An old trusted friend CAI

An old trusted friend  CAI

It looked old. It looked like something that was ready to be retired, even though it still worked, and it still worked. The oak handles, which had been polished and shiny, had turned a permanent dull gray with deep cracks in them. The heavy steel tray had corroded, leaving a small, crescent-shaped hole at its leading edge, but the rolled steel edge was still intact.

I bought it in 1973 – an 8 cubic foot construction wheelbarrow – to mix concrete and mortar for my foundation and chimney. It was bright red, with white steel supporting edges. I think I paid fifty dollars for it, which was an exorbitant sum in those days. But I was in the early stages of building my first home and was determined not to compromise on quality or durability.

When I first started using the wheelbarrow, I carefully cleaned it after each use, removing every last speck of concrete from its large metal tray. But after a while I became less concerned about this and some gray concrete stains started accumulating on the surface of the tray, spreading and getting thicker over time.

After the foundation and chimney were completed, I would use the wheelbarrow every now and then for various other tasks and activities. When my kids were little I used to ride them in it. When I laid out a garden, I took the wheelbarrow to the beach to load marsh grass for mulch. In the fall, I used it to collect and dump pine needles collected from the driveway. In the winter, I used to move firewood in it from the woodshed to the front porch.

At some point in its long and useful life, its wide aero tire developed a slow leak. Looking back, I can see that I should have replaced the tire at the time, but it wasn’t that difficult to blow up the tire with my bike pump every time I needed to use it. But the leak slowly got worse. It would not hold the pressure for more than a few hours, and it was becoming more and more difficult to secure the valve to the pump. By the time I realized it would make sense to replace the tire, the bolts on the wheel hub had rusted beyond repair on the tire. It was clear that I could either continue to put up with an increasingly unpleasant situation, or accept the fact that it was time to replace the wheelbarrow itself.

One of the things that made this decision difficult is that over the course of four and a half decades, this decision has gained a history with me. When I looked at it, I didn’t just see a destructive tool, I saw a life partner here, a trusted friend who had grown old and somewhat diminished. When I lifted it by its bleached oak handles, it had a familiar heaviness, flawed now but still useful. The gray concrete stains on the inside of the stairs—some of which dated back nearly half a century—mirrored the graying of my scalp.

But no, I wasn’t giving in to easy anthropomorphism. I’ve never given my cart a name. It was just that, over the years, through repeated and varied use, it slowly transformed itself from being into object expertise. I had such a personal and tangible knowledge of him that he had value beyond his career.

The last time I used it, to get some firewood, it took nearly ten minutes to inflate the tire to a usable pressure, and when I lifted the loaded cart, I realized it was much heavier than I remembered. It is time to divest and adapt. So I drove to the nearest Ace Hardware store and bought a new, shiny, thin, dark green, 6-cubic-foot steel wheelbarrow with oak handles. It cost $69.95, which, after adjusting for inflation, was less than I paid for my original 1973 hand cart in 1973. Also. As a friend of mine in Newfoundland said to me when he finished rebuilding his wharf, “There, WhichYou’ll do me!”

This piece was first broadcast in 2020.

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