Between the ages of 5 to 8, I was a construction worker.
I was in the employ of my father who built houses. More specifically, he was building our house and I helped. Of course there was not the option to not helping. That either got me licks or a beating from my brother, lose lose for Hossman.
But this was not a sweat shop type of thing. Most time I was more than happy to help. Which kid would not like nailing at the age of 6? I just happened to be doing it into 2x4’s instead of the coffee table. Granted, most of my nails would bend in the middle and take me a good ten minutes to pull out. I was not the most productive of nailers so I was quickly fired. However, I was the bosses son so I was soon back on the job sight in different capacities.
I have stacked so much brick that I still bear the calluses from that work. Between that and mixing concrete with a hoe, I quickly built the massive physique that I refer to today. It’s just currently hidden underneath cloaking pudge, but it’s still there.
By far, the best job on the site is on the roof and ceiling. When you are six, this is about the best job you can have. You get to walk on top of things that normally you will get smacked for. Crawl on the roof when you are sneaking out and you get grounded for a month. Crawl on a roof when you are building and you get paid. How great is that.
I can hear many of you gasping out there right now, what the hell is a 6 year old doing on the roof. Just remember that this was the early 80’s and things were quite different than now. I didn’t wear a helmet when I rode my bike either and I’m ok.
Building a house is good work for a kid. It’s like using Lincoln logs for real. Then, you get to live in the fort that you built. Davy Crockett never had it so good. Most of my jobs were essential although less than glamorous.
After the nailing ineptitude, I got demoted to gopher. Still a great gig. Dad need some nails, I’m on it. Don’t worry about those shingles, I got it. My brother needs someone to punch—hey take this shoulder right here big bro. I was the all purpose guy on the job site. I was gopher, punching bag and great looking guy. All for the low low price of nothing.
My father was building an addition to our house as my little sister had come and we needed more space. My dad was a carpenter by trade so this was no big deal to him. He was adding a kitchen, with a stove and everything. It’s funny what makes you happy. You get indoor plumbing and it changes your life.
I had helped put up the frame for the walls and was walking on the rafters for the roof. These are the pieces of 2x12’s that eventually hold the whole thing together. I was six. I had my little tool belt on. It was great.
There are times in my life when I have done things that I have no idea why. It’s an urge that I can’t help and I still get it more than 25 years later. In kindergarten, we were making butter by shaking a jug. The teacher said not to throw it and be careful. I threw it. I couldn’t help it. I caught it but she didn’t seem to share the same amazement as the rest of my class. Couldn’t help it, had to chunk it.
I was in the store the other day when I went passed a baby in a shopping cart. She was sucking on a pacifier. I just wanted to yank it right out of her mouth. I have no idea why but my hand started to move. I caught myself there before going any further, but some stuff you just get an urge to do.
It was the early 80’s, height of the cold war. At the time, the cold war was really fought in the Olympics. Team USA vs the Commie Bastards. And it was all about the gymnastic teams. 13 year olds battling it out on small little bars for their countries honor. My family and I were completely wrapped up in it. I hated Commie Bastards even though I had no idea what the hell that meant.
And there I was, on a rafter. When I stopped to think about it, the rafter looked about as long as balance beam. In fact, it looked about as wide as one to. Glory awaited me and my country on the rafter and I would not disappoint the urge of Glory.
I did the best, hands down, cart wheel you have ever seen a 6 year old do on a roof rafter. I could hear the crowd chanting USA, USA, USA as my hands made contact with the rafter. I saw the flashbulbs in my mind as the president was awarding me the medal of honor as my foot flew into the air. I saw myself doing the best Mary Lou impression you have ever seen and I was gearing up for my dismount that would win the gold. I was Retton, I was the spirit of her, I was a perfect 10. She had somehow channeled her greatness to this 6 year old protégé.
Unfortunately, I could not stick the landing like her. It was then that I realized that graceful might not be used to describe me. The crowd sighs with disappointment as my feet fail to touch anything and over the side of the roof I go. I can see my mother crying as they hand the gold to someone else, failure comes. But not as quick as realization does.
I am falling. I am falling off the roof. I am falling off the roof to concrete and shattered dreams below. But I will not go silently. With a last ditch effort, I grab the rafter with my hands and hang on knowing that to let go my gymnastic dreams will never be fulfilled and I’m pretty sure I will get licks for screwing around on the roof.
So there I am, hanging by my nails looking down. 10 feet doesn’t look that bad on a basketball goal. 10 feet to a 6 year old hanging from the roof looks like a bottomless pit.
I am now deadmeat. There is no way out of this. If I call my dad for help, I’m getting licks. If I let go, it’s broken leg. I shall hang here until an opportunity to get out of this presents itself. I can hang forever.
That’s when my brother sees me hanging and lets my dad very quickly know that Hossman needs some help as he is currently hanging off the roof.
Nothing phases my father. I have never seen him shook up in an emergency. He is matter of fact and never panics.
He calmly raises his head from the board he is working on. Looks at me, and I quote:
“You better pull yourself up”.
This is not a threat, this is not me getting in trouble. This is my dad telling me that when you are hanging from a roof, the best thing to do is to pull yourself up. My father is genius.
He then turns his head back to the board he was working on and finishes up. This may seem cold to some but it was just a fact of life. He knew that there were greater consequences and that surely I had learned my lesson. I will no longer go Mary Lou on the roof rafters when building a house.
I throw my leg over and hike it on up. My brother comes over just to make sure that I can do it before he punches me. Sadly, there will be no gold medal in my future. There will be no crowds cheering and no domination of the Commie Bastards. I was not meant to be a gymnast as it requires coordination. I shall find a different way to contribute to our national honor which currently means teaching MY little girl how to tumble. Maybe one day she will be the gymnast that I could not be.