Thursday, May 23, 2013

Quality Work

Well, there are 101 reasons I haven't blogged in a while. Mostly I've had responsibilities that are more pressing...like massive amounts of yard work (knew that was coming) and house work (always) and transporting my kids everywhere, everyday (that's life) and meetings (sigh). But I could always get up earlier. There ARE more hours in the day...but they often belong to the night, and I'm generally using them for sleeping. Or trying to sleep/pretending to sleep, depending on the situation at hand, or who is calling.

One reason is my little job, cleaning the offices and shop bathrooms at my dad's business. It's a bit of drudgery that I don't mind too much. Somehow it's easier cleaning any bathroom other than my own, and mopping and sweeping up anyone else's mud but the stuff that's tracked all over my own house. At the end of a long day, when I'm rushing to finish so I can go pick up kids or get home before midnight, it's not that fun. And really quiet....a bit creepily quiet....just the howling and banging of the vents near the ceiling, a random tool crashing, the squish and slosh of the mop. At times I break out into song, a bit nervously, thinking probably no one is listening, but if they are, I'd better at least sound good.

As I stack chairs and wipe tables, walking past trucks, trailers, graders, a pump truck, and various tools of the trade, I think back. Back, and back...to the lone rubber-tired hoe parked outside a little house on the street. My mom working all hours at the hospital, my dad working all hours in the bush. No mobile radio, no cell phone, not much in the fridge. There's a picture of dad pointing to a few eggs on the top shelf, smiling, cuz that was it. The little house whose floors sloped in so many directions you had to get your sea legs.

Then, a wee bit 'o trouble. The town getting all up in arms over a backhoe parked on the street. Well, well. Have to move. Into the country, out of the way, into a trailer. Trees to clear all around, but no matter. The backhoe was well-oiled and practiced. Just not quite paid for. So work, round the clock, keep it working. When's he coming home? Late, for sure. Lots to do, and now we need a truck. A trailer, another hoe. A gravel truck, a shop, a set of fuel tanks. A few good men to leave early in the dark morning, and come back tired, full of sweat and dust from the road.

We went out a few times, to see where dad was going. Is this a road? Well...not really. Are we crossing the creek?! Oh yes, I do it all the time. But there's no bridge! Just hang on. I smile....how many times did I hear that, "Just hang on!". How much further? Are there bears? Oh yes, lots of bears. So many animal stories.....wolves, cougars, moose, fish the size of Friday, if you could only get a rod in there and catch them. Or have the time to.

Us kids would watch from the upstairs window of the new house, waiting for dad. There he was in a swirl of dust and grime, his hat on, moustache full of exhaust and prickly as he raised us over his head, laughing and saying, "Just wait, I've got to fuel up, just wait a bit. Go on in. I'll be right there. You want a ride in the hoe? Alright, hop in, we'll ride to the house." Favorite thing!! Up, up the orange metal stair and into the cab that smelled of rubber, leather gloves, and a hard day's work.

Years went by, and the office went from a pile of papers on the kitchen counter and a mobile radio that squawked all the live-long day, to a trailer you got to by walking across the yard by the garden. One time my banana-seat blue-sparkly bike got run over by the gravel truck. Well, it wasn't mine anymore, it was my sister's, but still it was hard to see it go that way. I talked to the guys often, as they trooped in the house with a question or stood shooting the breeze in the cool of the shop. I heard stories of washed-out culverts, impassable roads, places where you could get a huge piece of pie and a coffee for almost nothing. Stories of break downs, the near miss, the lost driver from the city who had to get pulled out of the ditch. And dust, always dust and diesel, and little oil slicks on the puddles in spring time. Working six days a week, early morning, late night. Supper waiting on the stove. A bit of fried egg on a plate to say someone was at the table, long before the sun stole onto my bed and woke me up for school.

More years, and the office moved to town. The shop too, and now it stands by the highway, a big sign and a big Canadian flag. We always had the flag; we were Canadian. The yard was quiet now, the shop empty but for the riff-raff leftovers that belonged to the domestic life. No more convoys of gravel trucks rolling down the driveway, quick get off the road with your bike! Life and business separated. The house was left for a bigger one. There were horses -- real horses that you paid money for, not the Paint with the matted mane and broken hooves that would stand stock still for no reason at all and had to be moved on with a good deal of boot action. There was more stress but less dust - computers, not piles of paper held down with a rock. More desk chair, less fresh air.

When I finish the cleaning, lock up and walk out to my car, I look up and see the lone rubber-tired hoe on the sign. "McPhee Construction. Quality work". In brown and tan, just like the old Ford we had in 1979, and the business cards we were so proud to sniff, crisp and new in the packages. It's a strong emotion, and it hits me sometimes when I hear people talk, about oh, the money, and when they demand things, and complain, and take advantage. If they could see the mud, sweat and tears that went into that first lone backhoe, and all the bills and sacrifices. To me, it's as clear as the creek water flowing over the pit run. I lean out the window and smell the pines and the diesel, and I know.




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