Sunday, August 29, 2021

Thou Shalt Not Steal

Years ago my brother and his family and me and my family were up at the cabin for a few days of fun with the kids and some fishing. It hadn’t been too many years before that our parents had died and the cabin was kind of a place to go that felt like coming home. Our dad had built the one room cabin many years before we were born and my brother had added two more rooms to it so it was plenty big for our two families to stay. Many of our relatives still lived in the tiny town of Grey Eagle, population 368, of which half were probably related to us. To this day 40 years later, the minute I see that water tower in Grey Eagle, I feel like I have come home.

One night after the kids were sleeping we got to talking and reminiscing about all the adventures and times we had been at the cabin when we were kids. Looking around there were many items that had been there since the cabin was built. The old pot-belly wood stove from my great-grandma’s farm, her huge round cast iron  griddle where stacks of pancakes were made, and my favorite cereal bowl and spoon. The bowl was a transparent cobalt blue bowl with a picture of Shirley Temple at the bottom. These were given away in sacks of flour at one time according to my mom. The spoon was a heavy wood handled and painted one from probably the 40’s  or 50’s.There was a whole set of silverware like that. As we were talking, my brother started talking about our great-grandma’s house a few miles down the road. I was only about 6 months old when she died, so I have no memories of her, but my brother’s always had stories about her. She lived in a tiny one bedroom place with an outhouse and a hand pump outside her house. The house had had other people living in it years ago after she died, but it was now empty and the land was owned and farmed by the neighbor next to it. My brother had heard that the house was going to be leveled by a bulldozer and the land farmed.

It was about midnight when we started talking about how sad it was that the place would no longer be around. We drove by it on the way in and out of town. And then it happened. My brother had the brilliant idea that we should go to the old homestead and take the pump that was in the yard. Afterall, it was going to be plowed under shortly, along with the house.

So we got into my old ‘64 hand-painted blue Plymouth Valiant and headed out to the highway and to the house. We had a big heavy pipe wrench in tow and the plan was to take the pump and run. We had reasoned that it was going to get demolished anyway so it wasn’t like we were stealing or anything, right? It wasn’t really trespassing because it once was our great-grandma’s land right?

We got to the driveway of the property and parked the car kind of behind some bushes. There were a few cars on the road at that time of night. Most were those coming home from the local bars. We had a flashlight with us, so before taking the pump we went into the already almost demolished house. The windows were punched out, no doors going into the house. The inside was pretty much filled with furniture and debris and even a few trees starting to take root inside. The house had been left and abandoned with someone’s possessions still in it. There even was a compost toilet in dire need of being plowed over. We went back outside and headed in the direction of the pump. 

The grass and weeds were almost waist high and it was a challenge to locate the pump at first. The mosquitoes were buzzing all around us and sucking the blood right out of us. Our arms and legs were covered with them biting us. One of us had forgotten to bring the bug spray. To this day it is still in debate whose job that had been.

My brother made his way to the pump and decided the only way to get to it was to lay down and begin dismantling it. I stood above him and swatted mosquitoes as they landed on him and me. Just then a car drove by slowed down by the driveway. The flashlight was turned off and we stayed there not moving at all. The car then sped up and headed back towards town. While we couldn’t be seen, the old blue car was probably pretty visible from the highway.

It was decided that my brother would stay there and continue to dismantle the pump and I would just take the car and drive up and down the highway until he was done and met me in the driveway with the pump.

Off I went through the tall grass to the car. Me and at least 10,000 mosquitoes sticking their stingers into my flesh. At that moment I made a mental note to myself. If there were ever any more midnight thievery, I would wear long pants, long sleeves and not leave it up to my brother to bring bug spray.

I must have drove up and down that stretch of highway over a dozen times waiting for my brother to appear in the driveway with the pump. I would get close to the driveway, slow down and look for him, and keep on going down the road to a  place to turn around and do it all over again. I figured it was a good sign not seeing him, it must mean he is getting the pump off.

Finally about the 15th time I came back to the driveway I saw him in the shadows. But there was a car behind me so I kept going past him. The bars must have closed and everyone was headed home, because all at once there was a line of cars behind me and coming towards me in the oncoming lane. I just kept driving until I was almost into town and could turn around.

After making my way back to the driveway, there were still cars coming back into town. I finally found a place to turn around discreetly and headed towards my brother to pick him up. There he was hunkered down in the ditch flashing his light at me to stop. I turned in and he hopped into the car. Off we went to find a place to turn around and go back to the cabin.

When I asked where the pump was, he explained it was pretty rusted on and he couldn’t loosen it to get it off. And he had a skunk near him the whole time he was working on it. He said he had almost hopped out onto the highway when he saw a car coming, but realized that my car had a headlight out so it was easy to recognize. He was just hunkered down in the bushes until he saw the Valiant with the one headlight.

When we got back to the cabin and were telling the story of what had happened, it was decided we never ever were to tell our Grandma about our plan to steal the pump. We figured she would be upset with our antics and potential thievery 

As luck would have it word did get out about that night and our midnight adventures. My niece was singing like a canary to grandma all about how we went to steal the pump to bring to her as a remembrance of her mom. Grandma sat quietly as we explained our rationale for trying to “re-allocate” the pump. She listened carefully, not saying a word. And when we were all done and feeling a little guilty for what we had attempted, grandma looked at both of us right in the eyes and said…”Haven't you two ever heard of a Hacksaw?”.


  1. I so wish we could have got that pump. Gram had so few memories of her mom. I think I still have mosquito bites from that night.