This is one of my favorite true stories about my dad and me. I’m so fortunate to have had him in my life. So, I thought I’d put together a special blog post to honor him on Father’s Day, today.
My father’s work ethic stood out as if against a vivid blue sky in our lives. Dad’s highest praise was, “He’s a hard worker.” But he was creative, fun and unique in everything he did. People wanted to please him.
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…
Summers, I worked for my dad cleaning up brush along with my brothers and other, slightly older members of the tree crew. My dad had a thriving tree removal business. Everyone in my family worked for him at one time or another, including my mom who took the calls and did the paperwork for the business. (Note: she didn’t get paid; we did).
I loved working with the other summer hires, many of which returned through summers at college. Outside of the family, we didn’t have many women who worked, though–mostly because the work was heavy and you had to run a chain saw. (I wasn’t allowed to. When I was younger, I jumped up on the dumptruck and stamped the brush down. As dad got more sophisticated equipment, I helped chip the brush we fed into a wood chipper, or raked).
But anyway, we had fun. Dad split us his workers into two, or at his busiest times, three crews. Dad hired young, strong men with big muscles to do the work, so, of course, I had crushes on a couple of ’em and tried to work on whichever crew they happened to be on that day). Every job presented different trees and situations. We also had great breaks. Dad would sometimes stop by with fresh doughnuts from Mighty Fine. Other times, customers would set just-out-of-the-oven cookies along with a couple of pitchers of ice cold water and plastic glasses. On the best breaks, the workers told stories about daring climbs or big falls they’d miraculously survived. Each story trumped the one before it. I had no stories to contribute. But, impressionable, I soaked them all in.
One day in my teen years, something story-worthy also happened to me, and a gal named Kristie Kibler. Known for her humor and easygoing ways, Kristie and I made a good team. At fourteen, I thought she was the coolest worker on the crew. She had just turned eighteen the summer she worked for us. When most people her age preferred cars, every morning, Kristie arrived at our house on her 15-speed sport bike–exuding health and vitality, and forever 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 even ran the chainsaw; I was the ground man. As usual, I pitched brush into the truck or jumped on the brush to tamp it down, and raked 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. Kristie casually replaced the lid, screwing it in place before tossing it aside.
The only two left on the job, we slowed down a bit.
I turned to Kristie, “Hey you wanna take a break and eat now?”
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. I pointed to one of the smaller chunks. “Hey Kristie, can you give me a hand with this one?”
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 what dad called “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 as he looked 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 and I shrugged. “Not sure where they went but Kristie and I loaded the wood.”
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.
Ya 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 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. We’d become part of the stories that would get casually tossed around on other doughnut breaks–part of the tree lore and legends my father 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 from cancer, 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 vanished from his body, my father responded clearly. “I couldn’t believe you girls did that.”
My heart lurched and I gave a silent thank-you to God for that precious memory thirty-five years earlier that still had the awesome power to connect two people.
I think of the customer who called my dad a “legend,” and then of the legends that grew out of the pleasant days of work he provided for so many young people. While it aches to see people you cherish pass away, the memories and legends you share live on.
Like the legend of the two lasses that loaded the pick-up truck up with chunks of tree trunk all by themselves.
What about you? Is there a memory that stands out in your mind with you and your dad? I’d love to hear about it so take a moment and share it in the Comments below.
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