COLUMBUS _ ``Wait till it's $10 a gallon,'' said Uncle Chet, as he backed his Ranger pickup to the garden's edge.
``Don't think I'll live that long,'' I said.
``Unfortunately, you might,'' he said, and shifted to neutral. ``Okay, gentlemen, time to shovel.''
"Anything's better than sitting here,'' said Cousin Bruce, in the middle of the split bench seat.
We dropped the tailgate and began to throw well-rotted goat manure around that corner of the vegetable garden.
"You're going to have tomatoes the size of grapefruit,'' said Uncle Chet, who was wearing a straw hat and sunglasses, watching us work up a sweat.
"Good; I like tomatoes,'' I said.
"And make sure to plant lots of potatoes and squash; things that keep into the winter,'' he added.
``He's full of advice, isn't he?'' said Cousin Bruce, grunting as he threw one last shovelful off the back.
Then Uncle Chet backed the truck up to the next corner and we began anew, as the kids walked down from the house.
``Mom said lunch is ready,'' said the little miscreant, our 14-year-old, in shorts, sandals and an MP3 player.
``What is it?'' asked Cousin Bruce.
"Chicken and biscuits,'' she said.
"And salad,'' said Buddy, who wore a big sun hat. ``Then we're going fishing.''
"You and I are going fishing,'' said Uncle Chet and began to amble toward the house with the young boy. ``These other fellows are going to play in the dirt a while longer.''
We washed up pretty thoroughly and sat down to a midday meal this Sunday, the first of June.
``Glad you got that lazybones of yours to make you a garden,'' Uncle Chet said to Hon, who was seated across from him. ``Now if we can only get him to cut wood a little faster.''
"There's only one lazybones here, and it's not him,'' said Bruce.
"The garden's a family job,'' said Hon. ``We're all going to work at it this year, with the price of food going up.''
"Everything's going up except salaries and Social Security,'' said Uncle Chet. ``Working stiffs and old folks are being hammered, and the only way to keep up is to do what you're doing: become more self-sufficient.''
``Do what people used to do,'' said Bruce.
"What they still do, around the world,'' said Hon.
"The price of everything is rising because the dollar's only a 50-cent piece,'' said Uncle Chet. ``The `conservatives' have put us so far in debt with their crazy, messianic wars that we can't make the payments without hyper-inflation. So, it's come to pass; we're a banana republic, but the government can't admit it or there'd be an uprising.''
"Are we really?'' asked the little miscreant.
"'Fraid so,'' I said.
"Sure we are,'' said Uncle Chet. ``We're one big company town now. Big business has jacked up the price of oil, and everything made of oil and moved by it is following suit. Gas is going to five bucks a gallon this year, and while that's killing family budgets, it is stimulating all kinds of good behavior, from buying efficient cars to planting gardens.
"The bad thing,'' said Uncle Chet, ``is the pain isn't being spread around. Bush and his boys exempted the rich from taxes, so now it's up to a beleaguered middle class to man the lifeboats and save the ones who are going under.''
"If they can save themselves,'' I said.
``First themselves; then the rest,'' said Uncle Chet. ``But there are ways to do it. We've got to stop this trillion-dollar occupation, reverse the Bush tax cuts, renegotiate NAFTA and control the price of health care with a single-payer system, like every one of our competitors has.''
``We can't just get out of Iraq,'' said Bruce. ``If Obama pulls out, they'll say he lost it.''
``We can get out the way we got in,'' said Uncle Chet. ``In ships, on planes, in convoys along the road to Jordan. Pull out as quickly as we can safely do it, and try to get along with the rest of the world for a change. As for what people will say, it's clear we won the war years ago when the other army disappeared into the desert, but the occupation is a dismal failure."
Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.