Shoveling Tom Sawyer’s Roof


As Huck Finn would say, you don’t know about the story of whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. The story includes “thirty yards of board fence nine feet high,” a bucket of paint, a brush, and a boy who makes an important discovery about human nature: “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

I remembered all this recently as Jim and I pulled on our snowpants and boots yet again to shovel off yet another roof. It’s been an unusual winter in these parts: We’ve had a normal amount of snowfall, but very little of it has melted. That’s meant a solid — and I mean solid — two to three feet of snow on many roofs and porches. We’d already used roof rakes to clear the snow from our house and barn. We had one more building to shovel off before more snow came, or before warmer weather made the snow load even heavier: an old mica-miner’s cabin with a low-angled roof. Its long expanse, I must admit, looked a lot to me like Tom Sawyer’s “far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence,” except our continent was far northern and all white.

The kids were home from school on winter break. As far as I could tell, they wanted nothing more than to get on each other's nerves and complain loudly about said trampled nerves to anyone who would listen. We’d asked them if they wanted to help us shovel. You can guess at their response.

And then a bright idea came to Jim, just as it had to Tom Sawyer. He conferred quickly with me, then started talking loudly about how much fun it was going to be to jump off that roof.

Here our story departs from Mark Twain’s: For one, Jim and I were still obliged to shovel off that roof, and did. Ursula joined us that day, though, and went back with us twice, until we’d shoveled off enough tonnage. (The Today show reported that two feet of snow on an average house roof can add 18 tons of weight.) For another, we really did jump off the roof. All four of us, plus friends who stopped by on one of the days, climbed the ladder to the roof and jumped into the snowbanks our shoveling had created.

Tom and Huck would have approved.

Learn more
- Read “Whitewashing the Fence” from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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