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Feeling the chill of advancing years.

Byline: George Barnes

COLUMN: Barnestorming

I wonder if a sign you are getting old is when people often help you shovel your driveway.

It's probably not the same as, say, when young uniformed children are constantly grabbing your arm and leading you across the street, but since the December ice storm, I have noticed quite a bit of helpfulness in our neighborhood, quite a bit directed at me.

At my age, just two months shy of the double nickel, I worry a lot about appearing to be old. For a long time when people on the telephone would misunderstand my name and think I said "George Burns," like the comedian, I would laugh and say something clever like, "Oh, no. I'm the much younger George." Now I am worried they think I sound as if I am almost 100 years old.

Getting old in today's society is not as respected as it once was. Old 45 years ago meant wise, experienced and capable of multitasking such things as baking really good cookies and knitting entire wardrobes. Today it is view as slow, disconnected and infirm. The opposite is more often true, but once something is fixed in culture's mind's eye, it stays there.

Our neighborhood has always been friendly (except for some of the feral cats that skulk around during the summer), but I think it has become more so since we were all tried and tortured in December by Mother Nature.

The ice storm was a bonding experience for people in the neighborhood and throughout the region, who shared the experience of immense discomfort from the cold and power outage. Now, with every new storm, we grow more and more concerned about one another.

Certainly this Mid-Atlantic-ish winter we have been experiencing has us all longing for spring. Every storm, it seems, is a little too warm to be entirely snow and tries hard, although happily unsuccessfully, to duplicate the December ice storm. But each lays down some ice and we are forced to pick it away.

But as much as I am concerned about my neighbors suffering through this winter, I am equally concerned that the neighbors are more than a bit worried about my frail and aging body.

Prior to the most recent storm, one neighbor, who admittedly is a hard-working construction-equipment-loving young adult, used a Bobcat loader he had on rental for another project to basically dig all of the snow out of my front yard, leaving me acres of room to pile up what the storm left on my two-car-long driveway.

After the snow stopped Wednesday afternoon, another neighbor, seeing me out pecking away at the snow with a shovel, wheeled over with a Cub Cadet tractor and dug out all the snow that plows left at the end of my driveway, leaving me needing only a quick touchup to finish my shoveling.

During an earlier storm, yet another neighbor shoveled my driveway while I was away at work.

The neighbor with the loader and the neighbor with the tractor looked like a couple of kids at Christmas running around with their new toys, and the neighbor who shoveled my driveway is one of the more determined people I've ever seen in dealing with winter cleanup, but they did me a real favor.

And I appreciate all they did for me and I admit the past week and a half I have been acting in a way that would cause people to think I'd reached the point of senility and beyond. I spent most of my free moments standing on ladders or my porch roof banging away at ice with a hammer. I have seemed obsessive, wild and a danger to myself, but it had to be done.

My house is prone to ice dams because it is old and leaky. I try to keep the roof cleared with a roof rake, but this year the storms have kept coming at us, and finally, my house sustained water damage from a leak in the first-floor ceiling. The water built up behind a ridge of ice and made its way inside where the porch meets the house.

My response to the leak has been to violently attack the roof with blows from a rubber mallet in the hope of removing about two inches of ice. I was fairly successful until Wednesday, when a new coat of ice was laid down.

My success was in part due to advice from neighbors, one of whom suggested dumping buckets of hot water on the ice (it worked in places) and another who suggested ice melt.

My best new friend, the Internet, suggested I buy something called roof melt. That I haven't tried because the local hardware store sells it out as quick as it receives a shipment.

The rest of the suggestions, combined with the hammering and scraping that have probably destroyed my roof, have gotten rid of most of the ice.

But watching that spectacle probably had the neighborhood concerned, and maybe feeling they should lend the crazy old fella a hand.

George Barnes can be reached by e-mail at gbarnes@telegram.com
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 30, 2009
Words:855
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