The Peanut Gallery
My father was the type of man who never called in sick to work. “If I am going to be miserable anyway, I might as well go to work and get paid for it,” he used to opine. “Then, if I want to go fishing some time with Bob Kinney, I’ll have days of sick-time available,” he’d finish off with a sly grin. Papa did like to ocean fish.
He worked for State Steel, later changed to Standum Steel after the strike of ’72-73, as a heli-arc welder. He labored in a massive steel building that served as a freezer in the winter, and an oven in the summer. There simply was no in-between and there was no variation on a theme.
“Let us be happy in our work,” was his mantra, one that he unabashedly stole from one of his favorite films, “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” Life to Robert was the constant construction of a bridge over rough waters, with someone trying to blow it up.
As I mentioned yesterday morning, actions speak louder than words, and Papa’s unwavering schedule had the force of a megaphone behind it. Despite the unending diatribe to Mama on the injustices of working for men who were clearly nincompoops, which I listened to while peeling potatoes and dicing onions for dinner, Papa trudged off to work every weekday morning of his life, at 6:45.
He would return at 3:45, covered with the dust and grime of his day’s labor, and sip one of two cocktails, before jumping into cooking dinner for everyone who happened to be on-hand. He and Mama tag-teamed preparing dinner, with help from the peanut gallery.
On weekends Papa often sought out side jobs involving cement, brick, block or stone. He built barbecues, fireplaces, block walls and poured slabs. He would take along a helper or two, depending on the job, and whoever it was would work his tail off to keep up.
Older bro Brian mentioned in a comment yesterday that for a day’s labor, he might receive as pay, $0.25. The bottom line was that if Papa needed help and there were no stipend involved, the rules would remain the same. We did what was expected without outward complaint, because that is how it worked.
Papa added on a large kitchen, circa 1959, and then a lower wing of our house which included a laundry room, hallway, second bath, and the big boys’ room, which housed the four older of us in two bunk-beds. I slept on the upper tier of one of those for close to a decade, before relocating out back to the boathouse/radio shack, which I initially had to myself.
Every home project that Papa tackled, included the help of his sons, each in his own capacity. I might not have been able or allowed to pound nails into stuff, but I was certainly given a hammer and the opportunity to remove nails, especially since the lumber used to build that lower wing, was acquired when Papa tore down the old school house, out back behind Miss Buck’s house, across the street from us.
My brothers and I (and I am equally certain, JT) hauled that school house from the rear echelon of Miss Buck’s yard, to the far reaches of our own spacious backyard. I would estimate the distance to be a football field in length across the street, and another 150 feet in our own yard, that we hauled every scrap that came out of that building.
If we didn’t use it in the construction of the new wing, we could certainly burn it in the fireplace. I remember this monstrous pile of lumber, far higher than our heads, and I remember tunneling through it by removing pieces of lumber, one at a time. There was no danger of collapse, because like pickup sticks, the 2x4’s and all of the scrap lumber, interlaced with one another, making it difficult to extract any given piece, but also ensuring that there was plenty of support for whatever tunnel was contrived.I also remember de-nailing the lumber, something that was not practical to do in tearing the building down down, because we wanted to complete the job as quickly as possible. As plans moved forth to build the lower section of house, Papa needed to be able to inventory his stock. Unlike the typical fir studs we would get from the building yard today, those used in the building of this schoolhouse, were rough-sawn 2x4’s, but genuinely two inches by four, and not one-and-a-half by three-and-a-half.
What they lacked in terms of being new, they made up for in terms of strength. Because he did not bother with the formality of a permit, knowing the wood would not pass muster, Papa built a bamboo fence alongside the south side of the house to keep matters a little more private, and then had me plant poplar trees from the street, all the way back past the back of the house.
When the big boys were not working with/for Papa, they mowed and raked lawns in the neighborhood, pulled weeds, built sidewalks, babysat, and then started getting jobs. Eric’s was the post office, a route Noel also followed for a while. Brian was Sunrize Market all the way, which is where I ended up also, much to my delight.
My world growing up was suffused with the work ethic; no one ever explained it to me using words. In similar fashion I passed this principle on to my sons. It’s not about putting in your time, it’s about working until the job is done, with the hours determined as the days go along.
As a seven-year-old, HeadSodBuster helped me dig a 3,000-feet-long trench for burying line for apple orchards, on the Red-Tail Ranch. Later that summer, he nailed off a thirty-by-twenty foot plywood floor, using eight-penny galvanized nails, and both hands on the hammer to drive them home. This was the last year I worked in the trades, before joining the staff at Laytonville Middle School, in September of 1990.
He was already helping with the firewood, gathering dead manzanita and busting it up with a mall. Gluten-Free Mama wouldn’t allow him to raise the mall over his head, but by simply grabbing it with both hands, and placing the piece to be broken with one end on a raised surface, and the other on the ground, he would wield the mall like he would a fence-post-digger, and just crunch the dead manzanita in half.
|HeadSodBuster and Stevie used to cut wood together.|
He wasn’t much older than this when he struck a bargain with Grandma Pauline, to furnish her and Grandpa with dry manzanita to be used as starter fuel for the oak and madrone that were the main source of heat of the big house. An agreement for how much a pickup truck of manzanita was worth, would be struck, and I would do the delivering.
While I enjoyed a libation with my folks, HeadSodBuster would unload the truck and come in for payment.
All of the boys used to work in the ‘hood, each finding his own niche. BenJamMan landed at the ranch, caring for the critters, building fences, and ranching, where his ties remain solid after his nine years of working in the world of Cal-Fire, before beginning his teaching career at Ukiah High School.
HeadSodBuster and SmallBoy did weed-eating, wood-stacking, ditch-digging and every other type of hard, menial labor, that one can find on the mountain. Country kids are reared in an environment where the work never ends, because we must supply our own heat, power, water and anything else we want.
No one has to explain these matters with words-it’s all in the hands. It’s in the expectations, it’s what’s on the agenda and it’s in the genes.
I remember conversations I have had with HeadSodBuster, who was incensed that others at school rolled in with brand-new Toyota 4WD trucks or Four-Runners, while he was forced to drive an old beater of a half-ton Chevy pickup, an antique by any and all standards.
I used to cringe as he proclaimed that he would be rich some day; money has never been attractive to me and I couldn’t believe this was really him. Time would prove me correct, and now his take is just the opposite of what it once was.
|HeadSodBuster in the trenches...|
Flash ain’t cash and bling ain’t king. Farmers keep long hours, especially if they are politicking all over the state. You never go hungry on a farm, but you aren’t taking vacations at Cabo San Lucas either. Come to think of it, you don’t take vacations at all, unless it is to wrench a week away from the farm, a year past the fact, to take an overdue honeymoon.
The key is to find something you love to do and figure out a way to make a living doing it, even if it means spending countless hours at county Board of Supervisors meetings, ensuring that you can continue to do it.
Great success, on so many levels, it defies logic.