A Forty Dollar Berry and a Priceless Ceiling Fan

I have a friend who, with her husband, built a house in the country. It’s a beautiful house: brick and spacious and welcoming, and it’s set on rolling acreage that includes woods and creeks and a Disney-lode of wildlife–deer and bunnies and rackety coons, squirrels and chipmunks and a colorful, swarming spectrum of birds.

Recently, this friend says, her husband decided to plant a blackberry bush. He went to the nursery and he consulted with the experts, and he came home with a bush at a cost of about twenty dollars. And he planted it in a nice spot, not too far from the house, where the picking of the berries would be convenient to the kitchen. They sat on the deck that evening and dreamed of blackberry buckle.

As they were going in, however, my friend’s husband  saw a mama deer and her two babies poke their noses out of the woods and then soft-foot into the yard, browsing for snacks.

And his eyes narrowed.

“Fence,” he said to his wife.

So the next day he went to the big-box hardware store and came home with boards and steel mesh, and he spent the day building a rectangular fence with a gate to let him in, and keep the deer out.

And that night they sat on their deck again. This time, a chipmunk scampered right through the steel mesh fencing. His jaw tightened.

The next day, he came back from the hardware store with a bale of fine chicken wire, and encircled the bush, within its fence, with a rodent-proof ring.

And that night, as they sat on the deck, he noticed the bugs flying gleefully toward his berry bush.

The search for safe, effective insecticides began.

By the time, my friend muses, they harvest the half dozen berries this budding bush will surely yield in its fledgling year, those berries will have cost them something like forty dollars apiece. Her eyes crinkle, and there is laughter in her voice as she tells us this, and she does not say one word to discourage her husband.


There are people like that–people who devote themselves to a task or a challenge, who throw themselves in, wholehearted. They say, “Damn the expenses, and damn the time spent, and for heaven’s sake, full speed ahead!” Their mettle has been called into question, and they WILL survive the testing, victorious.

Another friend suggested that those people are usually called “men,” but I think that’s a bit sexist. However, the berry tale makes me think of another person who does happen to be a man whom I know well. Let’s just call him “Bubba.”


Bubba and his wife (we’ll call her “Sweetness”) decided to re-purpose their carport into an outdoor dining room. They committed to creativity over expense; they would use what was on hand, and those things they must buy, they would buy at tag sales and second hand shops.

Bubba thought a ceiling fan would be a wonderful thing for sultry summer nights, dining in the newly freshened space. So he and his son (we’ll call the son “Chip”) went searching for a used ceiling fan they could install.

At a Habitat for Humanity’s Re-Store, they found just the thing. This model had five broad blades and a bevy of light fixtures. Mood lights in the sockets, thought Bubba, and those sturdy blades moving the murky summer air. He could just see it; he could feel that soft breeze cooling the night. Nice, he thought.

The fan was marked at twenty dollars; a 25-per-cent off all lighting sale knocked the price down to fifteen.

“A ceiling fan for fifteen bucks!” Bubba crowed to his son, and they looked at it and smiled.

They brought home the fan, and they let it season on the side porch for a month or two, while the whole family circled around the idea of tackling the transformation project.


But that day came; Bubba and Sweetness cleaned out the carport and scraped off the old paint, and they slapped a fresh coat onto the ceiling, brightening things up immeasurably. Then Bubba got out his tool bag and his measuring tape, and he figured out how much wire he’d need to tap into the power source. He carefully marked the center point, and he drilled a nice round hole, and then he and his wing-man Chip went back to the big box hardware store and they bought a large reel of electrical wire–which he would also use on other jobs–for a mere 8.99.

They came home triumphantly, swaggering around the carport with their go-cups from Arby’s (they’d stopped and treated themselves to lunch for ten bucks or so.)  They rigged up a kind of a snake and they connected the electrical cord, and then, through a series of convolutions, they dragged it out of the neatly drilled hole for the ceiling fan power source.

Just as they got ready to hook the thing up, Bubba said slowly, “I hope to heck this fifteen dollar fan has a decent motor. I’m not replacing a MOTOR.”


Sweetness was in the house doing dishes when she heard their triumphant cries.  She dried her hands and ran outside to the carport, where Bubba and Chip were dancing around the fan, which was snugged up clean to the ceiling. They parted to show her the glow from the perfectly working electric lights.

“Oh, that’s awesome,” Sweetness said. “How about the fan?”

“Well,” said Bubba, with a little bit of a swagger, “let’s just see.”

And he pulled the stubby little chain that activated the fan blades, which moved…very slowly.

VERY slowly.

They were glacially slow.

“Huh,” said Bubba, and Sweetness went in to finish the dishes.


Bubba and Chip went back to the hardware store where they bought something that might just solve the whole problem: a new switch. And while they were there, they also bought some chains to replace the silly, stubby ones. These chains were coated with fresh-looking white plastic. At the end of one hung a white plastic light bulb. The other ended in a white plastic fan.

And it was hot, so they each got a soda.


This trip came to about twelve dollars.


Bubba put the switch in, noting that the old one needed to be replaced anyway, but it didn’t speed up the movement of the fan blades. The new chains, though, did look very dapper, dangling from the mother ship.

Chip decided it would be a good time to take a walk.


Inside, Bubba scoured the internet for the part he was pretty sure he needed.

“A capacitator,” he explained to Sweetness; she heard, “Incapacitator.” She shook her head.  It sounds, she thought, like the name of a WWF star.

“It’s only twelve dollars,” said Bubba, ” and it’ll be here in a week.” He held up the part he’d plucked from the bargain fan. “It looks pretty darned close to this one,” he said confidently, and added, “The shipping is FREE.”

Sweetness was wary. “It looks PRETTY close?” she asked carefully.

“Pretty CLOSE,” he replied, an edge to his voice.


So Bubba awaits the capacitator, determined, now that he has eight or ten hours of labor and sixty or seventy dollars of cash sunk into the ceiling fan, that he WILL get those blades to spin sharply, to muddle the summer warmth, to lend comfort to the guests who’ll gather, one day, in the car port to dine.

He is in it now, and Sweetness has accepted that, if the capacitator doesn’t capacitate, the next step will indeed be to buy a new darned motor. She eyes the grim, determined cast of Bubba’s jaw; she sends a silent message to Chip, who nods.

They will not interfere.

Because, really, these are wonderful traits–determination, perseverance, the will to power through a challenge to victory. Let some call that pig-headedness; let those scoffing ones buy their berries from the produce sections or insist on ceiling fans that come (insert derisive snorts) with warranties.

Let them miss the thrill of the chase, the satisfaction of building something from the ground up. The joy, actually, of realizing a modest thing’s potential.

They will never, those name-callers, appreciate the satisfaction a man feels at the end of the day, sitting on his deck, savoring five perfect berries that float in a veritable cloud of freshly whipped cream. Or that of a man in his car port, scant hair ruffling in a strongly bladed breeze, telling the triumphant story of his bargain ceiling fan.


17 thoughts on “A Forty Dollar Berry and a Priceless Ceiling Fan

  1. You had me in tears, laughing. I had a dad/bubba, married a bubba and am again married to a bubba. Mine is rebuilding a gyrocopter, which he will fly. Hoo boy, thanks.

  2. Patty Roker

    I, too, know a Bubba (pretty well, actually) and I admire Sweetness’s, well, sweetness. We are beginning a total redo of the house so I will be re-reading this FREQUENTLY.

  3. I need a Bubba! I’m great at finding bargains that “will look wonderful when they’re cleaned up”.
    Without a Bubba, I’m afraid I have to call it hoarding. I just don’t have that determination I suppose.

    1. I know exactly what you mean about seeing the potential but not having the follow through! I am seriously considering taking some classes in using power tools post retirement…

  4. When he was young and strong, my father was much like Bubba, spending a great deal of money fixing up a household item that was meant to be cheap. He did this because he said he didn’t have the money for a new version of whatever it was. There’s a whole life lesson in all of his activities–and in Bubba’s–that might be teased out about “the true cost of a thing,” but that’s an essay that has yet to be written by anyone. Rather than write it, perhaps I should go re-watch a random episode of *Home Improvement* and take notes, for Tim Allen and his writers understood men every bit as well as Pam does, and were equally as funny.

      1. It would be! (You’re welcome to use it.) The true cost of a thing includes not just the price of acquisition but the effort we expend in maintaining it and using it. By these criteria, most things we value (cars, homes, human relationships) are very expensive. Many people (myself included) are not aware of the true costs of things.

      2. One of my formative books as a young person was Your Money or Your Life (Joe…Dominguez and Vicki Robin, I think) which talks about exactly this: what does it cost us to own things? Not that I think about this on a daily basis, sadly–but I believe in its truth…

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