I know (purely because it was a matter of survival that I learn) that certain wedding anniversaries are associated with certain gift items. The 1st anniversary is traditionally the paper anniversary, the second – cotton, 3rd – leather, 25th – silver. I have adhered to these traditions, more or less, whenever I have managed to remember my anniversary at all (which is seldom). What I did not know (and what some of you Yankees may be surprised to hear) is that certain birthdays in the South also are associated with specific gifts. Let’s see, the 6th birthday is the Crossman-Pellet-Gun Birthday, the 8th is the Crappy-Cowboy-Shirt-That-Matches-Your-Brother’s Birthday, the 13th birthday is the Motocross-Bike Birthday,” etc. I think I have the Hallmark list somewhere. Anyway…
I turned 40 shortly after retiring from the Air Force and moving back to Kentucky. A simple celebration was held in my honor by my in-laws, most of whom earn a pretty decent living raising crops and piloting farm implements the size of small cities. They let me drive the smaller tractors and front-loaders as long as I stayed away from the crops. Occasionally, I would climb up into the cockpits of the larger implements when no one was looking, turn the steering wheel, and make tractor noises while pretending to disc or combine, or whatever it is they do.
It was at that gathering that I learned that not only is the 40th birthday the Power-Tool Birthday, it’s the SEARS CRAFTSMAN Power-Tool Birthday! I was presented with a fine array of high-quality, manly tools. There was the Craftsman Easy-Fire staple gun, the Craftsman 18v cordless drill, the Craftsman 7 1/4 inch circular saw, as well as various ratchet sets, adjustable wrenches, and a crow bar (not a Craftsman, mind you, but every man should have a pry-bar of some sort).
Having received these thoughtful presents, I then had to suffer through three more hours of polite family chit-chat before I could get my tools home and play with them. Don’t get me wrong: I love my in-laws. I have no bad in-law stories because my wife’s family is annoyingly perfect. Still, it’s like giving a 16 year old a Maserati and then telling him he has to sit do crossword puzzles with Grandma for three hours before he can take it on a test drive. I sat fidgeting in such obvious frustration that at one point my wife, Diana, told me to go to the bathroom before I peed myself.
Once home, Diana sat on the couch watching television while I ripped through the packaging on my tools like a 5 year old on Christmas morning. The first thing I did was to plug in the battery charger for the drill. Then, while the battery charged, I picked up the circular saw and plugged it in. I hit the trigger for five or six good, long, loud, annoying bursts and began looking around for something in the room to cut in half. Very quickly my eyes met those of my wife and locked fast. She had that look on her face that told me in no uncertain terms that I was on the verge of losing a kidney. She shook her head:
“I’m trying to watch T.V. Take your toy out to the garage.”
“I can’t – I haven’t had a chance to replace the breaker box in the garage yet, so there’s no power to the outlets. And it’s not a toy!”
“Then put it away and read your instruction manuals.”
I stared at her with my mouth hanging open.
“The instruction manuals.”
“Have you lost your mind? I don’t read instruction manuals.”
“Then it’s just as well we don’t have one for the bedroom.”
“Look, I don’t care what you do – just unplug your little saw and put it away.”
I made an ugly face and then did as I was told. I unplugged the saw, then, in an act of manly defiance, squeezed the trigger a couple times and made loud power-saw noises in my throat. There is a subtle art to annoying one’s spouse just up to the point where she throws something heavy or pointy. If wife-baiting was a sport, I’m pretty sure I’d make a respectable showing in the U.S. Olympic trials.
Diana chose to ignore my sophomoric display, so I set the saw down and grabbed the Easy-Fire staple gun. I pulled out the staple loader and slid it back in. Then I pulled it out again and slid it back in. Out. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out. Then I loaded some staples. Then I unloaded those staples and loaded some bigger staples. Then I unloaded the bigger staples and loaded some even bigger staples. Then I looked around the room for something to staple. This time, I felt rather than saw the searing gaze of my wife burning a hole into the side of my skull. I tried to ignore it, but it actually hurt to the point where my eyes were drawn against my will toward hers.
“You are not going to staple anything in here. Put that away.”
“Stop reading my mind, sorceress.”
“It’s really not that hard to do. Put it away.”
I pulled an even worse face than before, slowwwwwwly and deliberately unloaded the staples, held the staple gun up to the light while admiring its beautiful lines from a variety of different angles, and then reluctantly set it down on the couch. I glanced briefly at the stack of operator manuals at my feet before deciding there might be just enough juice now in the battery to try out my new drill. I connected the battery to the drill, flipped the switch to “forward,” and squeezed the trigger. I was greeted by a whiff of ozone and the friendly whirr of the Craftsman’s 18-volt motor. I flipped the switched to reverse and squeezed the trigger. Then I put it back in forward. Reverse. Forward. Reverse. Forward. Reverse. Forward. Rever…
“You know, you’re going to have an awfully hard time getting your pants on tomorrow with that drill sticking out of your ass.”
Knowing a valid threat when I heard one, I sighed the sigh of every kid destined to wait until the spring thaw before trying out the new bike he got for Christmas, and set the drill down. Fortunately, I was an early riser and knew I’d have plenty of time to play with my tools the next day before Diana got up and spoiled it.
True to form, I was up at 5:00 a.m. the next morning. I quietly closed the bedroom door on my sleeping wife and went into the living room. “Let’s see… what needs fixing around here?” I thought. “Aha! The couches!”
At the time, we lived in an old farm house with nice oak hardwood floors. Unfortunately, the couches had wooden legs and tended to slide around those floors. Over time, the couches would walk the length of the room if we didn’t constantly push them back up against the wall. I decided to solve the problem by stapling strips of thick rubber mat to the bottom of the couch legs. That should hold ’em!
I measured and cut several strips of rubber, carefully flipped one of the couches on its back, lined up one of the strips, and began to staple. Suddenly the whole house was alive with the machine-gun staccato of my Easy-Fire. Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! Bam! I had just finished the two front couch legs, when from seemingly far away I heard a tiny, sleepy, severely pissed-off voice:
I put the staple gun down, eased open the bedroom door, and tip-toed in. Diana was still face down on her pillow. This, of course, was a ruse. I knew damn well that she could reach out at any moment, remove my spleen without my ever seeing her hand move, then fall right back into the sleep of the innocent. I had watched enough shows about crocodiles on Animal Planet to know to keep my distance and have an escape route already planned out.
“It’s 5:30 in the morning. What are you DOING?”
“Well,” I stammered, “You know how the couches are always sliding around? I uhhh… well, you see… uhhh, I figured I’d go ahead and fix them.”
Then, in the sweetest, most alert voice I believe has ever passed human lips, I heard:
“Honey, did you staple our couches to the floor?”
Even after 20 years of hazardous flight duty in the Air Force, I don’t think I have ever been in such danger of death or dismemberment as I was at that moment. This was a trap. I had to explain quickly and I had to get it right on the first attempt.
“No, no, no, Honey, I was stapling rubber strips to the bottom of the couch legs to help them grip the floor better.”
I heard an audible sigh, and suddenly her voice grew sleepy again.
“If I hear another sound before 9:00 I’m making you give all your toys back.”
Realizing I was going to live after all, I kissed Diana on the back of the head, quietly closed the bedroom door again, gingerly gathered up my new tools, and headed down the road to my father-in-law’s farm shop, where tool use was not only accepted – it was encouraged.