Remembering a loveable maverick

Get any group of bachelor Uncle Adam's relatives together and you can bet that within ten minutes they'll be muttering, ''Wonder what he's up to now.'' And judging from their faces and voices when they say it, you know that no matter what it is they'll disapprove.

They were more than a dab skeptical about his sanity when he stuck a six-foot sheet-metal weather vane atop his barn one fall. The vane was shaped like a witch riding a broomstick. But, though they flinched when they saw it, they couldn't comment much. It worked fine, you see.

When they inspected his garden the next spring, however, some were at last sure he'd stepped over into Looney-Land. There wasn't a full straight row in it! X's of radishes nestled next to S's of beets that gave way to O's of turnips. He'd planted two 30-foot zigzags of peas, six big circles of cabbages; had parallelograms of potatoes enclosing trapezoids of onions and garlic and lettuce; seven good-sized intersecting arcs of snap beans; some curlicues of cucumbers - a nongeometric, nonsymmetric vegetable hall of horrors, they said.

''It's a waste of space, a waste of time,'' Cousin Cora chided him. ''Whatever possessed you into planting your plot so?''

''I got tired of all them rows always being straight,'' Uncle Adam said. ''Marching up and down past them regimented veggibles made me feel like a general reviewing troops.''

''Well,'' sniffed Aunt Celia, ''it's a giddy garden, gadding all over the place.''

''Good for gadding, then. I've got meandering room now; don't have to beeline back and forth like a sentry walking his post.''

Uncle Adam's garden gave him a bumper crop. But the relatives wouldn't accept any of the surplus.

The next year he installed a thousand-dollar stereo system, complete with twin speakers, in his milking barn. He beamed when he showed it to Brother John and Uncle Elzear and their families one Sunday afternoon. ''The music'll boost my cows' production.''

''Outlandish!'' snapped Aunt Lizzie. ''You could've plugged in your FM radio and got music for a lot less outlay.''

Uncle Adam looked shocked. ''A radio - for my purebred Jerseys? No, siree. They'll get Beethoven at his best - and watch the butterfat count go up.''

''Sibelius echoing among the stanchions,'' Brother John snorted, ''while the cats sharpen their claws on them toney speakers.''

Uncle Adam's cows came through handsomely for him: he paid off the set in a little over a year. ''As for the cats,'' he told Granpa, his eyes twinkling, ''they sit quiet during my Philharmonic Milking Hour.''

Granpa's the only one in the family who's amused by, and approves of, Uncle Adam's enterprises. ''He's an un-ner,'' Granpa chuckles, '' - unpredictable, unflappable, and uncommon. Everything but unlucky.''

''You forgot unwed,'' said Sister Priscilla.

One other year, after corn-picking had ended, Uncle Adam went tractoring around his fields with his stoneboat in tow, loading on big rocks, some almost boulder-sized. When he'd cleaned out his place, he called on some of his neighbors and stated that he'd be beholden if they'd let him cart off any spare rocks or middling boulders they didn't want. He hauled his collection to the side of the creek that skirts the farther edge of his big south lawn and flows down to the pasture.

''Don't tell us you're figuring on laying out a rock garden now,'' the relatives said.

''Nope. Going to build me a rapids.''

''Say again?''

''Come thaw-and-runoff time next spring,'' Uncle Adam said, ''I want to raise my window and wake up and go to sleep hearing rapids rumbling.''

''Ordinary crickwater gurgling and splashing and chuckling ain't enough for you?'' Cousin Ida scoffed.

''I need more volume and variety, come springtime,'' Uncle Adam said. ''As is , the crick just hums and warbles, and it's too restful for a man's got as much work as I have then. There's nothing like the sound of loud water to work the winter out of a man's bones and rouse him to twelve-fourteen-hour work days.''

''Well, don't come hunched and hobbling to us for help when you throw your back out trying to get them rocks in that crick,'' Uncle Ed warned.

''It won't be strainful at all.'' Uncle Adam pulled a folded sheet of paper from his pocket. ''I've got the rapids all charted out,'' he announced, unfolding it. ''The blueprint looks like notes on sheet music, don't it?''

When the creek froze over that winter Uncle Adam rolled and pried and skidded the rocks and boulders into position. '''Twasn't work enough to raise a sweat,'' he said after he'd finished laying out a forty-foot archipelago between the banks.

When spring came, the weakened ice gave way to the weight of the rocks and boulders, and they settled into their allotted places. And when the full-spate waters sped downstream, Uncle Adam's rapids cracked, growled, and thundered loudly enough to set his Leghorn layers cackling nervously at times in their henhouse.

''Look at that water roller-coastering along,'' he noted to Aunt Elsie and Uncle Tom and their brood.

''Yes,'' said Aunt Elsie, her eyes narrowed, ''and look at them branches and logs hung up on the rocks. First thing you know, they'll choke the channel and you'll have a flooded lawn.''

''Hardly,'' said Uncle Adam. ''I'll just pull 'em out when it's needed. I figure I'll collect half a cord or more of firewood. That's my bonus.''

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