ENOUGH SAID: The hidden, sometimes high cost of ‘free’
RECENTLY, I WROTE A PIECE ABOUT CUTTING UP A TREE that had fallen on a friend’s land over a year ago. The wood was free — all we had to do was go get it. That day was a fun day for my family, if you can call cutting and hauling in the rain fun.
For our daughters, and our new sons-in-law, it was a day of helping the ’rents. For my husband and me it was a stick in the eye of how difficult it is to do the kinds of things we used to do when we were their age.
THE WOODPILE BEHIND THE HOUSE is the size of Lincoln’s log cabin now, so we feel secure that we have more than enough wood to keep us warm on Sunday afternoons, and if heating oil goes over $4 a gallon again, we have enough to send up in smoke every night after work. For now, we even have extra to give away to friends. Sure, cutting up the tree and trucking it home was hard work, and with the splitting and stacking it continues to be, “free” is a lie.
THE MORNING AFTER WE CUT THE WOOD I got a phone call from my oldest daughter — our son-in-law was in the ER.
“You know that thick, hairy-looking vine with the yellow leaves, growing up the tree,” she said, “poison ivy.” Our city son-in-law is severely allergic to that evil, nasty plant. As he hauled the wood to the truck before it rained, he got hot, took off his long-sleeved hoodie and worked in a T-shirt. When he got really hot, he used the edge of his tee to wipe his face. That day the price of helping us cut wood was two ER visits, two weeks of discomfort and even with insurance, more than $1,500. (He’s now covered on my daughter’s plan.)
THE COST OF “FREE” REMINDS ME of a winter carnival at Goodwin School when our girls were young and we lived in Old Saybrook. That year each kid won a goldfish. They were so excited to take home their little free pets. I knew we had to get them out of their water-filled plastic bags and into a fishbowl pronto so we put them in a Pyrex 4-quart mixing bowl. We added water just the way we were told to.
BUT, I DIDN’T NEED A KEEN AQUATIC EYE to know that if fish wore shoes, the next day one of them was on its last legs. I raced off to the pet store for a tank, pump, gravel, food and other accouterments, like fake plants and a couple of fish buddies, to keep our “free fish” happy and alive. A neighbor told me that our well water killed fish so I bought water. For us, and the fish. That lasted a week; water was more expensive than gas back then. I switched to Diet Pepsi; the girls drank Welch’s, my husband, Busch and the fish, Poland Spring. The “last-leg” sick fish died a day later; at least he went out in pleasant, upgraded extreme home makeover surroundings among friends.
The few fish we bought as companions for the free fish lived a reasonable amount of time until they too deep-sixed to the big Kohler porcelain pond.
ONE OF THE ORIGINAL LITTLE GOLDFISH from the carnival lasted quite a while. He ended up alone in assisted-living luxury; I was his personal assistant. Over the next year I figured if I put a price tag on how much time I had spent cleaning his tank, buying more water, food and “real” plants I could have at least had a pet to shoo off the couch; which reminds me of the time I rescued a free dog and had to pay hundreds in vet bills because she was so sick.
“Free” is a lie. It may cost you nothing to obtain the item, but the fallout from its procurement, its care and maintenance, might cost plenty. Just remember, poison ivy isn’t always a short shrub with three leaves, and sometimes goldfish live forever. Enough said.
Editor’s note: Carolynn Pianta writes from the wilds of the Westbrook woods. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.