A lot of the chores and work associated with keeping a farm or homestead running are easier, or just more fun, when tackled as a team. But is there such a thing as too much homesteady togetherness?
I suspect a lot of folks are going to find out as we enter into another week of COVID-19 related social distancing. Folks are staying at home and perhaps taking on some projects that have been deferred over the years.
Speaking from experience, I can say it’s very much a double-edged plowshare. Sooner or later you learn that while many hands make light work, there are times when the last thing you need or want is someone sticking their fingers into what you are doing.
This was certainly the case on Rusty Metal Farm some years back when Patrick and I decided to complete our downstairs after a decade of living in an unfinished space. Such plans we made! We opted to panel the walls in pine, cover the ceiling in cedar, install oak hardwood floors and create window and door trims out of spruce. Much of the wood for the project would come directly off the farm from trees we felled, had milled in town and then custom cut back on the farm.
Patrick would install the wooden paneling on the walls ceiling or around doors and windows. My job was to sand and stain the wood in three different applications. It meant we were working at times in pretty close quarters, but we were doing it together as a team.
What could be better than that?
By the third or fourth day, just about anything would have been better. Instead of offering loving comments about the other’s work, we increasingly began second-guessing and sniping.
Things came to a head the day the last of the oak planks were installed on the floor. The plan was for Patrick to take care of getting rid of the scraps of wood and put away the tools we had used laying the floor while I used a special sheep’s-wool mop to evenly distribute the protective layer of clear flooring varnish.
There were a couple of flaws in this plan. One was that we were pretty much speaking to each other through clenched teeth because we were sick and tired of living in the midst of construction. It was honest to God starting to feel like the newly-paneled walls were closing in.
The second flaw was the fact that the protective sealant was so clear you could not tell where it had been applied and where it was still needed. Unless you were eye-level with the floor, something that was possible only while walking down the stairs to the cellar which is exactly what Patrick was doing when he groused at me for missing so many spots.
I took those comments with a full measure of maturity and responded by flinging the mop down, stomping off and telling him if he thought he could do a better job, go for it.
He then stomped up the stairs, grabbed the mop and proceeded to miss the exact same spots. That storm blew over as quickly as it started and we laughed about it to his dying day.
Now, all that activity in the living room meant we could not actually use it. And there were few things Patrick enjoyed more at the end of a day than sitting on his couch and reading the paper while I cooked dinner. Early on in our project, we relocated the couch into the kitchen which put us in very close proximity during this regular evening domestic routine.
Turns out, that was just a bit too close for comfort.
One evening, as Patrick read and I prepared a meal I had successfully made dozens of times before, he lowered the paper, looked at me and uttered the immortal and poorly conceived observation, “That’s not going to work if you cook it that way.”
I realized several things in rapid succession at that point: Patrick had never watched me cook before, Patrick had no clue how to cook and there is such a thing as justifiable homicide.
Obviously I did not seriously contemplate the latter, but I did order him to take the damn couch out of the kitchen with some unsavory and unrealistic suggestions on where he might put it.
But most of the time Patrick and I worked really well together and enjoyed every second of it. Sure, there was the time he accidentally hit me with the tractor bucket. Or the time I was driving that same tractor hauling a full load of firewood with Patrick as a passenger next to me and, as we were going down a steep hill, I knocked it out of gear into neutral and darn near crashed us into a pile of rocks.
But anyone who works on a homestead knows those sorts of things are bound to happen. So you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, assess any injuries or damages, find something funny about it and move on.
That’s also exactly how we should all be treating this period of forced togetherness. With no certainty how long people will need to remain in place and with few options for going out, couples around the state could find themselves sharing chores they had previously done solo.
Take it from me, when the going gets tough and you are on each other’s last nerve, look for the humor and laugh. And remember, we are all in this together.
Oh, and wash your hands.