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The Champion Loser

The farm job at which I spend the most time is tool-hunting. I have never developed any discipline for putting things back where they belong when not in use. Feverish is my normal situation. I work feverishly, grab a tool, tinker-tinker, drop that tool, grab another, tinker-tinker, drop that one and grab a third, tinker- tinker. Now I need the first tool. Can’t find it. Someone took it. It is of course right underfoot somewhere, but I have by now seven thousand underfeet trampled all over the place. The more frantically I search, the more furtively the tool evades detection.

I can lose anything, even cows and sheep. Once we lost a whole herd of Holsteins. They disappeared into a corn field and I did not find them until they were cruising at top speed through Aunt Stella’s garden on the next farm. When my father and I were farming acreages several miles apart, I even lost a tractor once.

My fields today are strewn with lost pocketknives, wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers and drawbar pins. Sometimes the tools turn up a few years later after being plowed down and then plowed back up again, like flint arrowheads. In this respect, the Indians were far ahead of us technologically because if they found a lost arrowhead, they could use it again. Not so with my artifacts.

My biggest farming accomplishment is finding stuff once lost: a grease gun, a gas tank lid, a corn knife, an axe and a splitting wedge three times. Retracing steps to find lost objects is often mind-bending. I must recall every footfall I made between now and the last time I remember using the tool. This requires lots of imagination because, of course, I can’t remember where I last used the tool and so must spend hours trying to reproduce mentally every living moment of my existence for the last month or so. Just last week, I realized that my pocketknife was not in my pocket. This is sort of like a baby realizing it does not have a pacifier in its mouth. I can’t function without my pocketknife in my pocket. A half hour of meticulous meditation revealed that yes, I had used the knife to pry up a lock washer embedded in the homemade wood frame of my two row, hand-pushed corn planter. I knew exactly where I had pried up that lock washer. I went there. No pocketknife. More meticulous meditation. I searched the underfooted area. I had to have laid the knife down somewhere close by. Aha. There it was, on the back of the four-wheeler, about six feet away. Why had I put it there? Don’t ask me. It could easily have bounced off as I roared around the farm looking for something else I had lost. So now I don’t have to buy the 15th new pocketknife of my life.

I have developed the art of misplacement to such a high degree that I have lost bales of straw and five gallon cans of gas off the back of my pickup without causing an accident. I am very proud of the fact that I have never lost the pickup, which is now thirty years old, although once it coasted down an incline and ran into a fence post before I caught up with it.

My poor son gets blamed whenever I lose something. Jerry must have borrowed it, I say. Of course he has not, but I have to blame something other than my skill at losing things. He says that I should work for a roofer for awhile as he did. A roofer wears a belt as wide as a trampoline, and it is always stuffed with tools so he does not have to crawl down off the roof every time he needs something. Jerry says that when he first started, if he left a tool lie on the roof, his boss would throw it off onto the ground below. That’s how Jerry learned to put tools back where they belong, in this case in his belt, when not in use.

I know that wouldn’t work for me. I’d lose the belt.

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