Monday, February 04, 2008

Home Chores


I'm sure growing up in Greenfield Park was a unique experience for each of us. At the same time I'm sure we had one thing in common. When our parents needed cheap, unskilled labour around the home, I don't need to tell you who got volunteered. I have a few memories of jobs my Dad assigned to me which today wouldn't pass labour codes or safety conditions. But in those days, who let things like that stand in the way of progress.....?

A few experiences quickly taught me that, although my Dad was a first class machinist and probably followed all the safety rules at work, in his own domain, he did not allow ‘safety ‘to interfer with progress. For example, Dad decided that he and trees were sworn enemies in another life. Where he loved to see sun and light, there were always limbs, leaves and shade.
When he looked at what the rest of see as trees, he saw heavy objects poised to fall through the roof and get him. He would take it very personal and curse them when they dropped leaves on his drive way or lawn., Even more despised were the jutting branches that might poke holes in shingles or windows during storms.
Looking up at the roof one day when I was about 15, Dad declared " See, see, one of those trees has destroyed the roof. We'll have to get up there and replace those shingles " I was still young and naive enough to think "WE " meant the two of us.

In a few minutes a ladder was propped up against the roof, nails and spare shingles appeared in Dad's hand. Standing at the bottom of the ladder, he pointed to the roof and said to me, " You'll need these, I’ll pass them to you ".

Following the pointing finger, my eyes moved up the rickety ladder at stopped when they got to the last rung. The ladder didn't reach all the way to the roof. Anticipating my next words, he said" Don't worry about getting over the edge, its simple.
Just lay your head and shoulders forward. I do it all the time.” It was tricky especially since the shingles were tarred and had long ago melted into each other. There were no edges to hang on to. None the less, swallowing my beating heart, I managed to get up on the very top beyond the hip of the roof .
Dad passed the tools and equipment as promised and before too long I had pried loose the shingles above the place where the broken ones had disappeared. I soon replaced them with new ones.
When I got back to the ladder location, Dad was nowhere in sight. When I looked over the ledge headfirst, I could see where the ladder was, but as soon as I turned around, stomach to the roof, I couldn't see where my feet were.
I started groping and feeling with my running shoes but they only dangled in empty space. Reversing the procedure I had used to get me up, I hung onto the shingles with my sweaty fingers.

As I reached the point of no return, my stomach began slipping over the shingles, my hands following as they moved down towards the edge. Just as I was picking up momentum to shoot over the edge of the 15 foot fall to the ground, I felt the top ladder rung dig into the arch in my foot and I stopped moving. I finally came down, shaking but safe.

Dad worked 5 1/2 days a week which meant he could only dream up projects like that for Saturday afternoons. I tried hard to have something already planned for Saturdays afternoons from there on.

About a week later Dad began to make me aware that the rest of the job needed to be done. I think he must have read somewhere about " If thy right limb offend thee, cut it off”.
Whatever the offence the limb had removed the shingles so now it had to be cut off. The fact that the nearest limb to house was about 10 feet apart made no difference. This was no time to introduce logic. If it had offended once, it may try to do it again.
When I got out to the yard, Dad had already set up the old rickety ladder. This time there was a twist. Dad had constructed a foundation out of an old wooden table. On top of the table, sat a kitchen chair. The ladder had been placed on the chair so that the bottom rung rested on the seat while its legs hung down either side. The effect was to raise the top ends of the ladder so they rested on the offending limb. Grabbing the ladder with both hands and shaking it, he gave the device his blessings saying, " solid as a rock" Not even the tower of Babel could have been more filled with impending disaster.
It was a few minutes before I realized I had been snookered again. I carefully checked to see on which side of the ladder I should cut the limb. Not wishing to bring calamity upon my self, I reasoned the cut had to be on the other side of the ladder furthest away from the tree. All was going well. I made up for the swaying of the ladder by wrapping my left arm around the limb.

The ladder’s grey wooden legs extended at least 3 full inches against the dark rough bark. . Confidently, I began to pull the Swiss-saw back and forth with my right hand. I never knew oak wood could be so hard. A half hour later the 8 inch limb began to make creaky noises which could only mean it must be ready to fall off as I had planned. But something else happened that I had not planned.
As soon as the limb no longer supported the weight of the part cut off, it moved upwards about 4 inches. The ladder, no longer had the limb for support, so it began to fall forward. I just had time to grab onto the remaining limb with both arms and lock my toes under the rung when the next event struck.
The cut portion of the limb, still connected at the cut by a thin but strong strand, swung inward like a pendulum and swept the chair and table out from under the ladder. This was the first time I noticed that Dad had again disappeared. There was no one to steady the ladder as prearranged.

I began to holler. I don’t know how long I hung before I heard Dad rearranging the table and chair and mumbling something about the unreliability of chairs.. After a few adjustments the right leg of the ladder was temporarily stuck in the middle of the seat of the chair while Dad hung on to the left side to off set the weight deferential. Once again I was safely back on the ground.
We came to an agreement about work projects after that. Dad told me what needed to be done, and I figured out a way I could do them and survive. It worked well for both of us.

Doug G

Thanks Doug, Boy do I remember those chores. Our ladder was always 2 feet short for the project at hand. MN

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