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Monday, January 30, 2012

Not Really

The one big thing you need to know about cement or concrete is that YOU GOT TO KEEP IT MOVING. My father knew this better than anyone; for most of his adult life, he worked for a construction company that specialized in concrete. All too often, a newbie driver with the company would break down on the road and not realize that his number one priority was to keep that cement drum moving. Invariably he would return a cement truck with a drum full of hardened concrete. This would require either a entire replacement of the drum or a very laborious removal process - chipping the material out with a jack hammer. I did this for a summer job - one of the most unpleasant tasks I have ever known.

I endured an extreme stoicism growing up, driven by my parents' hard times, lean circumstances, and real need, not by an effort to impress. My father had ZERO tolerance for complaining about any hardship, and I witnessed a few severe accidents with no expression of pain. He owned a rifle at 10 years old and was taken out of school at 12 to work full time as a wood cutter in subzero temperatures. There were accidents, misfortune, and real adversity to face. Later in life, many anecdotes would be exchanged - small tales of extreme bravado.

My family had a custom home built in the mid-1960s. For a family with such austere and impoverished roots, this was a tremendous source of pride. After completion, my father decided that a couple of concrete walkways around the house would be a nice touch and an opportunity to use his knowledge of concrete.

With all the preparations done, it was time to actually pour the concrete. He had been able to borrow a small portable mixer like that in today's photo. The mixer was chain-driven, and at one point one of his fingers got caught in the drive, tearing off his knuckle. However, the concrete was wet and needed to be kept moving, and an accident was not to deter him. He looked at me and only said four words: "Get me a rag," with no cry or any visible sign of discomfort, only frustration that his job was now made more difficult.

My father instilled in me a great respect for power tools, and to me, one of the most frightening is the table saw. A colleague who built a post and beam home in Maine told me that most of the members of the crew who built his home had a finger or part missing. A supplier of wood parts to whom I once recounted these tales concurred, telling me that sadly, these accidents are generally just a function of time. A very large number of those who work in heavy wood manufacturing industries inevitably have a serious accident resulting in the loss of a finger.

My father had a basement shopped equipped with a table saw. He was extraordinarily careful and methodical with its use, but time caught up with him. On one occasion, he cut the tip of one finger off. He came up from the basement stairs with his hand wrapped in a bloodied shirt and stood silently before my mother. Surmising the seriousness of the accident, she asked in shock and horror, "Are you alright?" To which he answered, with classic New England stoicism, "Not really..."

Related Posts: The Book With the Hole In It (Part 1 and Part 2), Pure Chocolate, Men of Steel, Never Cut a Board, Men Making Noise, Work


s.c said...

Wow. A great real life story. I could not imaging what it means to live in such circumstances but fore sure it makes an impression.

Leslie said...

Ouch, ouch, ouch! Having cut off about 1/4 of my thumb nail (with thumb) watching the X-files while chopping kale (dumb!), I will say it doesn't hurt much, but the bleeding is pretty scary.

Your Dad was a role model for me, a true Rock of Gilbraltar. ♥