Anyone stumbling upon my Uncle Mort’s place down in the thicket would be taken aback by ill-arranged clutter in stacks, piles and barrels all over the yard. And the barn is in the same shape, its inventory of Mort’s junk replacing agricultural trappings decades ago. My 98-year-old kin has a sweeping acronym for the whole mess—"PIP"—or, projects in progress. Luckily, few people ever see Mort’s eclectic collection through arrival there by accident. One has to visit my kinfolks’ place on purpose; no one passes there on the way to town.
I’ve struck out trying to describe it. It’s kinda like the digs of TV’s "Sanford and Son." Unlike them, though, Mort spends more time collecting than he does dispensing.
Aunt Maude, one year his junior and his wife of almost 80 years, sizes up their homestead this way: "If a tornado hits our place, it will cause $100,000 worth of improvement," she laughs….
During a recent visit, I purposely sought Mort’s thoughts on Cliff Lee, the Texas Rangers’ pitching "phenom" who two-hit the New York Yankees a night earlier, striking out 13 batters. "I’m more interested in the ingenious way his fellow Arkansans honor the baseball star," Mort laughed. "On the same day of his near-perfect pitching, geologists in Arkansas recorded 13 tremors—one for each strike-out." Then, emerging from deep thought, he confessed, "I don’t know much about tremors, but how do you figure they manage to produce quakes on cue?"
I couldn’t keep him on sports topics; he wanted to enlighten me about his latest "PIP." Really, it’s a stretch to call Mort’s "projects" inventions. He’s never really invented anything, but sometimes makes intriguing discoveries by "blind-hog luck."
He’s at it again with lots of new stuff—a rusty weathervane, a kite with key attached, a reinforced butterfly net, and an assortment of electrical coils and batteries. Had Mort worn a white wig, waistcoat and tall black boots with shiny buckles, he would have looked like a modern day Benjamin Franklin, trying to harness electricity….
Guess what? In a way, that’s what he was trying to do. Learning that up to 7% of electricity is lost in transmission, Mort is determined to "recapture" it. "We’re already paying through the nose for the stuff, so if I can figure out how to reclaim some of the lost juice, maybe I can re-sell it."
My eyes rolled as he rattled on about plans to bottle it, crate it or somehow cram it into batteries. Again, Mort was in dreamland, envisioning a sky crowded by trillions of dollar marks fluttering toward him.
Then he continued with his theory: "Maybe lightning bugs are looting the ‘lectricity. That may be why they’re disappearing from the planet. Some of ‘em may be getting too much of the juice, leading to death by zapping," he continued. (At least that explained the modified butterfly net. No doubt he planned to catch as many lightning bugs as possible to "unzap" ‘em.)
When Mort’s babbling switched to "his invention" of crystal radios, I wilted. His neighbors who believe him probably likewise believe that Al Gore invented the Internet.
Nose sniffs aren’t often connected with rescue operations, but on this day, mine detected something special that called for a quick get-away from my "sideways-thinking" uncle.
The aroma wafting through Maude’s kitchen window was unmistakable. A delectable pineapple upside down cakes was in transfer from the oven. My opening of the screen door coincided with her robbing the cake of an over-sized slice that hung over the side of the saucer….
Without my saying a word, she flashed an understanding smile. "Mort means well," she said as she almost always does. "But he can’t put in flashlight batteries on the first try and is as clumsy as a buffalo on an ice rink when he changes a lightbulb."
She went on about considering it a small victory when he’s occupied by long stretches in the yard. That way, she can stay inside, enjoying the World Series.
"If he happens to figure out how to recover electricity from lightning bugs, more power to him," she joked. On that note, I bade farewell, making sure not to forget that other big slice of cake she’d wrapped for travel. It would go down well on the morrow. As I drove away, I wondered if Mort would later try to frisk glowworms who may also be in on the electricity heists….
Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone: 817-447-3872. Website: www.speakerdoc.com.