August 10, 2011
As I picked up my grandson Raj at childcare yesterday, we passed some construction work as we were walking to the car. We stopped to watch.
A man in a tractor was picking up sections of a felled pine and placing the pieces of tree trunk around the edge of a parking lot as a boundary and barrier for the cars.
"It has claws!" Raj said.
Technically, it was a Gehl skid steer with a bucket loader and grapple. An assistant on the ground with a six-foot pry bar was helping to guide the heavy sections of tree trunk onto the loader. Once the trunk was part-way onto the bucket, the driver would lower the grapple claws, gripping the trunk and lifting. Then he'd steer it to an edge of the parking area and set it down.
It was fun to watch if you're of the male gender and of a certain age. Raj and I qualify on both counts, though in different age categories. Raj is three and eleven twelfths, as he will gladly tell you. I'm sixty-three and eleven twelfths, though I usually omit the fraction.
Raj and I took a seat on one of the sections of pine that had already been set in place. While we watched, the driver would give us a thumbs-up sign each time he passed. We'd give the same sign back.
Another boy leaving childcare stopped to watch, accompanied by a cute young mother who was dressed nicely and expensively for business. Attorney, I'd guess. I have certain mistreated friends who would argue that the words "cute" and "attorney" cannot apply to the same person. I'm not so extreme.
The new boy was focused on the assistant holding the pry bar. "It's like a light saber," he said. "I want one."
"Actually," I said, "it's solid steel and very heavy. I know because I have one."
Surprised, his mom looked at me with amusement. She said, "Oh, you just happen to have one lying around at your house?"
"I'm a contractor," I said. "I have all kinds of tools."
The boy gaped at me with a new respect. That man has his own six-foot steel bar!
The mom regarded me differently, too. In her world people don't have funky tools. In my world, some people have half a dozen pry bars in various sizes.
The woman and her son stayed for five minutes, watching the skid loader, giving a thumbs up when it passed. Then they had to go. They had things to do.
Raj and I had nothing better to do. And what could possibly be better than this? In warm sun on a log, we watched. We observed a black squirrel clutching a pine cone, confused, wondering where the tree had gone. We touched sticky sap oozing from the rings of our log. We kicked our bare feet through a mound of soft sawdust.
I told Raj that next time he came to my house, I'd show him my pry bar. I told him I really like pry bars. Some people are strange that way. I knew one man who treated his pry bar like a special pet.
Raj is more likely to grow up to be an attorney than a construction worker. I'm doing my best to keep pry bars - and the whole funky world of honest-to-God labor - part of his life.
We watched the skid loader and the man with the pry bar for the next hour and a half until they had finished the job. We talked to them for a few minutes. They said the tree had to be cut down because its roots were lifting the sidewalk.
"Stupid!" said Raj.
"I agree," said the man with the pry bar.
A final thumbs up, and we call it a day.
Back at Raj's house, I've brought a pile of new books from the library. The stars must be aligned. Raj selects one called Grandpa's Tractor.
In the story a boy named Timmy goes with his grandfather (named, by golly, Grandpa Joe) to an abandoned farm which has mostly been obliterated by the new houses of an expanding town. There Timmy finds a broken down rusty tractor. (I have to explain what rust is.) Grandpa Joe tells Timmy about the uses of a tractor and about his life as a farmer. Timmy declares that somebody should restore that old machine to its former glory.
The book is an affirmation of our day. As I read the story aloud, we both are spellbound.