When my son is low on funds (more or less routinely now that he's a family man working for minimal pay as a carpenter's apprentice) I try to come up with creative and mutually beneficial ways to transfer cash between us. It often comes down to grunt labor. (If you need an appliance moved, he's your man.) Whether yard work or incentives, I have never looked back on the bribe I offered him to kick his smoking habit, though his main motivation was the wondrous responsibility and hope-filled future of fatherhood.
Most satisfying, are the occasions where I can tap his artistic talent to my advantage. One fine day in October, I asked him if he could come up with an aerial sketch of the farm suitable enough to frame as a Christmas present for Charlie.
He brushed off my offer of a rough template.
"I know the place" he reminded me, his childhood memories still fresh at age 22.
Nonetheless, I insisted on providing a list of the must-have elements. Among them were all of the buildings including the farmhouse and barns, the log cabin, timber frame library, and the wee hiker's hut deep in the back forest. Not to mention the major natural landmarks – the sledding hill, pastures, streams, cedar grove, fence lines, and, as a nod to a new reality and an exercise in contrast, a glimpse of one or two of the mansions in the new development across the east boundary.
I offered $50 for an 18-by-34-inch bird's-eye view of the 80 acres. That night, as my daughter-in-law Ashley later reported, he hunkered down for four hours over his largest sketch pad.
To say Tim delivered is to downplay a wealth of well-proportioned detail I had in no way anticipated.
Although I'd never mentioned the restored WPA outhouse, Tim had sketched it on the southern edge of the graveled farm drive (it was clearly graveled in his rendition).
As I stared at the drawing, the water troughs at the barn and cabin, the bathtub catchment below the spring east of the barn, gates as well as fences, footpaths, and casually curved dots that were so obviously grazing cows I could almost name them, popped into view.
Incredulously, I recognized from a few angled lines at the end of the drive Charlie's ever-present scrap metal pile. Cedar and deciduous trees in the wooded areas were distinguishable from one another in simple, but deftly penciled strokes and swirls. He'd even captured the farm's power sources – tractors with hay wagons, the farm truck, pea-sized draft horses, and two diminutive figures in the front yard.
After Tim handed me the sketch, I wrote him a check for $60, the clarion call for a bonus unmistakable and well earned.
I spent the next day penciling a bit of color into the scene (something I had not, after all, commissioned) and found a suitable frame at a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore outlet.
Although Christmas is still three weeks away, Charlie won't know about Tim's farm sketch unless family or local readers spill the beans.
Alas, the $60 I gave Tim financed no more than a single tank of gas and a few groceries.
It's true, the farm, after all, is no Ponderosa. But one way or another it continues to sustain us all.