for spring semester study in a far-away university.

My wife and I have settled into a familiar routine. She has returned to her teaching duties while I have returned to work on the farm or office.

Winter chores include re-arranging workspace in the machine shed, working on tax returns and updating depreciation schedules.

Imagine sorting bolts on a cold, wintry day-in an unheated shop. It is like watching grass grow in the arctic. Perhaps I will find a wrench or two, lost during an encounter with a broken part. Now that would be a break in the action, not to mention a nice reward for a job well done.

There is one little problem. Make that two problems. Lost tools do not get lost on their own, nor can they tell who lost them.

Correction again, more problems arise. Tools are always found in another location, far from where they were last used. This discovery defies all logic. How did it get over here when I used it over there? Suspicion then influences my judgment. Was I the last one to use the tool?

I rarely hear a satisfactory answer from the usual suspects in the alleged crime. My children come home for Christmas, Thanksgiving and wheat harvest. Do they sneak back home and scatter my own tools around, just for kicks?

As for the remaining suspects-Me, Myself and I-the trail of evidence linking them to the specific event was difficult to find. They remained silent during the initial interrogation. However, under extreme pressure, one of them finally denied I had anything to do with the tool’s mysterious disappearance and subsequent reappearance in another place.

As for Me and Myself, they refused to admit to anything either, pleading innocence in the matter.

On the television show, “Spin City,” Michael J. Fox’s character encourages the mayor to fabricate a statement of fact, creating what he called, “plausible deniability.”

I can do that, with an honest face to match.

After pointing an accusing finger at Me, I looked at Myself in the eye (using a mirror, of course) and replied, “I absolutely have no idea how that tool came to rest in a field nine miles away from the shop. I am 100 percent certain I put it back in the tool box, where it belonged.”

Does that denial sound plausible? No? What gave it away? I bet it was the impish smirk on that face in the mirror-or laughter coming from my better half.

So much for “plausible deniability.”

Forgetting where tools are placed is a common hazard in any business where hand tools are used. A friend-whose name, age and profession have been withheld to protect the “innocent”-jokingly refers to his own, temporary forgetfulness as “half-zhiemers.” Others have called it a “senior” moment.

Forgetting at any age, especially when the conditions are brought on by health conditions is not to be taken lightly. My reference to these lighthearted statements on forgetting is not intended to poke fun at anyone, except yours truly.

I make the choice to laugh at these “moments,” to break up the monotony of cleaning up the workshop or to liven it up a bit while doing taxes back in the office. Believe me, I would rather laugh at anything remotely funny than run around all day with a bad attitude.

There was a time when I prematurely blamed myself for misplacing a shovel. I searched through the entire shop at least twice, looked through the entire contents in every building on the farm, not to mention the property in town. I even opened every large toolbox, including those on vehicles. Back tracking where I used it last was equally fruitless.

“Well, Paul, you really lost it for good this time,” I heard myself say.

One day, in the middle of summer, while moving round bales from the hay meadow, I drove by a small mound of dirt that used to be hog manure. I observed an object standing upright on the mound. It was the missing shovel.

I have long forgiven the offender for not returning the shovel to its rightful place. He used it to load the fertile dirt into buckets and placed it in the garden. Beautiful crops of vegetables were now growing in that soil.

Our family enjoyed the fruits of our youngest son’s labor of love. Radishes, green beans and lettuce were the ingredients of countless meals. How can you point fingers when your hands are holding such wonderful food?

But what a relief to know I was not the culprit this time. I really was innocent. For once, I can shout “I’m innocent and free!”

Having said that, however, I am still working on my own version of “plausible deniability.” You never know when it will come in handy on a cold, boring, winter day.

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