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We were two gray-headed Paul Bunyans without Babe, the blue ox

Mother’s Day when the children are grown and gone isn’t quite like it is when the kids are at home. Mostly, it’s waiting on telephone calls.

That being the case, we decided to surprise our friends Pat and Michael. I loaded my chain saw and some gasoline in the trunk of the car and a change of clothes onto the back seat before we left for church Sunday.

Michael had told us the night before when we all met at the Second Saturday Art Walk in Bay St. Louis that he had found someone to grind his stumps, all 29 of them, at what he considered a reasonable price. Actually, I think this was the first person he had been able to get to come by to look at the stumps since the storm.

The price would be even better if Michael could cut the high stumps down to size. That can be quite a job, especially at our ages.

I didn’t say anything at the time. I didn’t know if Genie had anything planned beyond lunch on Mother’s Day. On the drive home, she said that she didn’t.

Michael and I have helped each other with various jobs over the years, but it seemed to me, and Genie agreed, that he had helped me a lot more in recent months than I had helped him. She also agreed that it would be nice if I could help Michael cut all those stumps down to size.

She has a cell phone and that’s the phone the kids call us on mostly, anyway.

After lunch, we stopped by Pat and Michael’s to find them taking a break. They had spent the morning clearing brush that had grown up from around the stumps. They were most relieved that I had dropped by with my saw.

I changed clothes, we oiled up and gassed up the saws and prepared to go to work. Immediately, it became evident that Michael’s saw wasn’t going to work. The darned thing had been giving him problems since the day he bought it about a year ago.

We went to work with my saw and Pat and Genie took Michael’s saw back to store where he had bought it. Michael was grim when he dispatched Pat with the saw. He wanted a new one. He was tired of all the problems and he didn’t believe he should have to pay for it since the saw had been back to the factory at least once.

After we cut a few stumps with my saw, wouldn’t you know it — the darned pull cord knot came undone down around the wheel attached to the sprocket that turns over the engine to crank it. We couldn’t get the side plate off without disturbing some of the carburetor settings, so we were stuck with a small, electric chain saw that wouldn’t do much damage to most of the stumps. We tackled them anyway and got two of the really small ones cut down to size.

Now we waited on Pat. After we had gotten our second wind and calmed down from our frustration, she and Genie came driving up and — Oh, deliverance!

They didn’t merely bring a new saw, they brought a model of the best on the market today.

Pat said that when they got to the store with the complaints, a salesman told them that the model of the brand of saw that had been giving Michael so much trouble had been recalled. The salesman showed them what was available in the same brand, then mentioned that for $25, since Michael’s saw had been recalled, they could get this particular model of the best brand of chain saw on the market. Pat made a quick and wise decision and went for the deal.

When she arrived back at the house, we snatched it up, read the directions, filled the gas tank and the chain-and-bar oil reservoir, cranked it and went to work.

Oddly, during the break when we were waiting on Pat and Genie, I had mentioned this particular brand of saw to Michael, giving him my very high opinion of it, wishing I had one myself. When I bought my saw after Hurricane Katrina, the store had been out of this particular brand, at least in a size that I knew I could reasonably handle.

We were amazed at how really good this particular saw proved to be. We went through the remaining high stumps in short order and were less tired after cutting several stumps than we had been after even cutting a couple with my saw before that darned knot came undone.

As we were doing all this, I wondered what Paul Bunyan would have said of the whole thing. His story was one of my favorites when I was a child. I could imagine myself striding through the North Woods swinging my mighty ax, felling groves of trees with a single blow for Babe, my trusty giant blue ox to haul off to the lumber mill.

I had to laugh, though, when we were through felling the tall stumps and covered with saw dust. We were a fine couple of relatively small, gray-headed Paul Bunyans cutting really “short timber,” and definitely without the élan of my fictional hero of childhood.

Also, we were missing Babe, the blue ox, and what would Paul Bunyan be without Babe? I can only guess. We, though, were hot, sweaty, covered in sawdust and glad to be done.

Michael says we are even on chores. That never really mattered anyway. It felt good to give a friend a hand. Oh, yes, Will Pat and Katie called Genie, and Ian called Pat, and I called my amazing mom.