Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An Emotional Event For Me

When I was a kid at the age of 12, I started going to work with my father the builder. He actually did own and run a small construction company. The first day I had off school, he woke me at 5 am, and we drove to the other side of Baltimore and were on the job site before 7:00 am.

I ended up being a laborer, and I heard a lot about not working hard enough. I was good at running errands. On the plus side, I learned to drive a farm tractor and could tow a long trailer with wood or block or brick on it, so I was perfect for delivering supplies to different houses, as long as the county didn't own the street.

I also learned the rudiments of driving a bulldozer. My father was severely less enthusiastic about me driving a bulldozer than a farm tractor. My dad was a CPA and a lawyer before he decided to build houses. Today I can understand his reasoning. Imagine hitting anything with a farm tractor, then imagine hitting the same thing with a bulldozer. Complicate things by having to be a responsible adult and having to explain to a judge why a 12 year old was driving a bulldozer or a tractor. Remember, we skipped a car entirely.

We typically got home at 7:00 pm. Rain or shine, my ass had been kicked. We're talking tired. Bone tired. Finally, at the end of August, I got two weeks off. Vacation. I had been paid a buck an hour, but I was actually given $10 in cash, and $30 in a check that I would never get to cash.

I worked for my father until I was 18, when I was drafted by my uncle to work in his rubber factory. I tried stints in places like fast food restaurants, etc. since neither my father nor my uncle really understood nepotism, rather they understood that if they made your life miserable, you would instantly see the value of an education. They never believed me when I told them I valued an education, they just kept up the pressure.

Some other time I'll tell you stories of near death, or driving my great aunt to the airport covered from head to toe in black rubber dust and having my great uncle say "kiss your aunt good bye" and leaving black marks on her face. Today, I am going to tell you of one of the last projects my father had for me just before I went to school.

He was renovating a beautiful old townhouse and they had to dig a trench from the curb to the house to install the utilities. The trench has to be 8 feet deep. The backhoe we had was only capable of going down 6 feet. It was raining. I was told to get into the trench and shovel out the last two feet of mud. I was halfway up to my knees in mud, shoveling, and then throwing the mud up and out of the hole. Not all of it made it. There wasn't another person to help, like letting me fill a bucket with mud, and have them haul it up and dump it. When I was finished, I was covered with mud, and completely exhausted. By this time I knew that part of what my father was trying to teach me was the value of an education. I knew he didn't realize that he was also teaching me over and over again that working hard didn't buy you anything if you didn't get to work smart. Digging the trench was one of those events that just stuck with me, right through to today, 40 years later.

I came home and found a guy at the bottom of a hole in my front yard. He works for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, the local water authority. They are replacing the water mains. I looked in the hole

and this guy was down there, in the hole. He didn't want me to take his picture. He was afraid I was looking for him to be committing some violation. I told him the story. I may blow the picture up and hang it on the wall in my office for motivation.

I took the picture below so you can see he was standing in water.

If you look at the picture below, it appears he was almost up to his waist. I did offer him an ice cold Sam Adams Oktoberfest, but he turned me down. He did thank me for telling him about the motivation to go to school.

Little did he know how long I went to school. The next time I retire, I'll probably go back to school again. Why did I put the pictures at the end? So I don't have to see them a lot. It's not my favorite memory.


Glamourpuss said...

I've always been more of a carrot person than a stick person, so those lessons would have been lost on me.


Echomouse said...

See, I never would have guessed you were a laborer in your past! This was an awesome read. :) Thanks for sharing it.

I have to agree with you. My Dad was a white collar professional too. From the time we could all understand language, it was drilled into us by both our parents to get an education. We had to go to college at least. No exceptions. When I took time off after high school, it did not go over well. But they were right and I knew it so I did go. I'm glad I did, just wish I'd studied something else.

M@ said...

I've done ALL kinds of jobs....

Mel said...

It was an awesome read.
Not one of your fondest memories, no doubt....the photos spoke to the story well.

I found myself feeling sad for the fella in the photo and sad for the memory of mud and muck attached to the 'lesson'.
Could be just what I read into it?

I'm an experiential learner--and require multiple 2x4's. (go figure!)
But when I finally 'get it', I really do 'get it'.

I had to chuckle about being 12 and driving a tractor/bulldozer.
THROUGH a few fences and into a creek more than once--but YUP!
I loved it!
Dunno that they loved me loving it, though...LOL

The CEO said...

Hi Puss, my parents were not known for being the easiest people to live with. I understand your father completely because he was also mine.

Hi Carrie, yup that's me, the local man of mystery. I still have work gloves downstairs, but with my back I make a lousy laborer.

Hi M@, too bad I could never be in your league. You're a professional writer. That takes talents I don't have.

Hi Mel, my driver's ed was stalling the tractor twice by letting the clutch out too fast. Once I got that working right, I could learn about shifting gears. The last big thing I learned was how to shift gears without looking. Third gear and reverse weren't needed until next summer.

cmhl said...

did the fellow in your yard have a cage down there with him? maybe that is why he didn't want photos?

I would be terrified of a cave-in...

AmyTree said...

My dad was a painting contractor - a hands-on project manager who ran his own business and a crew of guys (usually 2-3 of them) who painted buildings inside and out. I went to work with him many times and learned how to use a compressor, wear and face mask, and work for hours on end without rest. And then I grew up and realised that he'd been easy on me, really (because I was The Girl). It was a backbreaking job that has taken a toll on his health, but I can see now that he was an artist, first and foremost. I shunned blue collar work and went to school - I wanted to Manage Things - and now I find myself coming full-circle, working in a building that requires I know how it's all put together. It's eerie, and I hadn't really thought about it until I read your post. I guess we all take what we are meant to, but I will spend today writing to my dad.
Thank you.

The CEO said...

Hi CM, the guy was at the bottom of an 8 foot hole, and I was watching him. There were plenty of WSSC people around, yet I was feeling claustrophobic. I'm still having trouble sleeping.

Hi Amy, I hope you do write to your dad, he did it right.

skinnylittleblonde said...

Very insightful.
Digging, in and of itself, is not easy. Digging and having to heave it two to three feet over your head and out two to three feet is hallucinatory. (did i make that word up?)
I had to dig my water pipes up several years ago and thought I was seeing things out of the corner of my was just too laborious, too hot, the ground was too hard. I cannot imagine going 8' down.
Your father sounds much like mine, although perhaps they had different objectives... their method of operation was much the same.

The CEO said...

Hi Skinny, his best efforts didn't make me a great laborer, or carpenter or brick layer or son. I preferred avoiding him. He couldn't understand that. I still worry that I didn't grow up to be like him. You turned out pretty well!

Alison said...

Our first few work experiences mold us. For me, it was working in a factory that packaged clothing for American Eagle. It was a boring, repetitive job. I clocked in at 7 am, clocked out for my 30 minute lunch, clocked back in, and clocked out at 3:30. While I was at work, I packed boxes, tagged clothing, and tried to stay sane.

The trigger for me was the married couple who also worked there. They had kids. I want to say they had four kids, but this was back in the late 80s, so it's hard to remember. Also, I blocked out a lot of the bad stuff. Anyway, they worked there, both of them, for minimum wage.

I decided that college was a useful thing. But I still haven't found a job completely linked to my major. Heh.

Anyway, thank you for sharing your story with us.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Many of my mother's favorite threats ended with the words, "or you'll grow up to be a ditch digger."

Since I had never actually seen one,I would have liked to so I could decide for myself. She was markedly unimpressed with my logic.

It sounds as if your father spared no pain to teach you the lessons he considered valuable. I guess the Child Labor Laws were a well-kept secret (from you - as a lawyer, he doubtless knew them.) I'm glad you survived.

The CEO said...

Hi Ali, it appears I work best with computers, and not the construction or manufacturing industry. Perhaps I am at my best, though, eating and drinking!

Hi Susan, I leared from my father that educated didn't mean mature, or something like that. Applies to me too.

PhoenixHearse said...

And here I thought you were going to say you got out a bucket and started hauling mud out for him :)

The CEO said...

Hi Heather, nope, I did't offer to haul up a bucket of mud for him. Not with my back. I was serious about the beer though.