Getting g’out and about

“If I was a rich man … ”

We don’t hear Tevya mention any disease in that little ditty from Fiddler on the Roof do we? No, I thought not. If he had caught “rich man’s disease“ he wouldn’t be dancing around, either.

Though I don’t know how I qualified for such a privilege, I suppose that I should be flattered that “rich man’s disease,” or gout, has honored me with a visit. Coping with such pain is made easier for me because I’m so easily entertained and become fascinated over such things. “Wow, how can that one toe hurt so much?” If I were a turkey (watchit — I said “if”) I would be one of those birds who drowns looking up, fascinated by the rain.

Forget pulling a stiff steel toe leather work boot or barnyard gums on over one of these affected joints — a sneaker without laces is about all that one can don without passing out. Many years ago, during one of these episodes, my left foot clad only in a loose sneaker, I eased myself, groaning and wincing into the passenger seat of a customer’s tiny Isuzu pickup. Rolling his eyes at my plight, my host commented indignantly, “Well, don’t kill yourself getting in.” There also seems to be no sympathy for rich man’s disease.

Gout occurs when uric acid, a waste product, appears in unusually high levels in the blood and forms crystals in the joints — usually the knee or big toe. The immune system considers these crystals to be intruders and attacks them — hence the pain, swelling and the areas being warm to the touch. We might reason that the amount of pain produced by gout should be an indicator of how well one’s immune system is working. If that’s any true indication, then my immune system would theoretically be able to defeat the Third Reich.

The instance involving the tiny pickup truck occurred during those do or die, push through the pain hyper-ambitious days during the early days of my tractor repair business. Twenty-five years hence and the past week found me with rich man’s disease and another bad cold. (The Old Hippie works in the school system so we get every new bug that comes down the pike — maybe it is possible to catch all 200 known cold viruses in one lifetime after which one becomes totally immune.)

I have plenty of work waiting and colds never used to stop me from working. Jaquin’s Distillery saw to that by providing the many momentary respites that made severe cold symptoms bearable. But now even their best efforts won’t propel me onto the ice beneath a tractor with a sprung clutch. Add to that a spring snowstorm and a frigid breeze after these exceptionally hot summers have messed with my famous Baltic cold tolerance and I may make it no further than this keyboard.

I did try to start the maintenance season off on the first of March. After a winter characterized by surgery and lifting limitations, I was ready to hit the ground running. I serviced the zero turn and 1968 Ford 5000 tractor at Sandstone Farm — that still leaves me the Ford 2000, the manure spreader and greasing the water wagon. (Water is sprayed on the ground to minimize the Dust Bowl effect during the summer.)

Moving on to the farm museum: this is a private museum of a 1950s farm maintained by the family that grew up there — I maintain their vast collection of antique Farmall tractors and pitch in with some of the grounds work while they seek a replacement for grounds keeper Jerry Kirk who died suddenly about four years ago. The 300 acres of cropland is leased out to a large farming operation. I hand-cranked the 1949 Farmall C, our mowing workhorse, to life (two pulls) and gave the tractor its yearly oil change and so forth.

A few large spruce trees had blown over during one of the many severe storms that Loudoun County is famous for. I sawed these free of the roots then sawed the trunks into lengths of about 10 feet. It’s too muddy now but, when the ground firms up, I’ll push these lengths into a fencerow somewhere on the place. This may be a little dangerous. In ancient times, in the absence of hardened metal, spruce wood was used as a spring material because of its tendency to store energy. Spruce can snap back unexpectedly with considerable force — I’ll have to warn the hunters to be careful of these compressed masses of limbs as well.

Normally, this brush would be handled with a 1940 Farmall H equipped with a loader. However, the family has asked me to give particular attention to a 1956 Farmall 300-U, one of the more or less “forgotten” tractors under the barn. This tractor is also equipped with a loader, so I’ll make it my bulldozer for this year.

There’s standing water that I’ll need to wade through in order to get the old 300 running and out of there but I can’t pull my tall gum boots on over the foot affected by gout. In fact, there’s standing water just about everywhere I need to go. I’ll just have to wait until I can slip my rubber gumboots on before I can tackle these jobs. Perhaps “rich man’s disease” is just the price we pay for a life of wine, women and song. I guess that, in the future, I should try not to sing so much.


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