We ambled towards the center of the house and I admired the timbers and stonework that I had been able to preserve. I had a sense of pride when it came to this place and no small amount of affection for it.
"Did you know that Rob took over the restoration of this place and really knocked himself out keeping the rustic lodge feel of the place while making sure it wouldn't collapse on top of us? It allowed Dan and me to concentrate on getting married, between him and Dad. It would never have happened when it did otherwise," Jeannie recalled.
"We haven't changed much Rob, we re-stained a few things a bit lighter but nothing substantial has changed at all," Dan added.
We arrived at Tessa's table and I was amazed.
Tessa had taken a storm felled oak from the property and had a guy with a mobile lumber mill come out and saw it into thick planks. Tessa had arranged them as a massive tabletop with the square cuts on the outer edge. She filled the gaps with blue green Lucite and built a large trestle type support in the Stickley style with exposed mortise and tenon joints and ebony pegs. It sat in the dining hall in front of the massive stone stack fireplace that I labored on for weeks with a stonemason.
"Tessa this is unbelievable. I’m truly impressed; you are an artist and a joiner all in one."
That earned me a long hug and kisses from Tessa and Jeannie.
"Peter helped me with the Lucite and lugging those big damn planks around, and it took us hours to surface the top side and he’s also responsible for this." Tessa reached under the table and touched a switch and the colored Lucite was illuminated from within. It was a stunning effect."
"What a wonderful idea Peter, you two make a good team," I said hugging them both to me.
"The chairs are from our original table but I’m working on a design for two complimentary chairs to sit at the head and foot. I like the Japanese curved design these chairs have so I want to incorporate that into my design. Your wonderful gifts will be well used. I can’t wait to read the plans you brought so I can glean some design elements from those as well."
Peter whispered in her ear as if urging her on.
"Oh, I’ve received a commission to build a similar table for a man my Dad knows. He tried to buy this one but Dad wouldn’t sell."
"What is he paying you to make him a table?"
"Sixty-five thousand and that’s a steal. There’s a similar one in a gallery in Vermont but they want a hundred twenty-five grand for it."
"What does he want it made of?"
"Mahogany, so that won’t be cheap but I can have the log milled and surfaced and my partner says he’ll help again so we should be able to knock it out in about four months."
Peter walked over and hugged his sister, "I’m so proud of you Tessa."
It was great to see the interaction between them; each had Jeannie’s loving and laid back personality and some of Dan’s well-intentioned drive. It complimented the artistic streak that ran through both. I have known them since they were born and changed diapers for both. They had never been contentious bickering brats. They had always been close and supportive almost like a romantic couple but not quite. I felt safe in thinking they would be close all their lives.
As we ate and we all talked and laughed, I noticed a pattern of gold thread in the tabletop. Constellations of both the winter and summer night skies were represented in thin gold wire which caught the light from within.
When I asked about it Tessa said, "My idea and Peter’ssolution, we laid it out together. It took forever to get it right."
"Well it’s beautiful and very thoughtful. I guess I’ll have to get in your queue for a table for my great room, but I’ll need chairs as well."
Tessa and Peter beamed at me but didn’t speak.
We saddled up and the six of us rode out to see the vineyards and the rest of the operation. They had converted a barn into a wine tasting parlor and restaurant where they also sold wine. It was only open on weekends and appropriate holidays. They had a great staff committed to the effort and it made a profit consistently. Dan and his family often pitched in on busy weekends.
Peter pulled up alongside me and asked if I wanted to see his project. I said yes and we split off from the main party. Peter’s project was newly reclaimed grove land,which had been sterilized and remediated to remove any tainted roots as far as ten feet below grade. It was to be a state of the art vineyard with drip irrigation and an improved version of my frost protection system.
"We mounted a drill set up on a beefed up Gator and drilled down forty-five feet where the temp remains consistent at fifty degrees then a steerable installing tool pushes through to the next hole and pulls a line to install the one inch plastic tubing. We’re connecting them to a recirculation pump that works on low voltage. If it works we can retrofit the existing system you designed and remove the heaters permanently. It’s actually your idea, Dad told me you mentioned it but they didn’t have the technology to get the lines underground without a huge machine that wouldn’t fit."
"I love it, the steerable drill bit is the key and they were super expensive when we were doing our work. Does your installer have a fiber optic camera so you can see where you’re going?"
"And GPS so we have a record of where we drilled each hole. We’ll retain the mineral salts in the water; glycol is just too dangerous around the plants. Mineral salts won’t hurt them much; they’re present in the soil already."
"I’ll bet Paul is impressed; he’s lost a lot of vines to sudden frosts."
"Grampa is pretty supportive and he helped me lobby Dad for a test vineyard."
"I bet your daddidn’t need much convincing, he’s pretty proud of you. You and Tessa are the first thing we talk about when we get on the phone or meet up."
Peter blushed just a bit. "You’re the best uncle I’ve got Rob, I really love you."
"I love you too Peter;was there anything else you wanted to talk about?" I had sensed something in his voice that told me he needed my attention. We took a seat on a bench near the horses.
"I know I should talk to Dad about this and I will but I want your opinion because you have firsthand knowledge. I’m trying to figure out if I’m gay or what the heck I am. There’s a boy who let me know he likes me; you know really likes me. I like him too and he’s very cute but I thought I liked girls so I’m a little confused right now."
"I’m guessing he gave you a sign that he was interested in you, maybe a kiss?"
"Yeah a nice one, in his room; his momcame up just after he did it and I had to leave right after that. We haven’t seen each other since Sunday when it happened but I sent him a text to let him know it was cool.
"Chances are if you think you like girls then you might be straight if you like both you might be bi,which I suppose covers me. If he’s nice and you’re attracted I say by all means see where it goes. It’s always flattering when someone shows an interest in you and there’s no reason not to try it if you want to. You’re not seeing anybody else are you?"
"No, there’s a girl I thought I liked but she turned out to be kind of mean to other kids and she likes the jocks."
"Well if she was being mean to them she would probably be mean to you when it suited her."
"That’s what I thought so I stopped trying to talk to her. But you think I’m okay with Randy?"
"Is that his name?"
"Yeah, I think then, that I’ll kiss him back when I see him."
"I kind of thought you and Larkin fooled around, he always seemed amenable to just about whatever."
"We did but it was more for fun than for love."
"I see, well then I would suggest that you are both discrete at least until you’re sure of each other. But you are under no obligation to come out to the world. Your friends and classmates may seem cool and socially liberal, but when confronted with a gay friend,things could change so think about it before you do it."
Thanks Rob, I knew you would level with me and now I can talk to Dad without melting down."
We hugged and remounted. Peter led me down a trail where we caught up with the rest of the group.
The rest of the tour was beautiful; we spotted deer and wild turkey and tracks from a bobcat and one mountain lion track in the mud at the creek.
"So did you see Pete's new project? It's pretty involved. He did all the engineering himself and helped the shop guys mount the drill. He's a hot stick with a plasma cutter and a few pieces he farmed out to an outfit that does water jet cutting," Dan told me.
"Well he didn't say he did all that but he did tell me that it was his idea for the test vineyard," I replied.
"Yeah, he's never been one of those me or I kids, it's always we with him and it makes me proud. Did he get a chance to talk to you about whatever was bothering him?" Dan asked.
"Yes, and I think he'll take it up with you soon. He was just a little unsure how to approach it, don't hold it against him," I urged.
"I would never do that but thanks, it's good that he has an uncle like you to lean on and help him sort things out. I've always known that if anything happened to me you'd step up and see to Jeannie and the kids."
"Same here, you guys were there for me during the two worst times of my life and I'm forever grateful. I love Tessa and Pete like my own and Jeannie like a sister. You have always had my respect and love for your friendship and you always will," I explained.
Dan didn't reply, he placed a hand on my shoulder and I knew he was trying not to breakdown.
"Let's let the ladies head back and you and the kids can show me the woodshop," I suggested.
"Sure thing, you can see the drill rig that Petes built," Dan crowed.
It was an interesting machine, Pete had reinforced the frame of the Gator and he saved a lot of weight by mounting the hydraulic pump to a trailer with quick connect hoses. He designed it so the expensive and sensitive steerable attachments could be removed and stored in the trailer. Even so,the six-wheeled Gator was overtaxed and there were several repair welds in the new frame plates.
"How is this beast for traction?" I asked.
"Not bad if the ground is firm but it sucks in mud," Petes replied.
"Have you considered tracks for the rear four drive wheels, you could probably modify the tracks for a small excavator or skid steer," I suggested.
"That could work, but to be honest the Gator isn't strong enough to do the work. I've had to weld it a dozen times," Petes complained.
"Well then maybe a redesign is in order. Is your dad still an auction hawk?" I asked rhetorically.
"Petes rolled his eyes, "You can't stop him, it's an addiction, you should see the equipment yard."
"That's not a bad thing Petes, maybe there's something over there that is better suited to carrying that rig and could be self-contained. We can visit there after the woodshop," I proposed.
"Cool, I'll take any help I can get Uncle Rob," Petesgrinned.
Dan and Tessa waved from the big door of the woodshop. It was quite a place. I had never seen a radial arm saw as massive as the one I was staring at; it had an eight-foot deep table and fourteen-inch blade. It wasn't a true radial saw because it didn’t turret but the boom would swing so the saw could cut sixty degree angles. It was one of Dan's auction finds and was probably fifty years old or more. There was a lot of old but durable machinery that did things that modern machines weren't capable of doing. There were also new large table ten-inch table saws, along with planers, jointers and mortising machines. Norm Abram would chew his leg off to have some of the older equipment.
"This is quite a setup Tessa, I see your dad has been busy at the auctions," I chuckled.
"This is only part of the stuff, you should see the old barn, there's a bunch of old belt drive equipment in there," she proclaimed.
"I'll need to see that; but give me the tour through here first."
Tessa rattled off the machines and their capabilities and we spent the better part of an hour just wasting scrap wood with demonstrations.
With the wood shop behind us we visited the barn and there was an entire old style belt driven shop on pallets waiting for a home.
"We've been discussing building a race house next to the stream with room for all this equipment. More for educational value than practical use. We figured it could be an attraction next to the restaurant. We could get a few college kids to demonstrate the machines, and of course it would be Tessa's project," Dan explained.
"Let me guess, it was Tessa who found the auction right?" I accused.
"Yeah, and I couldn't let all this beautiful equipment be turned into toasters and Hyundais. I'm about to bid on an old lumber mill, building and all unless you want to have a crack at it?"
"Where's it located?"
"Up by Buelton off the 101, it's an 1810 post and beam building and it's going to be torn down to build a hospital, there aren't a lot of buildable sites up that way with the utilities a hospital needs nearby. I can't quibble about their motivation but again I don't want it just destroyed and scrapped," Dan explained.
"Tell you what, you do the bidding and I'm in for half and I have some contacts in the buildingrestoration community that can pull that frame down a stick at a time and they'll save everything they can. It's like a holy mission to them," I offered.
"Tessa's going to wet her pants when I tell her about this," Dan hooted.
"Just so you know, I've offered my services to Petes for a redesign of his drill rig, the idea is sound but the Gator isn't up to the load. I would also advise him not to show too many people because he should patent this deal and it could pay for his college," I speculated.
"You really think so, he'll be way over the moon about this. What's your plan?" Dan asked.
"Well Petes and I are going to look at your equipment stash to see if any of your auction swag will serve as a testbed," I supplied.
"Absolutely, Tessa needs to head for the house and I need to button up here and the stables, I'll catch you at the yard if you're still there," Dan advised.
"Sounds like a plan. He may have to come down for a design meeting. You know this could grow a heart and lungs if it takes off, I'll have my patent attorney check on Euro patents and any US claims also" I offered.
"You have your own patent attorney?"
"Not exclusive to me but he's pretty good at it and knows how to find out if the process is already patented," I supplied.
Petes and Tessa were done sweeping up from the demos and I snagged Petesafter he and Tessa closed the big door. Tessa said she'd handle the rest and Petes and I headed for the equipment yard.
"I talked to your dad about the design and maybe redoing it with something a little better suited to the terrain and the load. We discussed a couple other things but we'll talk about that after dinner," I told him.
"OMG that's so cool," Petesexclaimed.
"Hey, look at that, you are a regular teenager after all. Regular but certainly not average."
We wandered around the equipment yard and I saw a Ditch Witch but it wasn't sturdy enough for my purposes. Then we found a Bobcat S870 and I stopped looking.
"But it doesn't run, Rob,it has a hole in the block," Petesexplained.
"Good, it would have been underpowered for our use anyway. I'll talk to your dad about it and get it down where I can mess with it, get measurements and other specs. Maybe you can get the shop guys to pull the attachment off with the Gradall and I'll send someone to get it."
"Are you sure dad will agree to that, he just bought that thing," Petes asked.
"Agree to what, you can't have my Petes, you've already got a herd of boys and it looks like you're starting another," Dan joked.
Petes grinned at his dad. "He wants to use that Bobcat you just bought," he told Dan.
"Sounds good to me, it was really cheap. Everybody is suspicious when a relatively new piece of gear is listed at no reserve. I think building it on a tracked machine will give you better grade ability. Did you tell him there's a rod hanging out of the block?" Dan replied.
"Yes Dad, I told him but he said it didn't matter, he'd want to repower it anyway," Petesreturned.
"Anything you need done before transport?" Dan asked.
"Petes is already on that, he'll get the shop guys to give him a hand," I said.
"Sounds good to me, let's go wash up for dinner," Dan proposed.