“Fannie, your mom’s on the phone for you,” Richard said over his shoulder.
“Hi Mom,” I said hearing her arguing with my aunt in the background.
“. . .Verla, I’m talking to Fannie, you have to wait your turn,” my mother said sounding muffled.
“It’s my house, my phone and my idea,” Aunt Verla said, “I should be the one to tell her.”
“Mom,” I shouted into the phone, “go into the den and have Uncle Carl put me on speaker phone.”
“What did she say?” asked Aunt Verla.
“Go to the den and put me on speaker phone,” I shouted again.
“Carl, put Fannie on the speaker phone in the den so we can all tell her,” my mother said.
“Fannie are you there?” Aunt Verla asked over the crackle of the speaker.
“I’m still here,” I said laughing, “now what is it you’re trying to tell me?”
“Stanley the Horse,” my mother and aunt said in unison.
“Okay, Stanley the Horse,” I said, “I don’t get it.”
“We’re going to settle this once and for all,” Uncle Carl’s voice boomed over the phone.
“I still don’t get it.”
“We’re going to have a competition for the title of Stanley the Horse,” Aunt Verla said in her clipped tone.
“And we want you and Richard to host and be referee,” said my father. “You’re the only family members with enough brush in your yard to make this a fair competition.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said, “you want to have a contest between Dad and Uncle Carl to clear the brush in our front yard so you can answer the question of who is the real Stanley the Horse?”
“Yes,” said my mother and aunt in unison over the telephone.
“And no photographs either. We’ve seen the news and know what happens with that Facebook-You-Tubey thingy,” said my mother.
“You guys are nuts.” I said laughing. “Let me talk to Richard and see what he says. I’ll call you right back.”
Richard stared at me.
“Did I hear you right?” Richard asked one eyebrow raised. “Your family, who hates yard work, wants to come over and clear out the brush in the front yard.”
“Yep,” I said smiling.
“Who is Stanley the Horse?” Richard asked.
“I’ve never actually seen it, but Stanley the Horse was a comic book my mom and aunt loved as children,” I said. “Stanley was a horse who used clippers. The entire comic was about all the things he clipped.”
Richard looked at me like I’d come unhinged.
“If you don’t believe me ask Lenora Jane or Eleanor, we’ve been hearing about Stanley all our lives,” I said laughing. “Whenever my dad or Uncle Carl would trim anything in the yard they were given the title of Stanley the Horse. I had no idea it had risen to competition level.”
Flashing me his devilish grin Richard said, “Well, I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, find out what they are proposing for rules. I’ve been wanting to clear the brush for a while anyway.”
Groaning I said, “Gift horse was the best you could do, really?”
“It was short notice,” Richard said winking.
I dialed my aunt’s number.
Half a ring later four expectant voices asked in unison, “What did you decide?”
Laughing I said, “What rules are you proposing and when were you thinking about doing this?”
“Your father brought his 100-yard measuring tape,” my mother said, “we thought we’d measure out two equal areas this afternoon on our way home.”
“Since we’re not spring chickens any more we thought we would be timed over the course of a week,” said Uncle Carl.
“The man who clears the most by the end of the week wins,” my father said.
“And you and Richard will get to do the timing, make sure nobody cheats,” said Aunt Verla, “and call 9-1-1 if anything bad happens.”
“When do you want to start the competition?” I asked.
“We wanted to give you enough notice, how does Monday work for you?” my mother asked.
Laughing I said, “Mom, that’s tomorrow. We could swing it the following week if you can last that long.”
I could hear whispering.
“Done,” the uni-voices said.
Two hours later we watched the Mobile Land Yacht pulled into the driveway. My parents, aunt and uncle poured out of the car. My father opened the trunk. Handing the tape measure to my mother, stakes to my aunt, caution tape to my uncle, he kept the hammer for himself.
Pound, pound, pound.
Richard and I walked to the living room window. My father stepped back from the stake. Aunt Verla held one end of the measuring tape up to the stake. My mother walked the length of the yard.
“Forty-four feet,” she said stopping at my grandmother’s prized rhododendrons.
“Anyone who touches the Rhodies will be immediately disqualified and will spend the next month sleeping on the couch,” Aunt Verla said. My mother agreed.
My father and Uncle Carl shared a look we could not quite interpret.
“Do you think that means they’d risk cutting the rhodies?” Richard asked.
“Let’s not take the chance,” I said walking to the front door, “we’ll set some guidelines of our own.”
“Hi Everyone,” I said joining my family, “glad to see you could make it. We just want to make clear that the rhododendrons are off limits to the contest as well as the trees. You are limited to brush only.”
“Fannie, we just discussed that before you came out,” Aunt Verla said.
“Glad to hear it,” I said. “I also want to remind you this is a family neighborhood with school aged children so you may not start before 8 a.m. and you must finish by 4:30 p.m. each day. We will supply food, water and the bathroom. This means no peeing in the yard.”
“Fannie, we wouldn’t dream of doing that to you,” my father said flashing his Cheshire Cat smile.
“Uh huh,” I said rolling my eyes. “I don’t care how hot it gets, there will be no repeat of the Speedo Tool Belt,” I said looking at my father, my mother nodding with vigor. “We will also designate a portion of the driveway for the debris pile which you will help us chip when the contest is over. Any questions?”
They shook their heads.
“We also reserve the right to amend the rules based on unforeseen circumstances. Our decisions are final, you may not argue your way to victory.”
“Kill joy,” Uncle Carl said laughing.
“I assume since this is a Stanley the Horse competition, you will be using hand tools only and no power tools. Is that correct?” I asked.
“Yes,” said my father, “we’ll be sharpening all our hand tools this week.”
“You guys are gonna be hurting units after this is over,” Richard said shaking his head.
Fifteen minutes later five more stakes dotted the yard. Uncle Carl tied the caution tape to the first stake. Attaching the tape to each stake he created the working perimeter.
“Richard, Fannie, we will be back bright and early next Monday morning,” my father said walking back to the Mobile Land Yacht. “Be ready.”
We waved as they backed out of the driveway.
“Do you think we should sell tickets?” Richard asked.
I punched him in the arm.
Rubbing his arm he said, “You realize this will draw a crowd. We could at least pass out popcorn.”
“And while we’re at it, why don’t we get referee jerseys,” I said laughing.
“We’re not getting jerseys.”
“How about a whistle?”
Smiling I said, “that would be fun wouldn’t it.”
The sun rose at 6:04 a.m. The doorbell rang at 6:05 a.m.
Groaning I rolled over. “Didn’t I say they couldn’t start until 8 a.m.?”
“Yes, but your dad said to expect them early.”
The doorbell rang again. Climbing out of bed I stumbled to the front door running while my fingers through my spiky brown hair.
“Fannie, the day’s half over, you’re not even dressed yet,” my father said wearing blue jeans and a long sleeved white t-shirt. Leading the way into the house he carryed a large tan leather tool bag. “Get a move on young lady.”
“We brought breakfast for everyone,” my mother said carrying grocery bags. “We’ll fix breakfast while you and Richard get dressed.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said closing the door behind them. Looking down I said, “are you really wearing tennis shoes?”
“I needed something I could get dirty.”
I walked two step down the hall when the doorbell rang again. On the porch stood Uncle Carl and Aunt Verla also wearing t-shirts and blue jeans.
“Fannie, how come you’re not dressed yet?” Aunt Verla asked.
“I’m working on it,” I said, “Mom’s in the kitchen getting breakfast ready. We’ll join you in a few minutes.”
The aroma of eggs, bacon, hash browns, toast with warm butter and coffee filled the house. My mother handed Richard and me each a cup of coffee when we walked into the kitchen.
“Thank you,” I said smelling the steaming mug of caffeine. “So what is the plan for this morning since you’re here so early?”
“Once we get breakfast cleaned up, we will each set up our tool staging area,” Uncle Carl said pointing to a spot on a hand drawn map of our yard.
“I forgot to ask, in what way are Mom and Aunt Verla allowed to help?”
“They hand us tools as we need them,” my father said, “ and they will help remove the brush as needed.
“You’re sure we can’t take pictures?” I asked smiling.
“No,” they said in uni-voice.
After breakfast we moved out to the yard. The sun rose just above the tree tops. A single cloud dotted the sky. Moving to their respective staging areas, the two teams set out their tools with precision. My father moved behind my mother to sneak a peak at Uncle Carl’s tools. Sitting in the middle of his tools, a brand new pair of three inch loppers.
“Velverlorn, do see that?” my father asked nodding toward to tools, “we’ll have to get one of those tonight.”
Uncle Carl caught my parents looking at his new tool. “I’ll bet you’re wishing you’d have thought of it Conrad.”
“Okay everyone, take your positions, we start in 30 seconds,” I said. “Richard, will you do the honors?”
Richard pulled the silver whistle from his pocket and put it between his lips. Looking at his wrist watch we counted down the seconds. Three, two, one. . .Richard blew the whistle. My father grabbed his old loppers, Uncle Carl grabbed his new ones. They rushed the brush.
The noise drew George and Bunny out of their house. Standing on their front porch they watched.
The sound of maniacal snipping competed with the neighborhood birds. The men threw salal branches behind them. The women caught the branches and raced over to the staging area.
“Fannie, how long do you think they can keep this up?” Richard asked watching two seventy something women race around like twenty-five-year-olds.
“Maybe ten more minutes,” I said looking at my watch. “Then they might remember the wheel barrows are sitting behind them.”
My mother heard me. Moving the wheel barrow into position behind my father, half of the branches landed in the basket. A small smile formed on her lips. Following her lead, my aunt grabbed her’s and wheeled it into position behind my uncle.
Thirty minutes later, identical three foot wide holes formed in the bushes. A green pile grew on the driveway.
As the sun traveled across the sky, the green pile grew. Several of the neighbors collected in George and Bunny’s front lawn sitting in garden chairs shouting encouragements.
“Richard look,” I said pointing across the street and laughing, “they’re doing the wave.”
“I told you we should’ve sold tickets.”
At four-thirty Richard blew the whistle. The men put down their tools, groaned collectively and stretched. They walked stiffly over to the bench to join Aunt Verla and my mother.
“When you’re done in Richard and Fannie’s yard, feel free to come do mine,” Clarissa shouted across the street her red curls bouncing as she laughed.
My father grimaced and waved. Uncle Carl massaged his low back before sitting down. They leaned against each. Their heads lolling forward followed by soft snoring.
“That went well, don’t you think?” I asked watching my aunt and mother napping on the other end of the bench.
“Should we wake them?” Richard asked.
“No let them sleep while I get dinner ready.”
The next morning the sun rose at 6:06 a.m. The birds greeted the sun as it climbed above the trees. Richard and I rose at 6:15. The coffee finished brewing at 7:40. The doorbell rang at 7:42.
Four adults with swollen eyes, stiff joints and gray hair stood on the porch.
“Good morning everyone, we have coffee ready and waiting,” I said holding open the door.
Shuffling and moaning into the house they drank the offered coffee. Richard cooked breakfast while I made more Joe.
“How are you feeling today?” I asked looking at the pale faces.
“I feel like I got run over by a truck,” my mother said staring into her coffee.
“We may have to rethink our competition,” Aunt Verla said.
“Do you still want to go out and clear brush today?” I asked looking from my father to Uncle Carl.
They looked at each other. Whether it was the competition or finding misplaced testosterone both men stiffened their backs.
“Yes,” they said.
“Okay,” I said, “I’m going to be watching you closely today. If either of you looks like you’re in trouble, we’ll be calling the competition.”
Their shoulders soften a bit.
At 9:30 a.m. we ventured into the front yard. Dumping the tools in their respective staging area, they moved around rubbing their arms and backs. The women moved the wheel barrows up to the starting line groaning all the way.
“Are you ready,” I asked.
Holding onto the wheel barrow, my father slowly bent over to pick up his loppers. Uncle Carl followed suit. Straightening back up, my father and uncle wave at me.
“Richard if you’ll do the honors.”
Richard blew the whistle. Walking into the brush like they’d ridden horseback for ten hours they began to clip.
Two hours later, yesterday’s ten foot long pile in the driveway grew an additional eight inches. Moving like they were swimming in molasses, they kept looking at each other, neither willing to quit.
I looked from my parents to my aunt and uncle.
“Richard, what do you think? I asked.
“I think we should call it and declare a tie.”
“I agree,” I said.
Richard blew the whistle.
“Thank god,” my mother said dropping the branches into the wheel barrow, “I don’t know how much more I could take.”
“Me either,” Aunt Verla said setting down the wheel barrow and stretching her back.
My father and uncle stood in place looking from Richard to me. I nudged Richard.
Clearing his throat Richard said, “Gentlemen, it looks like we have a tie.”
Both men smiled. Prying their fingers from the handles they shuffled toward each other and gently shook hands.
“Well done, Conrad,” Uncle Carl said patting him on the back.
“Same to you, Carl,” my father said nodding while flexing his fingers.
“So Dad, Uncle Carl, since we have a tie, how about same time next year?” I asked winking.
Both men summoned enough energy to field the family sign. I’m just sorry I didn’t have the camera.