A square deal
By Bobby Neal Winters
Jim looked at his daughter, Kristin, who was down on the floor working on her homework.
“What ya doing there, Sweetie?” he asked.
The girl was lying on her tummy with the book spread before her and the TV blaring in front of her. She craned her neck back towards her father and smiled.
“Geometry,” she said. “Wanna help?”
At the word geometry, Jim made a face.
“I can’t say I can help you much with geometry,” he said. “I could always figure it out and always thought I understood it, but I never seemed to get it to suit the teacher. ”
He’d always enjoyed doing his math homework, but whenever he turned it in, it always came back painted red. He’d leave out the T in his ledger proof or something like that. After a while, he’d just given up on pleasing the teacher. There was plenty of work to do out on the ranch and he didn’t get graded on it except by the cattle, and they wound up on somebody’s grill, so that didn’t matter.
“I do remember a joke though,” he said. “Wanna hear it?”
She looked like she wasn’t too sure, but he went ahead anyway.
“It’s about an Indian chief named Pythagoras,” he said. “He had three wives. One was big and fat and sat on a hippopotamus hide. The other two sat an the other hides. He said that the squaw on the hippopotamus was the sum of the squaws on the other two hides.”
That got the attention of his wife who’d been in the kitchen.
“Don’t go telling her stuff like that, or you will get her into trouble,” came a rather stern feminine voice from the other kitchen.
Jim smiled at his daughter. She smiled back and turned back to her books.
“I have to go out to work on the fence,” Jim said. “You help your maw. ”
With that the girl brightened somewhat and began to get up.
“Can I come too?” she asked.
“Nope,” Jim said. “You stay hear and work on your lessons and help your maw. You don’t want to be out today no how.”
His wife came quietly to his side and whispered to him.
“You know,” she said, “she’s not going to be wanting to be around you forever. Before long she’s going to get interested in boys and you won’t see her unless she has her hand out for a twenty-dollar bill.” Having finished, she quietly stepped back into the kitchen.
Jim screwed his mouth around a second or two as he thought.
“Come on, Punkin,” he said. “I just remembered a job I have for you.”
With that, Jim headed to the mud room, as it was called, and pulled on his boots. Then he pulled on his jacket and hat. Thus prepared he stepped outside and was greeted by a northerly breeze. His daughter was there at his side.
He faced the breeze and scowled. His own father had always said on days like this that there wasn’t anything between them and the north pole but a barb-wire fence and a couple of jack rabbits. He didn’t know about the jack rabbits, but there was going to be another barb-wire fence before it was over.
He climbed into his truck, his daughter hopping in to ride shotgun. He cranked the engine to life and headed down the dirt road. He’d purchased some more land a few miles away and he’d putting some improvements in on it. He’d rented a dozer and dug a couple of ponds for his cattle to drink from and now he was in the process of fencing it off.
“Well,” he said as he pulled off to the side of the road, “here we are.”
They extracted themselves from the truck and slammed the doors.
“What are we going to do, Daddy?” Kristin asked.
“We are going to so some practical geometry,” he said.
She looked confused.
“Building fence,” he clarified.
They began extracting the things they needed from the pickup’s bed and setting it up on the ground. The tools included three log chains of differing lengths, two piece of re-bar, and a mallet.
“You see,” he said pointing to the fence that ran parallel to the road. “I already have it fenced in. What I want to do now is to run a fence along the middle so I can have my cattle graze one side while the other side rests. I want the fence along the middle to be at an exact right angle.”
“Is that what the log chains are for?” Kristin asked.
He smiled. She was a sharp one, she was.
“That’s right,” he said. “The short one is three yards long, the middle one is four yards, and the long one is five yards.”
He handed her one end of the short chain while he took the other.
“Let’s run this along the fence that’s already there.”
They walked over and lay it along the ground underneath the fence. Once it was stretched out, he hammered re-bar through the last link on each end and into the ground, leaving about four inches sticking up.
“Run and get me that middle-sized piece,” he said.
Kristin gamely ran over and picked up the piece of change that was four yards long and carried it back over. Jim saw it was heavy, but as she didn’t ask for help, he didn’t give it.
Before he could say anything else, she ran over and drug the 5-yard piece back. Only someone who’d known him as long as his wife had would’ve been able to see the smile on his lips, and she wasn’t there.
“Okay,” he said, “you put the last link in that piece over the re-bar on your side”--he pointed--”and I’ll do the same with mine. But first we need to crawl over to the other side of the fence.”
After they’d crawled on their bellies to the other side, they did as he said, and then he took the free end of her chain.
“I am going to walk these taut,” he said, “and you make sure the other ends don’t come loose.”
He then walked into the field until the chains were tight and laid them all out on the ground.
“Come here,” he said, gesturing to her. “That’s a right angle. I am gone to put in my first fence post where the 4-yard chain meets the 5-yard chain. Since you can crawl under the fence better than your old daddy, run and get me my diggers and then start handing fence posts over.”
They then went to work, but as the business of digging and setting posts goes more slowly than the carrying thereof, Kristin soon finished and took to drawing in the dirt in a place where the grass was worn through.
After a while, Jim began to feel hunger pains and noticed that the sun was getting low.
“So, Kristin,” he said, putting his post-hole diggers aside, “do you reckon your momma’s got us some supper ready yet?”
Kristin, who’d been rather intent on whatever she’d been drawing in the dirt, had to forcibly extract herself from what she was doing.
“I guess so,” she said. “But, before we go, can we try something?”
“Sure, Sweetie,” he said. “What do you want to do?”
“Do you have a tape-measure?” she asked.
“It’s in the back of the truck,” he said.
Before he could ask why, she’d already crawled under the fence, fetched the tape measure, and brought it back.
“Hold that end at the corner post,” she said. She handed him the free end of the tape measure. She then walked down the fence that was parallel to the road.
“Three yards, four yards, five yards,” she counted. The she took a ribbon from her hair and tied it to the fence.
“Okay,” she said, “stay where you are.”
Jim was a bit confused, but like any proud father spending time with his daughter, he indulged her. Kristin, for her part, walked to the other fence and began counting out loud again.
“Six yards, eight yard, ten yards, twelve yards,” she said. As she uttered her last words, she found herself exactly by a fence post. “Okay, Daddy, you come her and hold the spool.”
“What do you want me to do with this end?” he asked. This was getting complicated.
“Leave it there,” she said. “We’ll switch placed.”
After they swapped, she began walking toward the piece of ribbon she’d tied to the fence earlier.
“If I am right,” she said, “that will read exactly thirteen yards when I get to the ribbon. I want you to check for me.”
It didn’t seem likely to Jim that she would walk five yards down the fence and it would only pull out one more yard of tape, but he kept it to himself. Kids have to try things.
He watched the tape come out. It was too fast to read, but then she stopped.
“What does it say, Daddy?”
He looked and uttered a profanity.
“Well, I’ll be John Brown,” he said. “It’s dead on thirteen yards. How did you do that?”
She smiled a smile that warmed his heart.
“It worked with 3, 4, and 5, so I wondered if it worked for any other numbers, so I figured it out on the ground.” She indicated the place in the ground where she’d been scratching. There were equations there that read: a=n2-m2, b=2nm, and c=n2+m2.
“You can do that for about as many numbers as you want,” she said. “What do you think, Daddy?”
“I think that me and your momma’s gonna have a long talk after supper.”