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HEATHER HUYBREGTS: Shovelling gravel and giving up pretences

Columnist Heather Huybregts learned a little too late that moving rocks is much faster with a loader than a shovel. 123rf Stock
Columnist Heather Huybregts learned a little too late that moving rocks is much faster with a loader than a shovel. 123rf Stock

I recently sat on my sunlit front porch, sipping coffee and watching my children, whimsically twirling on the tree swing.

Those are the days, I thought, as the dizzied youngest one puked on himself, causing the disgusted eldest to jump off the swing and puke in the grass. Childhood: endless sunshine, spinning in trees, puking all willy-nilly . . .

The thought had barely left its larval stage in my brain when something overtook my visual periphery.

Dandelions. The least dandy of all the flowers. Not a patch of grass was spared in their sunshiny show of tyranny. My eyes followed their contagious yellow caps across the lawn to the gravel driveway. The nectary devils had even infiltrated the unsuspecting rocks.

That’s it, I decided. I’m an adult! I’m taking this matter into my own hands.

So I phoned mom.

She arrived swiftly, armed with gloves and shovels and a big roll of material through which Satan’s golden whiskers could not penetrate.

And don't worry. I wasn’t about to let my mother do all the work. She's 64. So while she shoveled, and squatted, and pulled, and shoveled and hauled, and squatted and scooped in unfatigueable rhythm, I supervised. And made unhelpful comments like “some lot of ‘em”.

I tried to pull out a single dandelion. Whose head promptly popped off, leaving the leaves and roots intact. I whisper-cursed. And took my hat off to wipe my brow and gaze into the blazing distance like the hardworking frontier woman I was. I mentioned how hot I was three to seven times. I asked mom if she was violently perspiring too. She laughed and said no, as we’d barely gotten started. I plucked the head off another godless flower. I swore louder. Then I made us sandwiches. Bottom line, it was a 50:50 team effort.

It was finally time to head to the “rock shop”, a business in an industrial part of town where adults apparently go to pay for rocks. I took mom’s word for this. Let’s be clear: I’m an adult in unruly body hair and perpetual frown lines only; I’m a confused and overwhelmed child at my core.

We were about nine buckets shy of the ten buckets we would need. And also shy of one pickup truck. Luckily, my next door neighbour, Jon, is the chillest, most generous and genuine human alive and is always game for an adventure. He not only volunteered his truck, he volunteered his time and shoveling muscles.

We arrived at the rock-shop and drove over a little bridge that weighs the truck before and after pick-up. I joked that I shouldn’t have eaten that sandwich. Then laughed at my own joke.

We were pulling up next to the mound of “class A” rocks we were told we needed, when mom realized that we’d forgotten the shovels.

“Do we need them?”, I asked.

“Of course. How else are we going to shovel the stone?”.

Great question; again, not something my brain would have pondered prior to this foreign, adult adventure.

The woman in the office looked more confused by my inquiry than I felt she should have. “A shovel?”, she asked, as if I had requested a cocker spaniel. She retrieved a single shovel from a closet. “This is the only one we have”. Odd, I thought, as I thanked her profusely.

Back at the mound, we took turns wrenching our rotator cuffs to shovel rocks from ground level into the elevated truck bed. We weren’t the most efficient troupe that place had ever seen. And my knack for faking my way through adult obligations wouldn’t fly here; no amount of staring into the distance like a quarry pioneer would speed this along. There were no sandwiches to be made. Despite our sweaty, sun-burned efforts, our progress was slower and more futile than my lifelong fling with laser hair removal.

“Walmart bags!”, I declared, recalling seeing two, reusable Walmart bags in the back of Jon’s truck. After about 15 parched minutes of scaling the mound, cutting my knees on jagged rocks, and scooping handfuls of dirty stones with my bare hands into a floppy, unreceptive bag - and watching my mother do the same - we found our groove. I sat in the back of the truck, in the pile of accumulating rocks. As I would empty one bag into the pile, mom (clearly way younger than me) would fill and hand me up the other one. And repeat. All while Jon tirelessly shoveled.

I can only imagine the sight of the three of us: wheezing and grunting, embracing the pain and regret; unapologetic plumber cracks glistening in the sunshine.

That’s when a gentleman – the love child of James Bond and Paul Bunyan, in fact – casually pulled up in his shiny, red pickup. He expertly reversed into the rock pile next to ours. With his military grade shovel in hand, he leaped up into the bed, like a spry adolescent mountain goat. He then opened the tailgate and proceeded to effortlessly shovel from the TOP of the pile. Which was, of course, right at his level. Seemed an obvious choice.

Before exhaustion, dehydration and repetitive strain injuries killed us, we decided we’d met our quota. I slogged back to the office to return the toy-sized shovel. I looked like I’d just emerged from a collapsed coal mine.

“Funny”, the woman said as she tallied my bill, “you guys didn’t use the loader”.

“The what now?”, I asked. Cool and calm and sawdust-mouthed.

“The loader. Most people just use that”.

“Oh, I wouldn’t know how to use that”, I comforted myself.

“No, no, the operator is out there to do it for you”.

Processing.

“Wow, and how much does THAT cost?”, I retorted, irked by the threat of defeat and the woman’s aggressive show of physical cleanliness and manners.

“Oh no, it’s a free service”, she smiled.

I quietly paid my bill and we headed home.

If my driveway was North America, our hard-earned haul spanned about the size of Tilt Cove, Newfoundland.

I had to laugh, three days later, as I sat on my front porch watching a gentleman use a remote control to launch six-tonnes of Class A crushed stone from a giant truck into my driveway.

Faking my way through adulthood has proven quite the education of late. I've learned:

  • Loaders are a complimentary thing to avail of when gathering large amounts of rocks;
  • Rock launcher trucks exist;
  • Good neighbours are better than gold, and so are mothers;
  • I need to start weight training.

Maybe the problem is me. As a child, I quite enjoyed dandelions; their arrival heralding sunny, summer days to come. A passerby, noticing my hefty crop, recently reminded me, “hey, the bees are happy”!

Heather Huybregts is a mother, physiotherapist, blogger (), YouTuber and puffin whisperer from Corner Brook, NL.

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