COLUMBUS _ I was in the barn doorway, sanding down a 12-foot trim board when a silver Ford Ranger rolled into the driveway.
``Uncle Chet!'' said Buddy, who was holding one end of the board on a sawhorse.
I glanced around and shut off the palm sander, eager for a break. I took off the ear muffs and Buddy followed suit as the truck parked by the back door.
``Those stairs in yet?'' Uncle Chet called, heading our way.
``Not yet,'' said Buddy.
``Why not?'' asked the man in sunglasses and straw hat. His white beard was neatly trimmed, and he wore a blue pocket T-shirt and jeans.
``We were waiting for you," I said.
He nodded toward the far side of the barn where the little miscreant, now 15, was practicing foul shots. ``You ought to get her to help you.''
``She will. Right now, I'm finishing the trim,'' I said. ``And I've been sanding this board for half an hour.''
``Change the sandpaper; don't be so cheap!'' said Uncle Chet.
``Look at that pile.'' I pointed at a loose stack of crumpled dusty sheets on the corner of the work table.
``All on this board?'' He examined the knotless white pine.
``They only last a minute; this is the worst sandpaper I've ever seen,'' I said. ``The grit just falls off.''
``Foreign junk,'' he said. ``Another product we've outsourced.''
``What is `outsourced?''' asked Buddy, who's getting ready for third grade.
```Outsourced' means sent to another country,'' said Uncle Chet. ``The rich people who run the United States have sent our industries to China and other countries, so now nearly everything we buy comes from somewhere else.''
``Why?'' asked the boy.
``Why did they do it?'' said Uncle Chet. ``To make money. They built new factories in places where people would work for next to nothing, then started shipping their sneakers, lawn chairs and sandpaper back here. Now other countries make tons of stuff and we make diddley-squat, so we depend on them for nearly everything, including loans of what used to be our money.''
``We should stop them,'' said Buddy.
``You can't stop them; they have the money and the power,'' said Uncle Chet, glancing at me. ``And the way they look at it, replacing American jobs makes perfect sense: When workers' paychecks are small, investors make more money.''
``But it hurts the country as a whole when Americans are out of work,'' I said. ``And it threatens our freedom because you can't be a military power for long with a third-rate economy.''
``True. It's economic treason,'' said Uncle Chet. ``We've been sold out by the investment class and their politicians in the name of `free trade.'''
``Free trade?'' asked Buddy.
```Free trade' means your job can be traded away to someone who'll do it for less,'' said Uncle Chet.
``I don't like that.'' The boy made a face.
``No, it's terrible,'' said Uncle Chet. ``That's why they give it such a nice-sounding name. If they called it what it is, which is gouging the worker,' they couldn't get away with it.''
``When I have a company, I'm going to make everything in America,'' said Buddy.
``Good for you,'' I said.
``What are you going to make?'' asked Uncle Chet.
``Houses,'' he said emphatically.
``Looks like you're already in business.''
``We are.'' Buddy looked at me.
``Well, the wood's American,'' I said. ``It came from right across the road.''
``And the labor's American,'' said Uncle Chet, looking over the barn. ``But I'll bet your nails and screws are Chinese; your tools are mostly Chinese and Japanese, and who knows where your wallboard comes from.''
``From America,'' said Buddy.
``I don't know,'' I said, ``But from now on, partner, we're going to look at the labels.''
Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.