Brick layer

I can say authoritatively that the old man never talked to or with me about anything.  Not about politics.  Or cars.  Or women (thank god for that!) Or even sports.  Come to think of it he wasn’t really interested in sports.  That may be because he never played any.  They had sports in his high bronx brickschool; the basketball coach asked him to try out for the team because he was six feet tall.  But he couldn’t do that.  He was needed at home to work.  He was not graduated from high school till he was 21 because he got kicked back three grades; not because he failed but because he missed more than 30 days of class per school year.  That was a law they had to stop farmers from keeping their children at home to do field work.

He was out picking peaches one summer in that sweltering heat, working his butt off I imagine, and he fainted.  They revived him and he went right back to work, but it happened again the next day.  He was working the orchard of one of the big land owners in the area, and this man, I forget his name, said, “Damn, that boy ain’t cut out for farm work.”  And he offered to pay the old man’s way to Clemson if he would major in engineering.  So off to Clemson went the old man who up till that time had been studying by the light of a kerosene lamp, and he flunked out immediately though he got an “A” in blacksmithing.

That was the extent of his education.  He did read a little in later years, mostly detective fiction with a little smut in it and Zane Grey western type books.  I don’t know if he could write.  I got one hand written letter from him and that was it.  According to the old lady it took him three hours to get those couple of pages down.  He couldn’t spell for shit.  When I last saw him, he was demented and said God had been giving him spelling quizzes and then he said a word god had asked him to spell and then he spelled it incorrectly.  I can only hope God was not a harsh grader went it came to spelling.

 Every boy wants to look up to his father and not because the father feeds him but because of some quality in the father like, maybe, being a good father.  But my father wasn’t one of those.  Or maybe the boy will look up to the father because the father is real strong or because other people look up to his father because of what he does or his place in society.  My mother told a story that Queen Elizabeth had sent a messenger down to Dorset requesting that my mother’s grandfather come to court to be the Queen’s blacksmith.  He didn’t go but sent his son.  And I remember having a fantasy that the President would call upon my father to do some special brick work in the white house.  Because as I said, a boy wants to look up to his father.  He wants to be able to say with pride, “That’s my dad.”  But the President never called.

I remember driving through the Bronx in the mid-80s.  All over the place they were knocking down old ten or twenty story apartment buildings.  Many of them were actually made out of Brick!  Twenty story structures, brick from top to bottom.  It hurt in a particular way to know those buildings were going to be knocked down.  Those buildings will never be replicated.  Not because of the cost of the brick, but because of the cost of the labor.  It hurt to think that all the human energy compressed in those buildings would simply disappear into thin air with one blow from a wrecking ball.

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