Getting Started
Finding My Way
(Part 11)

This is part 11 in a series of essays about when I was a young man (30+ years ago) trying to figure out how to “make it” in the world. Click HERE to go back to the beginning of the series.

This is the building that I helped to remodel back in the summer of '77

It was the summer of 1977. I was 19 years old and I was back in Craftsbury Common, Vermont. I was living and working with my friends Bruce and Patty Womer as they remodeled a big old building into an extension of the Craftsbury Inn.

The interior renovation work had progressed such that none of us could live in the building any more. So we moved into the back yard. Bruce & Patty had a big tent. Further in the back, under some trees, I had a two-man backpacker’s tent. That was my room. It was downright cozy. I don’t think I’ve ever slept better in my life.

My job was as an extra hand. I helped wherever I was needed, and occasionally it was with one of the many different craftsmen who worked on the project. Such was the case with Robert, the mason Bruce hired to lay up a new 10-inch concrete block foundation wall under the jacked-up building.

Bruce spoke very highly of Robert. He told me Robert had had some troubles with the law, but he was a third generation mason, and one of the best in the state. I was especially anxious to see him work.

Robert arrived very early in the morning. I couldn’t help but notice that he was big—-tall, broad, and muscular big, with shoulder length blonde hair. In my mind’s eye he has an uncanny resemblance to Hulk Hogan, and he had a slightly incredulous look on his face when Bruce told him I was going to be his helper.

My job would be to mix mortar and carry concrete blocks so they were within arm’s reach at all times. After quickly showing me how to operate his mixer, and measure out the proper sand/cement/water ratio, Robert got to work, and I was on my own. I have to admit that I was intimidated by Robert’s physique and his no-nonsense attitude.

I worked very hard that long, hot day trying to do a good job, and more than that, trying to impress Robert. But he hardly said a word to me unless he needed something, or to comment on the consistency of the mortar (“To thick,” “To thin,” or “This looks okay”).

Lunch break was a welcome relief. But it barely lasted five minutes—-long enough for Bruce to fetch a cold beer and Robert to drain it. I stuffed down a sandwich and we were back in business. Robert’s mind was focused completely on the job at hand.

Nobody could have tended mason better than I did that day, and one day was all it took. Having since laid up a few basement foundations of my own, and observed other masons at work, I now realize we did a phenomenal stroke of work in that one day.

When the basement wall was done, in the quickly-fading light of dusk, Robert helped me clean out his mixer. He acted like a completely different person. He was friendly and talkative, and he told me what I longed to hear. I remember exactly what he said: “You did a good job, mate.” That was it. That was enough.

To be continued....

Note: No one had ever addressed me as “mate” before. Only in later years did I discover that one of the definitions of the word is, “an assistant to a skilled worker.” It was, I believe, a word more commonly used in older days. It was a term that a third generation mason would certainly be familiar with.

Click HERE to go to Part 12 of this series

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