Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Percussion of Hammers, the Memory of Summer

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Percussion of Hammers, the Memory of Summer

Article excerpt

WHEN I was a boy, while waiting in line to enter Lincoln Tunnel, my father would say, "See this tunnel? I helped build it. The steel rods... ."

"Where, Dad?"

"Well, you can't see them now. They're in the concrete. They're used to reinforce the wall. But I used to bend those steel rods. The foreman said I was one of the best steel-rod benders he had. It took two men to bend one rod. I used to do it alone."

"How come you still don't do that?"

"Because when the job was done, they laid off most of the men. But you could tell them," he said, rolling down the window to pay the toll, "your father helped build this tunnel."

I never had the audacity to ask who "them" was, but he told the tunnel story with minor variations every time we went through.

When roses and honeysuckle perfume the air and my teacher's manuals are all shelved away until September, the anxiety of looking for a summer job blossoms in my mind. Those summers when work was scarce and money scarcer, I took whatever I could to get through.

Late one June during the year of a gas crisis, with few jobs to be had, I picked up work - thanks to my older brother. An insurance salesman who had connections with builders, he did not want to hear my mother ask one more time, "With all your influence and the people you know, you can't get your brother a job?" She had a way of bringing this up whenever he had company.

Thus I entered the world of the carpenter's helper, helping to build houses at the shore. The work was hard, the pay was good. When I started I did not even know how to drive in a nail properly. The carpenter's son took me aside and showed me, with three swift strokes, how to drive a ten-penny nail into a two-by-four. With some practice I was able to swing a hammer well enough to help frame houses. That summer I picked up a new vocabulary (lintel, stud, joist), a tan, more muscles, and a raise.

Here was a job that was close to nature even as we were pushing it aside with houses that swept farther and farther into the woods, meadows, and wetlands. …

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