ERROL CASTENS: Free labor from Chip comes at a price

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Chip had helped me most of the afternoon and into the evening to get most of my winter’s supply of firewood cut, split and stacked.
Sue had fed us a late supper, and Chip was about to leave when it started to rain in earnest. Rather than his braving the lightning by running home through the woods, we lumbered sorely to the garage and unfolded some chairs to watch the light-and-water show.
As an afterthought to the relaxation, Chip asked if he might have a glass of brandy. I didn’t have any but offered some Portuguese dessert wine we had left over from last Thanksgiving.
“That’ll do nicely,” he said. “Any Port in a storm.”
Desiring to steer the conversation away from puns, I asked if he and Nan aimed to take a winter vacation to make up for spending all summer working in the North Dakota oilpatch.
“St. Lucia, maybe?” I teased, knowing well that Nan doesn’t do boats or planes if she can help it.
“Naw, more likely St. Louis,” Chip retorted.
I must have let my puzzlement show. Going north in winter?
“Well, they’ve got the arch and some great museums and Grant’s Farm, and it’s always fun to visit a brewery,” he said. “Besides, Nan’s sister wants us to stay with her. Missouri, you know, loves company.”
As Chip sipped his wine and we watched the oft-lit precipitation going nearly sideways, I said that he might consider the west Texas oilfields for his next seasonal job as an alternative to Dakota.
Nothing doing, he said. He’d spent parts of three years in the Permian Basin before he and Nan married, he said, but a wreck, a thieving roommate and a crooked boss, respectively, had left him broke each time, and he’d developed a permanent bad taste for the state.
“There’s nothing certain but debt in Texas,” he summarized.
I wished the rain would stop so I could escape Chip’s barrage of double entendres, but I had to endure more of each.
He gave me unwanted details of the mastitis that one of their goats had had, labeling it “udderly disgusting.”
He told about digging up an underground rodent he had successfully poisoned and taking it and several shovelsful of its habitat to his taxidermist so he could make a mounting out of a mole hill.
Making a rhetorical hairpin turn, he said Ben Franklin was only half-right: People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw either stones or wild parties.
As the rain and lightning let up enough for me to thank Chip for his work and invite him to find his way home, he claimed he knew what he was going to say if the world were still here on Dec. 22 despite predictions based on an ancient calendar.
I waited for it. I knew it was coming. And then he said it.
“Maya culpa.”
Errol Castens is the Daily Journal’s Oxford Bureau reporter. Contact him at

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