Final Thought

 

In June, my high school class, the Class of ’70, held its 45th reunion. I hated to miss the gathering, but I chose to go to Southeast Asia with two Vietnam War veterans. I hope to someday pass along a story or two from that trip, but right now I’m thinking about some of my old classmates and the summer of 1970.

It was the first summer I had an honest-to-goodness, 40-hour-a-week job — working construction for a small Pine Bluff, Ark., outfit. The pay was a little more than $1 an hour for shoveling, sawing, hammering and pouring concrete in the hot sun. I learned something about myself, which I’ll share shortly, but first a little about how I got that job.

Summer had come suddenly. That spring I’d focused on running track and making just-good-enough grades to graduate. Then high school was over. It was late May. College seemed far off, late August, and I wasn’t even sure I was going to go. I needed spending money. So I began job-hunting.
One day I bumped into a friend, and we decided to see “Midnight Cowboy” that night at the Zebra Drive-In. A confession: The only reason we went was because the movie was X-rated. We talked a lot during the movie, and my friend told me about this construction job he’d had the previous summer. The owner was expecting him back, but things had changed, and my friend was about to go to boot camp for the Army Reserve. He said he’d recommend me for his old job.

In short order, I showed up for my first day of work at 7:30 one morning. And things started out promisingly enough. The owner told me to help one of the other hands cut rebar (pronounced ree-bar, it’s those long steel rods used to reinforce concrete). For an hour, we stood in the shade of the construction office, me positioning each rod into a device that would shear it in half when the other guy pulled a handle.
But then.

We had cut enough rebar to drive to the construction site, and that’s where the real labor began. At the site was a large hole in the ground, about 8 feet deep and the size of an Olympic swimming pool. Rebar, anchored in concrete at the bottom of the hole, was pointing skyward. Our job was to build a pool to capture a factory’s chemical waste.

We clambered down into the hole and commenced to tying the freshly cut rods horizontally to the vertical ones. There was no refreshing breeze in that hole. Just lots of sunshine.

In the ensuing days, we erected plywood forms around all that rebar and then poured concrete into the forms, making the pool walls. It was hot, dirty, muscle-straining work. Other than lunch, when we retreated to the shade of a nearby warehouse, about the only time we got any relief was when a thunderstorm blew up. I have never prayed so much for rain in all my life.

Each day after work, I’d go home, shower, and go driving around with a few buddies who had similar jobs. Bone tired, we didn’t talk much and would end the night early. After about two months, I gave my notice: I appreciated the opportunities, but I was going to college.
And that’s mostly how I spent the summer of 1970.

Months later, at a Christmas party, I saw the guy who helped me get that job. He told me he had recently seen Doc, the construction company owner. He smiled and said, “Doc said you were laaazy!” I don’t recall my reaction, but I would have liked to have said, “No, not lazy, just ill-suited for construction work.”

So, back to what I learned that summer. I admit it: I’m lazy. Much of that praying I mentioned was done while leaning on a shovel and thinking about my future. The boss didn’t like shovel-leaning, and told me so a time or two. I developed great admiration for those who build things, having once been in their boots, albeit briefly. While I may work hard at writing, and I sometimes find myself mentally taxed, I don’t think I could ever say with a good conscience, “Man, this typing sure has worn me out.”

So, even though Labor Day is still a month away, I want to salute those who work hard with their hands. And backs. And legs. Bless you for all you do.
Summer job stories? Email me with your stories at sonnyrhodes@sbcglobal.net.

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