Friday, October 23, 2009

Ya Done Real Good!

My father grew up in a generation that valued hard work and he applied this standard to himself his whole life. Generally he didn’t have too much to say about people but he had his own rating system when it came to work and his crew. He reserved his highest praise for “hard workers” who won his admiration for reliability, skill and ambition. “Steady workers” rated just below them with less skill but who showed up to work every day and did the best they could. Finally came members of the crew “who hardly worked at all.” Dad used to often joke, "Ya workin' hard or hardly workin'?"

Of Legends and Lasses

My father’s work ethic stood out as if against a vivid blue sky among his contemporaries. Upon his passing, one customer wrote “There goes another legend.” Dad shaped us all with his old-fashioned expectations, but none more than on the occasion of a day when two lasses got fired up and surpassed even his desires…

Known for her humor and easygoing ways, Kristie Kibler and I made a good team. At fourteen, I thought she was probably the coolest worker on the crew. She had just turned eighteen the summer she worked for us. When most people her age preferred cars, Kristie cheerfully opted for a healthier workout. Every morning she’d pull up to our house on her 15-speed sport bike exuding health and vitality, beaming with an infectious smile. Always ready to pull her weight, she worked as hard as any man. On the job, she had a variety of tasks. She drove the truck, gassed up and ran the chainsaw; I was the ground man, pitching brush into the truck or jumping up and down on the brush to tamp it down, and raking up the debris.

That day began like any other summer day on the job. I squinted into a blue sky at the noontime sun. Waves of heat hung in the balance, and sweat trickled out from under the bridge of my glasses, making them slide forward on my nose. With a backward swipe, I pushed them back leaving a mixed trail of dirt and sweat grating like sandpaper on my shiny skin. Kristie raised her tanned, muscular arms over her head in a long stretch, slowly cracking her knuckles before wiping her sweaty palms down the sides of her faded blue jeans. She threw her head back and took a long, deep swig of ice water from her green army canteen, “Thirsty? Want some?” she called over to me. Between the dirt, sawdust and sweat, I longed for a cool taste but suddenly shy to drink from the same container, shook my head “no,” Kristie replaced the lid, screwing it in place before tossing it aside.

The only two left on the job, we slowed down a bit. “Hey you wanna take a break and eat now?” I asked her. She thought for a moment, “Nah. You?” I shook my head. If she didn’t want to eat, then neither did I.

We’d worked hard that morning and had all the brush out of the way. Only the big cuts of the tree trunk remained. I eyeballed them. They looked much too big for us to load. “Hey Kristie, can you give me a hand with this one?” I pointed to one of the smaller chunks. “Sure,” she said and with the help of a cannuk, together we rolled it over to the truck and somehow lifted it. Our success spurred us on.. As if by tacit mutual agreement, we continued to work, slowly maneuvering the larger pieces toward the truck and somehow onto the vehicle using a lot of “elbow grease.” We never set out to be “superwomen” but during the space of that lunchtime break, we managed to load up the truck by persistent Herculean force – it took us forty-five minutes.

Not long after we finished, my dad drove onto the site. “Where are Kirk and the rest of the crew?” he asked, looking around.

“They're on their lunch break. We're the only ones here.” I said.

“Where did the guys go after loading the wood?”
Kristie and I looked at each other and laughed, “We loaded it.”

He looked from the truck to us, and back again to the truck. “You girls loaded that wood up all by yourselves?” He rubbed a hand through his wiry crew cut, “Well I’ll be darn.” At my nod, he just shook his head the way he did when startled. “You girls ‘done real good’.” That’s all he said.

You done real good. Although my dad joked around like this, he was very articulate. He could speak to multi-million dollar corporate heads with as much ease and credibility as he could a stick-picker like me. That ability to shift his speech to better relate to people was a natural part of his personality. I loved it about him.

With sweat oozing from every pore, my clothing caked with dirt and sawdust, I looked down at my scratched arms and suddenly felt extremely proud of myself. We had won my father’s highest praise. Just then he turned to me, “Don’t let your mother know you did this. She’ll shoot me for letting you lift those heavy pieces!”

Looking back, I’m sure Kristie shouldered the brunt of the work. But at just ninety pounds, I carried my fair weight. Together we earned the limelight to shine in my father’s ‘Hard Work’ Café and become part of the tree lore and legends he would speak of for the rest of his life.

Some thirty years later, in the wee hours of the night just a few weeks before my father passed away, desperately needing to connect, I turned to him, “Dad do you remember when Kristie Kibler and I loaded the truck up with all that wood up by ourselves?”

Suddenly lucid as if the whole cloud of morphine simply had vanished from his body, my father responded clearly. “I couldn’t believe you girls did that.”

I smiled as I realized that while legends may pass on, some memories never do. They still have the awesome power to connect two people.

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