Peter Costa: Eventually we become our parents

Peter Costa

My latest fall leaf project has forced me to admit something horrible: I have become my father.  I bark out orders to family members who are trying to help me like Napoleon on horseback.

The latest example was what my family members are calling “the ladder incident.” Last week, I decided to finally get a start on cleaning out the eaves troughs that are clogged with masses of leaves so old that they are laden with wooly mammoth teeth from the Pleistocene.

I hoisted the fiberglass extension ladder on my shoulder and carried it out to the font lawn. My wife had come out to assist as ground crew. I began to push the ladder upright a la the soldiers in the Iwo Jima flag-raising photo when the base of the ladder started to slip on the dewy grass.

“Foot the ladder!” I yelled at my wife. “Foot the ladder!”


“Can’t you see the ladder is slipping? Foot the ladder!”

“Well if you’re going to use technical terms, I’m going inside,” she said and promptly disappeared up the stairs and into the house, leaving me struggling with the ladder. Moving the ladder from my chest was like trying to toss Hulk Hogan to the mat.

Somehow, I managed to lower the ladder to the ground while stressing only four vertebrae.

If only I had said, “Try to stop the ladder from slipping, please,” or “Take one side of the ladder and let’s see if we can pull it upright into a vertical position.”

Even that sounds ridiculous and technical.

My dad used to lecture me on the need to make sure everything is plumb.

“You call that mailbox post vertical? It looks like a mast of a ship during a Northeast gale. Take the level and check the verticality.”

No kidding, he actually used the word ‘verticality.’

Another thing he said I had trouble with was using a hammer, a sledgehammer or any hafted object.

“Look at the angle you are hitting the nail with. The hammerhead should be flush. Look, I can drive in a 16-penny nail with two hammer strokes, just by hitting the nail square and letting the hammerhead do the work. You’re pounding in the nails at such acute angles and with so much force that they are bending like pretzels,” he said to me one hot summer day as we were working on replacing some stairs.

He was indeed pounding in nails at precisely 90-degree angles. He was making hundreds of lowercase letter l’s with his hammer, and I was bending my nails into things that looked like a series of number 7s.

My father-in-law was just as bad. (Maybe that’s why my wife gets so irritated when I use precise military names for things.) Once, he took me sailing. As soon as we left the dock he started to shout naval commands: “Take in the sheet.” “Release the jib.” “Ready about, hard-alee.” “Larboard-tack.”

My father-in-law was so angered by my ignorance of nautical terms that he turned the boat about, released the jib and let loose the mainsail and we drifted slowly back to the dock. He never asked me to go sailing again.

I would have loved to see my father serve as crew to my father-in-law’s captaincy. Actually, they probably would have been so coordinated they would have qualified for the Olympics.

Well, I have got to get back to my unfinished leaf project and see if I can talk someone else into hoisting the ladder to verticality.

Peter Costa is a senior editor with GateHouse Media New England and is the author of two books of humor. His latest, “Outrageous CostaLiving: Still Laughing Through Life,” is available at