34: Shut Up and Chip

34: Shut Up and Chip

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

Shut Up and Chip

Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.

~Newt Gingrich

My husband rolled his eyes and I knew he was thinking, “Please, God, not another harebrained idea.” We’d moved into a new country home that summer and our large barren yard begged for landscaping. Alas, our budget begged for other things, like paying the mortgage. I often flipped through house and garden decorating magazines with landscaping lust in my heart, but we couldn’t afford it. I coveted an elegant, stone patio where I’d entertain friends and neighbors with cool drinks and tasty barbecues.

I frequently drove past the blackened remains of an old house on my way into town. All that remained after a long ago fire was part of the red brick chimney, feebly standing sentry over the ruins, which were being devoured by kudzu vines.

One day as I drove by the burned house, I had an idea. I hit the brakes, turned the car around, and asked neighbors about the house. When I found the owners, I admit I pleaded, though it probably wasn’t necessary. No one else was waiting in line to cart off their old chimney.

So I excitedly shared my brilliant plan with my husband. He inhaled deeply, feigned enthusiasm, and pasted a tight smile on his face.

For the next several weeks, my husband, our ten-year-old daughter and I tackled the bricks. Armed with a sledgehammer and a machete, we repelled both kudzu and snakes. We made trip after trip to the old house, overloading the trunk of our family car, making the suspension groan. While unloading back at our house, I became so adept at pumping up the wheelbarrow’s flat tire that I nicknamed it Old Baldy. Soon, we had a mountain of used fire-scorched bricks, mostly still mortared together in clumps of various sizes.

“Now what?” my husband asked, when we finally had a big pile of brick clumps. I produced protective eye goggles, heavy work gloves, hammers, and chisels. Each family member was assigned a goal to clean ten bricks daily. The task seemed impossible, but slowly, with thirty cleaned bricks added to the tally most days, the stack grew.

Initially, we laughed and made jokes, hoping to keep spirits high and hammers chipping. “Santa’s going to be surprised when he goes to slide down that chimney this year and finds it in our back yard,” I teased my daughter as we incessantly chipped.

I tried to convince the family that great sculptors had started this way. “Okay, Michelangelo,” I prodded my husband, “Forget about David. Bricks await your masterful touch.”

Finally, the project seemed too long and whining ensued. My daughter swore that someone was sneaking into the yard at night, adding clumps of bricks to the unfinished pile. My positive speeches finally degenerated to a cranky “just shut up and chip.” The family threatened to have those words chiseled on my tombstone, as long as they didn’t have to personally wield the chisel.

Mortar chipped off some bricks cleanly. Others were stubborn. Some bricks broke and were tossed to the side, smaller pieces to fill in where needed. At last, the already-cleaned heap grew higher than the shrinking still-to-be-cleaned mound.

Laying the charred gems, brick-by-brick, into an intricate pattern was painstaking work. But by the end of the summer, after we’d swept sand between the pavers, we had a large patio and a luxurious fire pit. We spent many summer evenings on the patio.

Fueled by rave reviews, my husband eventually remembered the original idea as his own. This time it was my turn to roll my eyes.

~Hope Sunderland

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